“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…And this I command you, to you love one another.”
It is this word of promise and command that both affirms me and haunts me—and I need both. From parents, spouse, pastors, Sunday School teachers, college and seminary professors, friends, extended family, colleagues, and others who cared, I have learned what it is to be loved by God, and by God’s people.
The key to this more mature understanding of love that I now have is the centrality of self-sacrifice on the part of those who do love me. In both Old Testament and New, this is the very nature of God’s love for me and all those created in God’s image. It is the willingness to pay the price for loving someone—even me—and the sharing, caring, being with, empathizing and trying to understand, and the forgiveness that are all part of loving someone. This is the love I know even as I recognize I am not necessarily deserving or aware of or capable or willing to receive, respect, or return such love. This is the love of God for me and for us all, revealed most particularly in the life, death, and resurrection of God’s own Son.
What haunts me about this love is that that which benefits me, I am called to reflect for and share with others. Some of those “others” I choose or have good reason to love, and they are quite often as much or even greater gifts to me than I could possibly be for them.
But others I am given to love are not people I would choose; and yet they (you) are given me both because of who they (you) are, and who I am; that is that we are children of God.
The love I am (we are) called to share is to be shaped and defined by self-sacrifice that is reflective of God’s own. This is countercultural but nevertheless essential to our personal and corporate health. Rather than demanding someone else make sacrifices so my situation improves, I am (we are) called to make sacrifices to help others; even as we learn to trust that someone else will be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to help us.
And if we are “burned” by another’s failure to help us, or to appreciate our self-sacrifice, we have good reason to learn from that situation, forgive them if possible, and try again rather than give in to the self-centeredness that afflicts each of us and our world. And when we fail another, rather than give up because we have failed, we have reason then also to try and learn from our own failures, ask their forgiveness, and try again.
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