One of the more illuminating journey’s I have been on has been to better understand what it means to love. When Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor like you love yourself,” what does he mean? Sure, I understand that I am supposed to love my neighbor, but what I don’t understand is what it is to love.
In my late teens, I came up with the best definition of love I could. Love is to delight in someone’s good. It is not just sentimental (delighting) nor is it just pragmatic (their good), it is to delight in their good.
Using that working definition, the verse offers a strange insight. I am to love others like I love me. Jesus assumes that I love me. Far from the modern notion of coming to “love yourself.” I must already love myself. In fact, that innate love of myself is why I am so motivated to fix my own unhappiness. I love me so much, I would do whatever it takes to care for me. Jesus’ argument is that I should love other people that way.
So if I make sure to eat dinner every night, am I as motivated to make sure my wife gets dinner too. Honestly, one of the great purposes of marriage in my life is to show me how desperately ingrown my focus is. Before I loved Sam, I never had anyone to compete with me in my own heart. I could be selfish and it never caused too much trouble for me. But in marriage, there are so many compromises where I am forced to ask if what I want is best for us. I am no longer alone.
What a messy place my heart has turned out to be? Every time I am given a chance to serve and I do it, I see how resistant I am to doing anything for someone else. My heart does not want to love her like I love myself.
Love is also connected to all other feelings. What is fear? It is what I feel when what I love is endangered. Hope is what I feel when I believe something good will happen to someone I love. Dread is what I feel when I believe something bad will happen to someone I love. Peace is what I feel when what I love is secure. Anxiety is what I feel when it is not.
All of my feelings flow from what I love. So when I get angry when someone belittles me, I should pause. Anger is what I feel when something I love is harmed. What is it that I love? Maybe it is my reputation. Far from loving people, even my enemies, I am more like a petulant child who gets his feeling hurt.
The cure for all of these weaknesses is to love God, to be profoundly delighted by him. We should possess a childlike delight in him. Recently I was pondering what it meant in Hebrews to go “boldly before the throne of grace” in prayer. I used to think of it as a sense of entitlement that a believer should feel. Now I think of it like I am God’s little boy who walks into Heaven’s throne room and walks up to God, climbs in his lap, and asks for a bike.
All of this is very irregular for a stodgy religious person, but the reason I can go to him is because he loves me with such a sweet and tender love that I don’t need to posture somehow to get him to give me something. Far from it, I know he loves me so I will ask for what I really want.
You know what I want, I want to spend a billion billion years talking about everything I can imagine. He’s my daddy, so I know he’ll find the time for me.
And that is love.
The delightful photo is courtesy of Vinoth Chandar and is used with permission.