But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. - (Rev. 2:4)How to love is the central problem of our lives as Christians. It is a sorely neglected topic.
Because it is neglected, people like Christopher West are able to say things that they claim are about love, but are simply indications of their own pathology. From his latest newsletter ...
“I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid myself” is transformed into “I was at peace, because I know God loves me; so I exposed myself.” Lord, teach us how to be naked before you!
Well, love is not about nudism, and it is certainly not about exhibitionism. But because this whole topic is neglected, the vacuum is filled by weirdness like that.
So let me touch on a few things I've learned, and I speak with the authority of an actor and a poet - which is a very suspect authority, I admit. But I have spent my life either burying my love in a hole in the back yard or spending it foolishly and frivolously on women, clients or friends who have taken advantage of me because I was giving - but giving in the wrong way, or to the wrong people or giving for reasons that were more about my own neediness than about the other person.
And please understand that these are things that I am still learning or struggling to understand myself. So as provisional observations on the challenge of mature love, I offer the following ...
- You can't motivate another person. You can't get an actor to want to do a good job at a show if he's not already motivated to do so. And you can't make another person love you, or love you in the way that you desire. The trick is finding the client who is willing to pay you, discovering the audience who wants to see your show, casting the actor who's already motivated and is willing to learn, or finding the woman who loves you and will do so in a sane and healthy way.
- Red flags should be heeded. If you compromise on a core issue at the beginning of a friendship or a business relationship, you'll simply open the door to continued demands to compromise from that point forward.
- You can love a person from afar. In other words, if your friend or lover or family member becomes unapproachable - either they become addicts or they get angry and reject you or they give themselves to a lifestyle that you can't condone - your love and prayers and loyalty can still be exercised, even if you are never able to speak to that person again. Love sometimes demands separation; it is sometimes the only possible expression of love.
- Shaking the dust from your feet and moving on - difficult as that may be - is neither cold-heartedness nor pride. It's a form of humility and the command to do so is God's admonition to save us from pouring our efforts into black holes. We are obligated to love, but we have a right to expect a return of some sort. People who love without reciprocation are miserable - because unrequited love (and unrewarded effort), common though it is, is contrary to the way reality is supposed to work.
- But by the same token, if we focus only on return - if we're in it only for the money or the applause or the accolades - we're in it for the wrong reason. The reward should be the harvest, the result of a job well done, the fruit of love invested well and wisely.
- But, especially when it comes to Evangelizing, we cannot always judge our efforts by the immediate fruit our efforts bear. Prudence in this regard should be applied to the welcome we are given, the hearing we receive. So if someone shuts his or her ears and threatens us to make us be silent, then further efforts are merely bad stewardship of love. However, if we're heard and considered, then the seed is being sown and God will work the increase, in His own way and in His own time, from there - and that part is beyond our control.
- Love always entails sacrifice. If someone tells you that love is about self-indulgence - or that spirituality is about self-indulgence - that person is a false prophet and should be avoided.
- And if all of your friends are telling you she's bad for you and you're wasting your time - or if you're trying to land a client that others have had nothing but trouble with - or if you decide to cast an actor who has let other directors down in the past - don't be a fool. Your magic wand won't transform a bad piece of work into a masterpiece. You don't have that power. Be humble, accept the pain and move on.