Paul ends his magnificent tribute to love in 1 Corinthians 13 with these words:
11 When I was a child, I spoke, thought, and reasoned in childlike ways as we all do. But when I became a man, I left my childish ways behind. 12 For now, we can only see a dim and blurry picture of things, as when we stare into polished metal. I realize that everything I know is only part of the big picture. But one day, when Jesus arrives, we will see clearly, face-to-face. In that day, I will fully know just as I have been wholly known by God. 13 But now faith, hope, and love remain; these three virtues must characterize our lives. The greatest of these is love.
In the face of our disappointments with love and those expressing it, how do we renew our experience of being loved?
In Matthew 3:17, John the Baptist’s baptizing of his cousin Jesus received the benediction from God “this is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.” Human parents can resonate with loving one’s child unconditionally, but there is a common saying in American culture that respect (i.e. being well-pleased) is something to be earned…or at least many think that it should be. However, at the time of his baptism, there is no gospel record of Jesus having “done” anything yet – but his Father fully commends him.
What does God’s pronouncement tell us of how God extends both love and happiness with us? Isn’t the image of God inherently good and worthy, totaling lovable? Renewing divine love begins with knowing that, with God, you have nothing to earn, to repeat, to confess, even to do, to earn the fullness of God’s love. We call that grace and it is at the center of Jesus patterned biblical spirituality.
Now, we can’t “do” anything to guarantee that we receive such love from others…but maybe that isn’t what we should pursue. A limited capacity to love reveals more about the arrested heart of the one failing to love than it does about the one trying to be loved.
The questions for renewing love are:
- how can we more fully deepen and broadly extend God’s and Jesus’ patterned love towards others…especially those that we find most difficult to love? This is not the same as failing to challenge abusive or destructive behavior.
- how may we increase our capacity to feel God’s love for and acceptance of us right where we are?
- how might more fully surrendering ourselves to embodying a grace-filled love from God for each of us and toward humanity heal our hurts, scars, and fears?