Is it just me, or is it feeling a little 1960s hippyish around here with all this love talk? Nevertheless… onward ho! Last week in the first article of this two-part series on God’s love, I wrote about the importance of accepting that you literally ARE, as related to identity, “loved by God.” Today I plan to talk about why this matters. While you probably don’t need much convincing to accept that such a thing is beneficial, I’d like to share some things I learned related to this topic at the women’s retreat I recently attended- challenging, inspiring truths that will motivate you to not only be loved by God, but to walk in love as well.
One of the speakers at said retreat was Victoria Sowell-a lovely, passionate young pastor and blogger with a fiery gift for preaching and arguably one of the most glorious manes of curly hair I’ve encountered (and as a former hairstylist, my opinion in this matter is trustworthy). She spoke about living as though we are loved by God, or “living loved.”
She said “when we do not ‘live loved,’ we become a burden to others rather than a blessing,” as we demand from them what only God can give. When we walk into a room, we focus on ourselves and how we can get our own needs for approval, love, security, confidence, etc. met rather than focus on how we can love, bless or encourage others. (None of us want to be that person, so in case you still need a little kick in the butt to propel you towards embracing God’s love, there ya go).
The simple yet profound truth she pointed out is this: “when we live as though we are loved, we are able to love other people.”
Our Ability to Love Others
Consider this passage which speaks to how our ability to love is not only a direct result of knowing the love of God, but a crucial and inextricable part of being a Christian:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:7-12, 19-21
Really, if you want to just stop reading and ponder that passage, by all means please do. The Word of God has infinitely more power to speak to your heart than anything else I’ll say, and this passage is simply a gold mine regarding the nature of God’s love. Now of course I’m still going to continue writing- my word count is a mere 500 something at this point and I don’t think I’m physically capable of stopping before at least 1,000.
For those of you still reading, we’ll focus on this particular component of the passage: the direct, explicit command to love others. Really there’s just no way around it. God made it abundantly clear: if we don’t love others, we don’t know or love God. I’d say that’s about, oh… a BAJILLION points in favor of our ability to love others being important, wouldn’t you agree?
But what does it actually, practically, and literally look like to love others? Although it’s tempting to leave it at some vague, undefined idea along the lines of “just be nice to them” and move on… that’s not really helpful and does a disservice to God’s command. So I’d like to suggest one concrete way we can love others which may not have previously occurred to you, and happily is consistent with the theme of this blog: we love others when we tell our story.
Our Ability to Tell Our Story
The connection between telling our stories of what God has done for us and loving others wasn’t immediately clear to me. But think of it this way: if we didn’t love others and want them to have what we have found in God, why would we bother sharing a story that exposes the unsightly parts of ourselves? Yet when we have met God- when we have met Love itself- we must share. Not simply out of duty because it is a command, but because what we have experienced is so dramatic and life-changing, we are compelled to share. We want to share.
There’s an important key though. According to Pastor Victoria, “our story can’t help someone else until we are healed.” Originally, I left it at that. But after my husband read this post, he raised an excellent point and I felt compelled to amend the piece: complete healing isn’t necessary for a story to benefit others. As long as at least some measure of healing has occurred, maybe even the smallest bit, our story has the power to give hope. So here’s my little tweak to Pastor Victoria’s statement: our story can’t help someone else until we have entered into the healing process.
And the only thing that can bring true healing is the love of God.
The Intersection of Being Loved and Loving Others
So here’s where it all ties together. Our freedom to love others is directly related to the degree our identity is found in being loved by God. This is important (in case the bold text didn’t clue you in), so here’s a couple real life, personal examples to help make this clear.
Example 1: The Eating Disorder
As I briefly mentioned in a previous post, I struggled with an eating disorder. I clearly remember the day I realized I was no longer reticent to publically share this part of my past. When I was in the midst of it, I didn’t want others to know because I was deeply ashamed. Even years after I had recovered, I still was quite careful with whom I chose to share that information, because even though I was no longer ashamed, deep down it still felt like a wound, like something vulnerable and tender about myself I needed to protect.
Then one day, I realized with surprise I no longer felt the need to protect that part of my story. I genuinely didn’t care who knew, or experience anxiety at the thought of telling others. The lightbulb went off, and I realized the reason for this newfound liberty: it was no longer part of my identity. How exhilarating!
It had never occurred to me that my hesitancy to share was because to some degree I was still identifying with what I called my eating disorder. Please don’t misunderstand, it is still an important part of my story, and shaped who I am today, but without a doubt I am a different person. It is a part of who I was, but not who I am. From that point forward I refused to continue claiming it as a part of my identity: it became an eating disorder, not my eating disorder. For me that was the final step in breaking with the old identity, and only happened after about a decade of God gradually healing and freeing me, layer upon layer at a time.
Example 2: This Blog
I’m sure you can see by reading my writing that I struggle with an attitude problem, pride, self-righteousness, criticalness, doubt, fear… the list goes on and on (though I’ve got to stop somewhere otherwise I’ll spoil the surprise of all my future topics). But what enables me to write with transparency and unflattering honesty is simply because as in the case of the eating disorder, those things are not my true identity. In each story I’ve told, I have experienced God’s love, and discarded the old identity in favor of being “loved by God.”
Questions to Ask Yourself
What story of encountering God’s love can you share with someone else?
If you’ve benefited from knowing the love of God, I encourage you to obey God’s command to love others by sharing what He has done for you, even if it starts with just one person. I think often we admire people who share such stories bravely and publicly, secretly wishing we could be like them. But those people are no different from you or I, or anyone else; everyone has access to the same thing that enables courageous sharing: the love of God and an identity based on this love.
If we don’t openly share our stories of what God has done for us, or what He’s currently doing for us, how will someone struggling with similar issues know who to approach for encouragement, hope, or direction? There is so much power in simply knowing one is not alone, that someone has traveled this road ahead of us and found a destination worth the journey. When we share, we are truly “living loved,” focusing on how others could benefit from our story rather than worrying about what they might think of us.
What part of your life story do you find difficult or impossible to share with others?
Consider this an indication you still need to receive God’s love and healing in this area. I believe if there is something from our past we have a difficult time candidly speaking about, the reality is it remains a present source of our identity, regardless of how long ago it happened or however adamantly we believe we are “over it.” We’ll never be free to talk about it in a way that glorifies God unless our identity is found in God’s love rather than the wound. So ask God to show you what hurt, sin or pain you are calling “mine” and claiming as a part of you.
In this case, I’m sorry to say we’re not completely off the hook for sharing with someone else, although the purpose and context will be different. God often (almost always) uses other people in our process of healing, therefore it is important we talk about our struggle with safe, Godly people for the purpose of finding support, wisdom and encouragement. This is the process whereby our story of pain, suffering, and human efforts to overcome will be transformed into a beautiful story of love, grace and redemption- a story that ultimately we will be excited to share with others out of genuine love.
Certainly there continues to be many things I’m not ready to talk about on a public platform, things that haven’t been fully healed by the love of God, and still feel much too close to who I am as a person to talk about. That’s ok, we are all in a process and God brings up whatever we are able to handle at the proper time. What matters is that where we have been healed by His love, we share, as an act of obedience and love.
Finally, as Jesus said to a formerly demon possessed man after healing him:
“Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord [love] has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Mark 5:19
Do Likewise. Be loved by God, and live loved by sharing His Love.
If you felt God bring to mind something He would like you to start sharing, something you are afraid to share, or even an example of how you were personally blessed by hearing someone else share their story, I’d love to hear from you so leave a reply in the comment box below! Feel free to be as specific or vague as you’d like 🙂