In my hand is a little book I received as a gift many years ago. So small, it’s more of a booklet than a proper book. Written nearly 100 years ago, the author is Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India, and the book is titled, “If”.
It’s about love.
Perhaps it was a passive-aggressive way of sending me a message that I needed to learn how to love. Who knows? They wouldn’t have been wrong. My first attempt at reading the booklet didn’t go so well. I flipped through a few pages and it felt overwhelming and uncomfortable. I certainly did not live up to the simple admonitions of what love, according to this humble yet powerful missionary, looks like. Throwing the thin collection of pages in the back of my closet, it remained hidden among other unread books for nearly two decades yet somehow managed to escape multiple moves, dozens of garage sales, and donations to the thrift store over the years.
Not too long ago I came across it again and decided to venture a little further into the wise advice contained in its pages. This time, my heart was pricked and I soaked up the council in the short, but poignant thoughts. Not that I had learned to love better, I suppose I had, but rather I was in a place to be taught how to love.
There’s a saying that goes, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” Unbeknownst to me several years earlier, my heart wasn’t in a place where it could learn how to love better, so, the words in these pages felt like irritations to my soul. Now, despite the uncomfortable pricking of my heart, it was a welcome distress; one I knew I needed, and wanted.
With new eyes, I carefully read each page and began to pray in my spirit, “God, teach me to love”.
What do we know of love?
We love our dogs, coffee, chocolate, our kids, and on and on. Society cries, “Love Wins”, and we all can agree that what the world needs now is love. For one parent, love is discipline and for another love is letting a child express themselves as the child sees fit. We all have varying ideas of what is love. I think we can all agree that the greatest need of any human is to be loved. But…what does that mean?
The Bible has a love chapter that is replicated on posters, social media posts, marriage books, and cross-stitch wall decorations. We hear these words quoted so much we don’t “hear” them anymore.
In evangelical circles and among counselors, we’re taught about love languages; learning each person’s specific preference in how they receive love.
Rereading, “If”, I was in a place of questioning my ability to love and be loved. But all that changed when I asked God to teach me to love. Certainly, I was struggling to love some people and I clearly did not feel loved by those same individuals. In the past, to me, love was letting people do and say whatever they wanted to me and cowering in the corner like a beat puppy while at the same time being nice to them. (It’s how I interpreted the “turn the other cheek” thing ).
The first thing I learned was that love is a person.
Most of us have heard that love is a person before but now it resonated differently. If love truly is a person, then to learn what love is, I needed to learn who the person of love is. People are finicky. If I had to learn what love means for person A then learn what it means for person B, then logically that means love is different for everybody – and they could certainly change their mind. Following that train of thought, it means love is a moving target. If that is true, then love is impossible because it will always be changing based on the person we’re interacting with and the mood that person is in.
Because love is a Person (i.e. God), then it means love is the same towards everyone. What a relief to understand this. Accepting that love is a Person and doesn’t change, I added to my prayer, “God, teach me who you are”. It’s a wide net of a prayer, but I genuinely wanted to know not what I perceived as who God is, but who God says He is. Clearly, God is beyond our capacity to understand, but if He is love, then I figured He was going to have to define it for me.
The second thing I learned was that in order to love others, I had to see God’s love for me.
This is harder than it sounds. We wave off with our hands as if to say, “yea, yea, I know,” when we hear someone declare, “God loves you!”. It sounds so simple, shallow, typical, and…generic. But then something started to happen when I prayed for God to teach me about love and who He is. Memories came to mind of long-forgotten events. As I recalled those moments, I suddenly felt very special – and seen – by God. One such memory was the day of my senior prom for which I didn’t have a date and was at work that night instead of having prom pictures taken of me in a pretty dress wearing a flower corsage to be memorialized in a scrapbook under my parent’s coffee table. A random man walked into the restaurant where I worked, handed me a rose, said I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, turned around, and walked away. I never saw him before or since. I had always wondered about that night and now I clearly see it was an angel sent by a heavenly Father who loved me deeply and cared that I was sad I missed out on a special night.
Even now, I tear up thinking about that moment. No longer is it a memory filled with sadness or regret, but a tender recollection of a time when God reached down out of heaven and touched me. It’s a memory bursting with the intense love of God for me.
Another thing that was happening is Bible reading started to come alive. I was seeing the words on pages in new ways which made me realize how important I was to God. One such example that impacted me greatly is Ephesians, chapter one. I wrote out the verses in the first person and said them out loud every day (and still do!).
Blessed be the God and Father of [my] Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed [me] with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose [me] in Him before the foundation of the world, that [I] would be holy and blameless before Him. (Ephesians 1:3 para)
One day I was sitting on my patio in Colorado, reciting these verses, and I looked up at Pikes Peak looming above my head. Then it hit me: before Pikes Peak even existed, God thought of me and planned out my life! I was blown away at the immensity of God’s love at that moment and fell to my knees in worship, crying with joy as God’s love pounded over me like a waterfall. I felt like I was the most important person in the universe. Tears trickled down my face as I understood God was answering my prayer to teach me about love. I felt so much of God’s love for me at that moment that it naturally transferred into how I felt towards other people. That’s the moment I truly grasped that understanding the depth of God’s love for me first allows me to love others better.
Teach Me To Love…cont.
This love journey of learning what (and Who) love is and how to love well is ongoing, as it should be. All I know is, what most of us think love is, isn’t. We could all benefit from being humble enough to admit that maybe we don’t know how to love well and ask God to teach us to love.