A few days ago, Gail posted in a comment:
“I've been thinking a lot about loving others lately and sometimes I find it doesn't come easily to me. I like most people but haven't quite got the love bit yet. Of course it's easy to love family and friends but the person I don't know; well it's difficult. Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and how you manage it.”
That really caught my attention, because as it happened we’d been sitting round talking about this very thing in our household just the day before.
I wish we had more than one word for “love” in English, because I think it isn’t helpful that we have this command from Jesus to “love one another”, as clearly nobody can be commanded to experience the deep and abiding visceral affection that “love” means to us.
So here is a digest of what we thought and said here – though now I can’t remember who said what; and then thoughts of my own.
It all started because someone mentioned a recent visit by the Wretched Wretch to our household, touching upon the habit he has developed of saying to us, quite often and quite sincerely, “I love you.” This is not just a learned jingle for him, he really means it: “I love you, Mumble, very much,” he’ll say.
Talk moved around what he meant by it (The Wretched Wretch is three), and the consensus settled on the evaluation that he was describing a passing impulse of affection, a warm upwelling of positive emotion. In a different mood he was given to saying “I hate you,” but discovered that didn’t go down too well with his mama.
So, “I love you” at three years old might mean “Here in this moment my soul opens to you, I feel a bond with you, I feel affection towards you”: one of the “warm and fuzzies” the Transactional Analysis people used to talk about.
Before this emotion and its articulation can begin, other kinds of love – or other kinds of expression of love – have to happen. His mother’s endless patience with him (this is not an especially easy child), her self-sacrifice in doing everything for him, being unfailingly kind and gentle with him, sitting up nights with him, always being there for him, giving up so much for him. That’s love. When he comes to our home, we don’t always feel like seeing him of course, but he is always, always welcome. Toys and books are provided for him, and a sandpit and juice and cookies, space to play. Sometimes – eg in a church home group – he has been somewhat inconvenient as a guest, not noticeably in sync with anything else going on; even so he was unquestionably included, always welcome. That’s also love.
So love as we commonly mean it sometimes has warm and fuzzy emotion attached to it, sometimes not. His warm and fuzzy feelings towards us are rooted in the compost of the patient kindness of his mother and the welcome he receives with us. Thus love doesn’t always feel warm and fuzzy but does produce warm and fuzzies at times. Sometimes we look at him and think, “Awww – you’re so sweet”; and sometimes we don’t.
Then there’s adult to adult love. The keyword here is “appropriate”. Love is not love that feeds off another in neediness. A mother might L O V E her son – insisting on endless attention, in competition with his wife, furious if he forgets her birthday. Is that in fact love? She thinks so, I don’t. Without respect, without boundaries, without firebreaks, love goes rotten.
I love my (now adult) children. I would do anything for them, but I don’t do everything for them, if you see what I mean. “Appropriate”: that’s the word.
But there’s another thing that became the focus of our conversation here about love. Our family . . . well . . . we are not (any of us) the clingy type.
People think of love as outgoing, as attachment, as affection. Love is portrayed and expressed in hugs and kisses, in touch and contact and time (lots and lots and lots of it) spent together, in gazing into each other’s eyes and doing things together, in saying “I love you” and multiple other endearments.
In our family a different rif is strumming. Something like “Love me but leave me in peace”. Yes, we love each other, and that is understood. But we are all people who value – need – solitude; space to think and breathe and be.
In the near future Alice has to go to hospital to have her wisdom tooth surgically removed. The Badger will take her and collect her. Hebe will go with her, staying with her until she is safely home. Here, we will all watch over her and get her everything she needs. In that way, we will love her. But I’d be surprised if any of us ever said to her “Alice I love you” in her entire life.
And in my marriage (and the one before and the one before that), sure, it’s a sacramental covenant relationship to be honoured until death. Within that, the aim is to make home a sanctuary of welcome and peace, a refuge, a safe place to be. But I don’t need a husband. I’m glad I’m married, but if I leaned too heavily what will happen if he moves – falls ill, becomes disabled, dies? Responsible love, in my view, stands on its own feet. There are times when our relationship can be turbulent or when big spaces open up between us, but even then we are vowed until death do us part, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, as long as we both shall live. That’s non-negotiable, for me - and for the Badger. Tomorrow is our sixth wedding anniversary. We are not always warm and fuzzy, but we are in it for the long haul. Even so, nothing lasts forever. At the very least, one day one of us will die. Too intertwined a soul life is not wise even if it is wonderful. But maybe I say that because I have the kind of soul that does not entwine? I look at people’s gushing about their husband – “my hero” etc – and think “Really? OK.” I am at a loss. That is not my kind of love. I am a cat that walks alone. I do not readily or often feel love, as the Wretched Wretch does. But I would give anything (appropriate) and do anything (appropriate) for the ones God has entrusted to me.
So then we come on to loving our neighbour. “And who is my neighbour?” someone asked Jesus long ago.
Jesus went on to expand the concept of “neighbour” beyond what I have talked about here – those close to us, those we know, those who belong to us, part of our circle.
In some ways, the less immediate the relationship, the harder to ascertain what is appropriate – what is, therefore, in an adult sense, “love”.
There are some countries far away which need huge support. Decimated by famine, AIDS, war, unscrupulous government, the lives of ordinary people hang by a thread. So I wonder, is it right to mop up the consequences of civil war with overseas aid? Doesn’t that encourage the citizens of the country to export responsibility? But then someone says the international politics are complicated. That colonialisation and free trade rules favouring us and disadvantaging them underlie the causation of war. That dispossession from multi-national conglomerates whose products we consume have impoverished the land, the people and caused the wars. And I hesitate, confused. Then I look at their dictators with their tanks and guns and limousines and palaces – and I ask myself if perhaps that country doesn’t need to get its priorities straight internally. Is foreign aid only confusing the issue? But then I discover that why we are so much richer than they are is because we manufacture and sell them the arms that their people have used against each other. And I see the stick-thin limbs, the bloated bellies, the huge eyes full of despair, and all I know is these people need lots and lots and lots of what I have very little of to give. In such circumstances, which one among so many that I cannot reach is my neighbour, and how can I possibly help her, when she is so very far away? What is love, what is appropriate, in such a case?
In our actual household, we give according to our means as we think best. I give just a little each month to MRDF, the Badger gives hundreds of pounds regularly and often to support a young African woman through university. She calls him “Daddy”, and not without cause. But their despair, which I share, is greater and more powerful than my love. Their despair is a flood and my love but a drop in its ocean. If my love for these people might be measured by the sorrow I feel when I see them (and then turn away) it might be something.
I think Jesus, in telling us to love our neighbour, was onto something. He meant (I think) that if a person has in any sense entered our lives, to that extent they become, in a sense, our responsibility. If they have showed up in our lives, we are family. There’s some good stuff about this in the Ho’oponopono teaching. Um . . . let me look . . .
This explains it somewhat.
The Ho’oponopono approach is a prayer (expressive of a sincere inner intention):
Please forgive me
I love you
which is repeated (internally) over and over as a mantra to soak its good vibes into any situation exhibiting dysfunctionality or distress, to clean away the accretions of disharmony and bring all to peace. One doesn’t have to feel any emotion in praying it, just send it forth with the true intention of one’s soul, trusting that it will find its application because on the plane of reality there is continuity, there are no divisions. It’s jolly good and (to put it crudely) it works. It proceeds on the understanding that we are all one, that there is no separation, so I can address within myself what I see in you, and that if something – anything, anyone – shows up in my life in any sense, I am empowered to take responsibility for it and address it. That doesn’t mean everything is my fault – whose fault things are is immaterial, blame is just one more part of the problem. But to heal things, you take responsibility for them – this is what Jesus does, in his work on the Cross.
My thought have got tangled and it’s lunchtime, so that’s enough for now.
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)
A couple of duster things. But we have several others. We aren’t that focused on dusting.