Last year I took a five-month sabbatical. During that time, I committed to receiving prayer ministry and spiritual direction. In my first meeting with my spiritual director, he gave me a homework assignment: to recite out loud 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in three different ways.
The first time I would say it as it is written (I used the NIV):
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no
record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I would repeat it a second time but replace “love” or “it” with my name.
The third time I would replace “love” or “it” with “I”.
I did this dutifully every morning for over a month. I meditated on the meaning of each attribute of love and let the words sink into my spirit.
I wasn’t exactly sure how this would help me. Still, I began to notice that at times when I was about to say or do something that didn’t fit with this description of love, the Holy Spirit would whisper into my ear that I was about to do something that was out of character for me. Out of character. In other words, my real nature, the nature of God that is to be expressed through me, is to be patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, etc. This is where the Golden Rule would kick into my thinking: love would not do to others what I would not have done to me.
One day, I had an experience that gave me a greater revelation of how walking in love countered a problem I have battled my whole life: fear of rejection.
My older son had just relocated his family from England to the United States. His five-year-old daughter only knew British life and hadn’t had as much interaction with me as she had with her mom’s parents. I was having a hard time with the fact that she really needed to warm up to me. But there was a day when something as simple as her not willing to hold my hand when we were crossing the street made me snap. Exasperated, I declared to my son, “I give up!”
No sooner had I said that than I heard that Holy Spirit whisper: “That’s not love.” I immediately thought of the New King James Version of 1 Corinthians 13:7:
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.“
I knew at that moment that I was just going to keep on loving her no matter what her response.
This got me thinking about God’s love. Love — His kind of love — is selfless. I realized that loving this granddaughter is a gift — an opportunity for me to learn how to love someone even when they don’t seem to love me back. The Lord reminded me how He loves so many who don’t let Him in, who won’t receive His love.
This line of reflection led me to ask Him what it was I feared the most. Immediately I knew that it was the thought of not being liked —- that is, of being rejected. I began to see that I had always —- and only —- thought of unconditional love as the love you give to those who do things you don’t like or approve of; that it was about loving someone despite their sin.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8
Somehow in my fear of being rejected, I had missed out on the greater implication of unconditional love. My insecurity had left me vulnerable to always be tempted to love with this condition: “I will love you if you love me back.” In other words, I don’t mind if you do bad things, just as long as you reciprocate my love.
That condition of love says I will love you if:
- you love me the way I want to be loved
- you show others that you love me
- you remain present in my life
- you are responsive to me
- you willingly receive my love and affection.
However, agape love is in no way conditional. The Lord reminded me again how He loves so many who don’t let Him in, who won’t receive His love. He says: “I’m willing to love you even if you don’t love me back!” That’s how God loves. He remains actively engaged in loving each of us, despite our lack of response.
As this truth penetrated my heart, I offered this prayer:
“Lord, thank you for the privilege of learning how to love my granddaughter unconditionally. Help me to unconditionally love others who I perceive to have rejected me.”
Real love is what overcomes that fear of rejection. As I allow my need for love and validation to be met by God —- because the bottom line is that He is the only one who fully loves me unconditionally —- I can embrace the challenge of loving everyone in my life. I can lean on Him and learn from Him how to do it His way.
This is what the Lord spoke to me about real love: “I am love and you are a chip off the old block. Walk in love, and you will walk in me. Love never gives up. Don’t ever give up. Persist, persevere. Don’t be discouraged: love never fails. When you begin to think you can’t do it, remember that love never fails and choose to walk in love. Love has all the attributes you need for a successful life. Love has all the fruit of the spirit.”
When we don’t walk in love, we are not walking in our true nature. Love is the litmus test, the true measure by which we are to live our lives. If you recognize that you have been protecting yourself from rejection by demanding the love of those around you, join me in praying for God to empower you to walk worthy of Him:
Forgive me, Lord, for not walking in my true nature. Forgive me for not letting your life within me shine forth in the world. Forgive me for my selfishness and self-centeredness. Help me take off the costume, the covering, the outer layer of the world, and live out the inner reality of who I am in Christ. Let Christ shine forth through me. Help me stop making myself the center of the universe and allowing myself to have one pity party after another. Forgive me for walking in victimhood rather than in victory. Help me to choose to walk in your full, unconditional love. Amen.
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet- smelling aroma. — Ephesians 5:1-2 NKJV