“Love one another.” You hear it all the time. But while it’s nice that it’s said, people don’t do it terribly well. It’s a hard thing for them to hold in mind. They can get serious about it from time to time (and again, that’s a good thing), but doing it consistently eludes most everyone.
I think this deserves a moment of our time… if for nothing else than to work through some hypocrisy.
An Example With An Apology
I don’t like the way Christians are picked on these days. They’ve become (especially in “educated” circles where people are supposed to know better) the perpetual targets of ridicule. It’s ugly and it’s actuality just a version of picking on the weak kid.
That said, I’m going to use Christians as an example, not because they’re worse at this than other people, but because their example makes this issue clear. And so I’ll proceed, with my apologies in advance.
The New Testament has many and profound passages on love, such as “He that loves knows God, but he that doesn’t love doesn’t know God,” and “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”
And so you might expect Christians to spend a lot of time and effort on loving one another, as, once upon a time, they did. But there you would be mistaken. Where Christians actually spend their time is on the rightness of doctrines.
By any half-balanced scriptural standard (and especially a Jesus Standard) this is a bit crazy. Take for example this passage, spoken by Jesus himself in the ultra-famous Sermon on The Mount:
Why do you call me “Lord, Lord!” but don’t do the things I’ve said?
Could anything be more pointed and direct than that? He might as well have said, “I don’t give a hoot about what you call me; I want you to do the things I’m teaching.”
And yet Christianity – judging by its actions – cares far more about doctrine than it does about love.
The question, Why is this so? has a simple answer: Because it’s so much easier.
First of all, punishing the violation of norms is a moral delicacy: It feels good to point out the errors of others. It gives you the sheen of righteousness without having to risk calling yourself righteous. That’s pretty clearly a primitive thing, and very certainly a non-Jesus thing (in fact it’s a primate thing), but until you understand it, it feels good.
More than that, loving is hard. As soon as you attempt to do it, “energy drainage” warnings are triggered. Discussing doctrine is so much less demanding and more satisfying in the short term.
Now, in defense of Christians: at least they talk about it, and at least they make efforts to love one another. The mainline culture has lost the art and discipline of loving almost altogether. Mostly they pretend that their political power-grabs are inspired by love. (Which they aren’t.)
So, What Do We Do?
What you need is to start loving one another. But start small. If you go full-bore, you’ll wear yourself out. Loving is demanding. It’s mega-worth it in the long run, but it’s not for the lukewarm and it’s not for posers. Loving in action is as real as it gets.
Here, to get you started, is my favorite exercise for loving:
- Go to a train station, bus station, or any place with people coming and going.
- Find a comfortable spot and watch the people. See them as individuals. Focus on them, one at a time.
- Try to sense their desires and their motives. Let yourself operate instinctively rather than methodically.
- Then, think about how these people could have been, save for accidents of birth, people you would have loved. Look at a young man, for example… he could have been your brother in “another life,” or your father, or a friend.
- Run this exercise on person after person: Look at them, try to sense their essence, empathize with them. In another circumstance, they might have been your beloved aunt or uncle, your child, your husband or your wife.
Just do this much and see where it leads you. Any amount of time is better than nothing, and more isn’t better if it burns you out.
The longer you do this, the more you’ll clean yourself on the inside. Just start and see how you feel about it in a year or two.
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