When we face the struggle of a polarised world, a world at war, a world with huge gaps between rich and poor, we may think that Jesus was naive about putting so much emphasis on love. It can be tempting to believe that lovers get crushed under the violence of our world and that we have to be fighters if we are to survive. But I can’t let go of the conviction that our richest, best, most meaningful life can only be found in the realm of Love, with a capital ‘L’. Yes, you can survive without love, but you can’t live. Not fully. Not abundantly.
For the next few weeks, we’re going to explore what it means to love others. Not just family friends, and lovers. But neighbours, strangers, and even those we would think of as enemies. In this episode, we’re focussing on what we mean when we speak about loving others. And we’ll explore some foundations that can help us to become, in healthy and appropriate ways, more loving human beings.
One of my all-time favourite movies is Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. And throughout that movie there’s this refrain: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” Would you agree with that? The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return. The Beatles sang “All you need is love.” Is that true for you?
What does love mean to you? How do you define it? How do you express it? Who do you consider to be worthy of your love and who isn’t worthy in your thinking?
Jesus clearly believed that love was the essential characteristic of his followers—or at least it should be. They will know you are my followers by your love, he said. And he taught that the greatest—well really the only—commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself. These aren’t two commandments, they’re really two parts of one. He even said that his followers should love their enemies—which tends to be one teaching that seldom gets spoken about and almost never gets demonstrated in most versions of Christianity today—or at least that’s my experience.
When we face the struggle of a polarised world, a world at war, a world with huge gaps between rich and poor, we may think that Jesus was naive about putting so much emphasis on love. It can be tempting to believe that lovers get crushed under the violence of our world and that we have to be fighters if we are to survive. And if that’s what you believe then perhaps this podcast isn’t for you. But I can’t let go of the conviction that our richest, best, most meaningful life can only be found in the realm of Love, with a capital ‘L’. Yes, you can survive without love, but you can’t live. Not fully. Not abundantly.
And so I want to begin to explore what it means to love others—partners, family, friends, neighbours, strangers, even enemies—in ways that are realistic, life-giving, healthy, and creative. I hope you’ll stay with me for the next few weeks, because we’ll need all of that time to explore some of the complexities of loving others. If that sounds like a journey you’re willing to share, then welcome!
Let’s start with some basics. Loving is always about relationship. Every interaction, every encounter, is a kind of relationship, even if only for a moment in time. And every relationship flows from and is impacted by who we are—which is why we needed to start, as we did last month, with loving ourselves.
And then how we relate to others, and by extension how we learn to love others, is deeply affected by three elements that flow from who we are. Firstly our perception: How we see the world, how we see other people, how we see ourselves, what we take in—what we receive—and what we shut out. And then secondly, meaning: How we make meaning, how we interpret what we see. What meaning we make of our world, of other people, of ourselves. And then flowing out of our perceptions and our meaning making is our behaviour: How we respond to the meaning we make, how we interact with the world, with others, with ourselves, with what we perceive.
Now all of these elements are dynamic. A shift in perceptions for example causes a shift in our meaning making, which resulting in a shift in our behaviour. Or a shift in our behaviour creates a different set of meanings for us and that results in new data and therefore new perceptions. These shifts are aways happening which is why all relationships are dynamic and constantly changing. And so we need to always keep our perceptions, our meaning-making, and our behavioural responses in mind, in any relationship—and particularly when we’re talking about loving others.
And so with this as the background, what does it mean to love others? In a moment I’ll share some fundamental principles that I believe are essential to consider when we think about love. But before I do—please don’t forget to subscribe, like, activate notifications, and share this podcast as widely as you can. Thank you.
Now I have a suspicion that we often struggle with loving other people—particularly those that are difficult for us to love—because of two misunderstandings.
And the first one is this, I believe that many of us tend think of all love as a feeling. And we mostly think of it as a romantic feeling, a warm feeling, a feeling that draws us to another person—even if in our minds we know it’s not like that, some how the way we act, the way we behave, the way we feel, biases us toward that view of love. But it’s impossible to love someone and stand against them if this is the case. It’s impossible to ‘love your enemies’ as Jesus called us to, if this romantic, warm feeling is what we’re thinking love is.
Warm, loving feelings and exciting feelings of desire are wonderful and we need them. But they are not, essentially love. They may be strongly related to certain kinds of love, but they are not love in and of themselves. Because essentially love is a way of being, a way of behaving. It’s about how we see others and how we treat them, how we act toward them as a result of what we see. It’s that far more than it’s a feeling. We’ll be exploring all of this in more detail as we go through this series in the weeks ahead. But the first fundamental mistake we, or misunderstanding we have around love, is this idea that love is primarily about what we feel.
And then secondly, we tend to think that love is love. That all love must look and feel the same, but I think that’s also not really true. As English speakers one of our struggles is that we only have one word for love. As you probably know, the Ancient Greeks had four or five words, and I think that was wise. These different words expressed that there are different kinds of love—for different people, different relationships, and different situations. There’s the love of lovers; the love of friends; the love of parents and children, of family; and the love that gives itself in self-sacrifice. And all of these loves can take on different forms and expressions in different situations and with different kinds of people—whether loved ones, peers, strangers, or adversaries.
So take some time to think about the different people and situations that fill your life each day, each week, each month, each year. What does love look like for you with these many different people and relationships? What does love look like in your family? At work? On the sports field, or at book club, or in the group related to your hobby? What does love look like at a political protest? Or dealing with an inconsiderate neighbour? Can you see how love feels, looks, and acts differently in all of these different relationships with all these different people?
See, it’s much easier when we make the definition and practice of love simple and universal—when we make the act of loving the same in every situation with every person; when we set up our rules for love and simply follow them to the letter. It removes all the mess and confusion and complexity. But in my experience that doesn’t work. Because in its very nature, love is complex, messy, and shaped by the people and situations in which it is to be expressed and practiced. Love is not always the same. It is infinitely diverse and complex. That’s its mystery, its glory, and its magic. And so the second misunderstanding is this idea that love is love, that it gets expressed and practiced the same in every situation with every person.
And so overcoming these two misunderstandings—that love is primarily a feeling, and that all love must felt and expressed the same way—is an important first step to learning to love all people. We have to overcome these misunderstandings so that we can enter into love in ways that enable us, empower us, to love all in whatever different way they need.
But fundamentally when we speak about loving others there is a simple, but difficult choice to make. Do we believe that love should be extended to everyone? Or do we believe that love should be reserved only for some? And whatever we may choose, we will need to work out what love looks like for us, practically.
Now let me put my cards on the table: I believe that love should be for all people. And I believe in doing the difficult and complex work of working out what that means from situation to situation. And so I’m going to try and explore love from this perspective in the next few weeks. You’re welcome to disagree with me. And you’re welcome to adapt and edit what I’m sharing in whatever way works for you. But I hope you’ll join the conversation so that we can work this out together.
So what do you think about love? And how widely do you believe we are called to love? Please leave your thoughts in the comments and let’s explore love together.
In the next episode we’re going to look at one of the fundamental foundations of love which is being open to love itself, to what it brings, and also being open to the other person, whoever they may be.
But that’s all for now. Thank you for listening. Thank you for watching. And I’ll catch you next time!
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