By the Merry Monk
Jim Henderson has invented a new religion called Otherlyness. (Whereas I’m not a big fan of religion, I have developed a bizarre obsession with Jesus, and He was certainly…otherly.) Otherlyness has only three practices:
1. Be unusually interested in others.
2. Stay in the same room with those different than you.
3. Refuse to compare my best with your worst.
I love it!
As I asked Tim Tedder, a friend and a marriage counselor, “It all comes down to 100% unconditional love, right?”
Tim replied that unconditional love can be dangerous for people who are used to getting walked on. Some people, in the name of unconditional love, simply refuse to assert themselves or stand up for what’s right; but this isn’t love. Tim suggested that in marriages, couples are either at war with each other, drifting apart, or actively moving toward each other, despite obstacles.
Both Jim and Tim’s ideas are helpful at getting at this thing called love. Love is not an invitation for unchecked abuse, but it is the choice to stay in the room – to remain engaged. Love unconditionally values the other person and actively moves toward them. Jesus did this well, and that’s one of the reasons for my bizarre obsession with Him.
That’s great for Jesus, but how do we love this way?
We all want love, but most of us are horrible at loving others. It’s easy to blame others for the lack of love in the world, but the self-aware and honest among us know differently. Humanity is only as healthy as the choices individual people make, and the state of the world reveals that we’re not doing so hot. More importantly, our lack of love is revealed most starkly by the state of our individual lives and relationships.
This can be a painful realization. It’s much easier to ignore our own crap and blame our problems on every other type of people. The list of people causing problems is endless, but the biggest problem is that I’m usually last on the list, and so are you.
Now, we’re not stupid. Experience tells us that we better look out for ourselves because other people won’t; so we put up walls. We’ve all experienced legitimate pain in the past and we’ve developed all kinds of creative and self-deceptive ways to protect against future trauma. But the full-circle irony is that the hell we’re experiencing is caused by everyone looking out for themselves.
The only way we can fill the world with more love is if we become more loving. That’s a tall order when even the best of us can’t live up to our own standards. Should we lower our standards and accept a world imprisoned by selfishness? Many will, but not me. That’s not because I’m such a stellar human being. The reason I won’t accept less than love is that I’ve had the privilege of meeting Him. That’s the key. The only people who can love are those who’ve met Love, and you can tell how well someone knows Him by how loved you feel in their presence.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
I had read about Love. I had heard about Love. I had sensed Love’s presence in nature, but everything changed when I met Him.
I met Love in my wife. I met Him in my parents. I met Love in Steve Brown and in other friends who’ve taught me Love’s ways, not only with words, but with action. These people have practiced otherlyness and have consistently moved toward me unconditionally. They have been Love incarnate, and it’s made all the difference. They showed me that Love’s selfless spirit is still alive and active in powerful ways in people’s lives.
Once I met Love’s spirit in the flesh and was convinced of His gentleness, kindness and transformative power, it was a short leap of faith to ask the spirit of Love to fill me, too.
Unconditional love must be manifest in the flesh or it’s just a nice idea.
This is incredibly hard. We have spent so much time protecting ourselves in the patterns of our labyrinthine prisons that lovingly giving ourselves away for the benefit of others can be a horrifying prospect. Especially when the others for whom we’re sacrificing don’t care, or worse, are actively engaged in trying to hurt us. It’s much easier to act out of fear, put up a wall, take care of ourselves and let everyone one else fight for whatever scraps they can scrounge for themselves. Instead of acting in love and trusting Love to protect us, we’re constantly choosing to leave Love’s way.
People in my life have suffered, but that’s their own fault. If they only knew how to love, they wouldn’t have to pay the price for their loveless actions. I eventually found myself isolated in a labyrinth of my own creation longing for Love.
One particularly dark evening, Love’s light visited me. He asked, “Son, why are you all alone?” I told Him that His world is filled with people who don’t know how to love, so I bailed. Then Love sang me a song.
“If there is light in the soul,
there will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person,
there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home,
there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation,
there will be peace in the world.”
That sounded good, so I asked Love to put light in the souls of my wife, kids, friends and all the dirt bags in the world, because they were driving me nuts! Love replied, “That’s funny, everyone around you is asking Me to put the light of Love in your soul. When you receive the light of Love, you will become Love incarnate to those people who drive you nuts. Then leave the rest to Me.”
I asked, “How do I get the light of Love in my soul?”
Love’s answer was simple, “Let Me love you…even though you’re totally turned around, we can find the way out of your labyrinth together.”
Then the strangest thing happened. Being loved unconditionally made me want to be more loving. I was so grateful that I didn’t have to suffer the consequences of my loveless actions alone, that I wanted to come out of my fortress of solitude and trust Love. I didn’t only want to trust Him to love me unconditionally, I wanted to trust Him with the people in my life who don’t know how to love.
This is the way to love like Jesus. We receive unconditional love from Love Himself. In grateful response we extend unconditional love to the unlovely until we can’t anymore. When we fail to be Love incarnate, we go back to Love – or He comes to us – to let Him love us out of our prisons. Little by little we become more like Love. This is the way to love like Jesus and fill the world with the image of Love!