This morning at the gym, women are working out together and sharing their lives in bits and pieces, so naturally: how feet get larger as we grow older (“What?? They really do that? I have to stop working out with you people.”); how husbands manage to remain in bed at night when the baby awakes; how someone hasn’t been in to class for weeks, did anyone call to see if she is well; and a good book just finished, that someone else could borrow.
It makes me think again how we women are good at loving. We notice the needs and feelings of others, and have a heart to come alongside and help. We understand the importance of connecting, of sharing common moments, of feeling you are part of something larger. We can go without, to meet people’s needs, extend ourselves beyond reasonable bounds, persevere through storms that should make us quit. It is the cry of every woman’s heart to love and to be loved, and she knows it very well, regardless of how she goes about seeking it.
Discovering God’s love for us suits us completely; His command to love others is something we can tuck in among our natural relationship abilities, like adding to the collection– definitely an improvement, something we are quick to take up because it comes with admirable standards and handy “how-to” descriptions. It also tends to confuse us, and we will spend all our days wrestling to mold our natural abilities into something resembling God’s standards, maybe feeling guilty because of how hard it can be to make wayward emotions conform.
See, we women also have a hard time loving. At least loving the way God does. Maybe because we value relationships so much, they have the ability to disappoint us more. The very connections that make life worth living can become a very heavy burden. And our sensitivity to others’ emotions also leaves us easily wounded by what we notice. We can pour out love so naturally… but we often find ourselves running dry and irritable at the ones we are closest to. As long as we look at love as a feeling of closeness, or even a liking for someone, we will struggle to love the way God does, and that is the crucial hair-splitting point on which everything turns.
It’s Jesus who tells us how it works, when He is talking about branches staying connected to the vine: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love….This is My commandment that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15:10, 12-13) Obedience is the key– an act of the will, and very often in conflict with our emotions– and then there’s that little phrase added onto the end of the sentence, only six words, but expressing something so big that it sent the apostle Paul into superlatives: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) And suddenly we are beyond the realm of natural abilities and into something supernatural: love that commits to the good of another no matter the cost or the obstacle… regardless of whether it is wanted or returned…love that looks like Jesus dying on the cross for people who hated Him.
Choice…obedience…death…not the words we would choose for a love-letter, but woven all through God’s message of love to us. And to love like this I need His help to push beyond the feelings of a woman’s heart; I need to stay connected to Jesus, who calls me His friend and shows me His own loving heart and explains to me in words what God’s love looks like. Watching Him I am learning a whole new way to love, finding a moment of choice when I am running dry and irritable– a moment in which to ask Him for help, to choose to obey, to depend on the Spirit for the power to bear fruit that is loving.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.”
(The Love of God, Frederick Lehman)