The Takeaway: Love
Today we’ll be focusing on the love of God as fuel for our lives—and we’ll explore how we can participate in God’s love. Spoiler alert: it’s not by helping or serving more.
When my kids were small, their most requested lullaby at bedtime was my medley of “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children”:
Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
I decided to offer the mashup because together the songs ring true about the depth and the breadth of God’s love: it’s for me, you, and everyone.
God is often described by this one attribute alone: God is love. In the last episode we talked about God’s goodness. God’s goodness and love go hand in hand: “For the Lord is good, and his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 100.5)
The Oxford English Dictionary defines love as deep affection or fondness for a person or thing. Thankfully, the Biblical words for love are much richer and deeper. There are two main words for love in Hebrew: ahav and hesed. Ahav is the verb to love. And hesed is the noun for love, often translated as steadfast love, meaning devotion, loyalty, faithfulness. Hesed often refers to God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises. And the primary word for love in Greek is agape. These words together form a Biblical understanding of love as a self-giving relationship.
What do the Scriptures say about God’s love?
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment in the Torah, the Jewish law, he had 613 commandments to choose from. He quoted the Shema, passage from Deuteronomy 6: “4Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” He also chose the mashup option: adding to the well-known Shema a rather obscure commandment from Leviticus: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus answer to the question about the heart of the law was love—for God, neighbors, and self. How to be good is to love.
Jesus’ own life is a model for love: serving others, helping, giving, healing. In his baptism, a voice from heaven proclaims: “this is my beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.” In his ministry, Jesus proclaims the “year of the Lord’s favor,” the Jubilee year of love in action (Luke 4.18). He also calls his followers to “love your enemies.” Right before his death, Jesus proclaims that “no man has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13). After his resurrection, he asks Peter repeatedly, “do you love me? Feed my sheep” (John 21)
How does God in Jesus love us? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3.16) “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5.8) We have received the unearned, unmerited, free grace of God, through love.
So what? How can you and I participate in God’s love? How can we lean into it? How can we draft off of it? How can we fill up with God’s love in the fuel tanks of our lives?
It’s not by helping others, not by working harder to discern and meet more needs of more people. The quest to help—to listen, notice, offer, and assist—is never-ending and can suck the life out of you. Underneath the desire to help is often the need to be needed, the fear of being unlovable, the knowledge that we are loved for what we do, and the desire to earn the love of others. It’s a web of untruths.
The quest to help and to serve is the quest of Enneagram twos. Recall that the enneagram is a personality model that describes how we see and interact with the world—and even how we can grow our own souls. Twos are often described as Helpers. The divine attribute they most reflect is God’s love. The most common way they get sidetracked in life is their deep-seated need to be needed—and the way they meet the needs of others in attempt to earn love. Their own pride trips them up, oddly enough. They rarely ask for help in return, yet desire to help and please others.
The way ahead for all of us to grow in love, and not just for Enneagram twos, is to be humble, to see ourselves more clearly, as we truly are: strengths, weaknesses, and all. The way of humility has never been popular. Seeing yourself as no better or no worse than anyone else is deflating, to say the least. The word humility shares a root with the word for humus, dirt. To be humble is to be from the earth, to be grounded. We can be humble when we remember that we are made of dust, dirt.
There are three dimensions of growing in humility, and therefore love: heart, body, and mind. Love germinates in the heart, and reaches out to connect with others. To become humble in your heart, focus your love, don’t let it spill out everywhere. Our pride tells us that we can love all and serve all. Our humility tells us that our love has limits—and that we are called to invest it intentionally in the world, in certain people, specific causes, and upon ourselves. Focusing our love gives us traction for change.
To become humble in your body, claim your limits. Don’t say yes immediately—wait. Suzanne Stabile, Enneagram teacher here in Dallas, suggests that twos should always ask themselves: “is this mine to do?” Also, to be humble in your body, serve others anonymously. Take your ego out of it, so that your acts of kindness are known only to you and God—and not to the recipients. Your service won’t earn points, recognition, or favor—only the satisfaction that you shared love with those who needed it.
Finally, to become humble in your mind, meditate on the mantra, “I am God’s beloved child.” Or “I am beloved.” Don’t stop there: “All humans are beloved too.” It’s a mashup mantra. Like “Jesus loves me” and “Jesus loves the little children.” The truth of God’s love, and our inherent belovedness, is that expansive. Your belovedness is not contingent on anything: your belovedness is a gift from God. You don’t merit it, work towards it, love your way into it. Your belovedness just is, by grace. Also, to become humble in your mind, meditate on the sacrament of baptism. It is a sacramental anchor for our belovedness. In the words of the baptismal liturgy, “Remember your baptism, and be thankful.”
These three paths of humility in heart, body, and mind, focus on your relationship to yourself, including your identity and worth. These paths will help you discover what your needs are, what you are called to do, and where your identity truly comes from.
When you focus your love, claim your limits, and wrap your mind around the fundamental belovedness of us all, you can then begin to ask yourself the question: “where can I share love today, with God’s help?” Growing in love happens through the backdoor of growing in humility.
As we turn to God, we will pray a prayer based on the writings of Julian of Norwich, 12-13th century Christian mystic, who focused her life on the love of God.
Let us pray.
In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving.
You are our mother, brother, and Saviour. In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvellous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well. Amen.
Until next week,
Know that you are beloved, just as you are.
And know that God is love: God’s love cannot be won or lost; God’s love is unmerited, unearned; it’s pure grace.
May God’s love be poured into your heart, through the Holy Spirit, so that you might serve the world with love.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.