Learning to Love

I’ve been asking God to teach me how to love.

Of course, I already try to love many people: my family, my friends. It’s easy to love people who love you back. But as I get older I realize that that isn’t enough. God calls us to love like He loves—unselfishly, unconditionally, expecting nothing in return.

I’ve always been more task-oriented than people-oriented. At a dinner party, I was the one likely to be found hiding in the kitchen helping with the dishes, rather than out interacting with the other guests. I prefer jobs where I can work independently, checking in with my supervisors only for advice or to turn in a completed assignment. I’m happy speaking in front of a group, but become anxious when asked to team-teach.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. God makes some of us tall and some of us short. He makes some of us introverts and some of us extroverts. And he makes some of us “people persons” and some of us not so much. The Bible is full of godly men and women of all varieties.

But last year, something happened that made me want to change. I found myself walking with a friend through the decline and death of her husband. Nothing in my life had prepared me for this, and I felt totally inadequate. How could I, a task-oriented introvert lacking in empathy, possible be of any help to my grieving friend? Yet, she assured me I was being used by God in her life.

The only explanation I have is that God was doing what I could not. I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t know how to act. I didn’t even know how to pray. All I knew to do was make myself available to God. I’ve learned that’s all He needs.

God taught me how to pray. He put a burden of prayer inside me that I had never experienced before. I simply had to pray for my friend. Some of the time I simply held her up before the Father, asking for His presence to be with her. Other times, the Spirit gave me precise words with which to express my heart. The entire time, I knew that God was listening and answering.

Every couple of weeks, my friend and I would get together for a quick lunch. There wasn’t much time for small talk as she dumped a load of pent-up emotions into my lap. Again, the Spirit told me what to say, and especially when to keep quiet. Each time, she received a degree of comfort I would never have been able to give on my own.

In the midst of this very difficult situation, God surprised me. While I was sharing my friend’s pain and praying passionately on her behalf, He filled me with an unspeakable joy. At first, I was confused, and felt guilty. How could I be so happy when my close friend was suffering?  How could I be on a mountain top while she was in the valley of the shadow of death? Shouldn’t I be weeping with those who weep?

Finally, I understood. God was using me. I knew it was God. He was working through me to love my friend in a way far beyond my natural abilities. And in loving another, I was receiving far more love than I was dispensing. God was almost tangible in His presence. Moreover,  He considered me a useful vessel. The experience was addictive.

Yes, it was taking my time and energy. I had to put a lot of other commitments on hold, and there was a cost involved. But the rewards so far outweighed the cost!

The experience changed me. I’ve started making the people in my life more of a priority. Yes, we all have work to do. There are chores and jobs and a living to be earned. But I am trying hard to leave enough unscheduled space in my life that if a friend calls and needs to talk, or just wants to get together and hang out, I’m available.

I’m asking God to make me a better listener. I want to put the concerns of others ahead of my own. I want my friends to feel important… to feel cherished.

I’m praying for a heart of compassion. For years, I’ve taken various tests designed to ferret out my spiritual gifts and natural talents. Compassion and encouragement have traditionally been the least of my abilities. Yet, God’s character abounds in both. So I am asking Him to change me.

Praying these sorts of prayers is dangerous. God loves to answer them. What is the best way to learn to love? Practice—and I’m noticing lots of opportunities. Thankfully, He knows my weakness. He’s giving me His heart for the people He brings into my life. It’s a joy to love them, even as I confront my inherently selfish nature.

I’m only a beginner at this loving business. I have so much to learn. I have to trust that God will be a gentle teacher. I want to make progress, and I admit to fearing the pain I know I’ll experience in the process. Yet, at this point, I’m discovering the truth in Jesus’ statement that we gain our lives only when we are willing to lose them. I’m happier and more fulfilled than I have ever been before. So here I go God, on the record: Please teach me to love. I want to be more like You.

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