Today I walked to a local park to finish reading Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It was a refreshing and thought provoking book, and I encourage you to read it.
Toward the end of his book, Don recounts a time when he learned to stop beating himself up mentally and to accept love from others. Don couldn’t let his girlfriend’s love for him sink in no matter how hard he tried to believe her. Finally, someone told him that his problem was that he based his value on what his girlfriend thought rather than God’s infinite love for him. Even though the girlfriend really did love him, she could never satisfy his deepest craving for acceptance. Once Don realized that God Himself loves and values him, he stopped obsessing over the matter. His whole outlook–and ability to relate to others–changed positively.
On my walk back home from the park, I thought about what Don had said and how it relates to my own life. Like him, I have such a hard time feeling loved by others. I can know it cognitively, but my heart just won’t buy it. And the more I think of what it really means to be loved, the foggier my understanding becomes.
I’m afraid that we English speakers have so exhausted the term love that we have drained much of its weight. We throw the term around in terms of material consumption, of aesthetic or musical preference, of platonic and romantic relationships, in conversations about tolerance; the list goes on and on. “Love” is an overarching umbrella term that we use frequently rather than more specific descriptors. I’m guilting of slapping on the ambiguous term all the time too, probably due to laziness or habit even when more specific words would communicate with greater depth. Maybe we should put a hiatus on the frequency with which we use of the word love until we can recover its meaning and occasionally use more specific synonyms instead.
So what does it mean to feel love, anyway?
Realizing that it is helpful to unpack different aspects, I started a list on my walk back home of different ways I could feel loved:
- I feel known: seen, heard, understood
- I feel cared about
- I feel provided, sacrificed for
- I feel honored
- Someone has shown me compassion
- Someone has shown me mercy
- Someone has shown me patience
- Someone enjoys my presence
- I feel accepted
- I feel respected
- I feel protected
- I feel like I belong
Putting the “loved” phrases more precisely helps its truth actually reach my heart. Do I feel “loved by God”? Sure. I don’t know, I guess. But do I feel accepted by God? Do I feel like I’m understood, that I belong?
What a difference that makes in my heart! When I understand that I am loved, I live totally differently. I will go out of my way to serve others; I quickly extend grace; I forgive with patience (this line of thinking, by the way, is what Donald Miller discovered in the chapter I described). Honestly, though, Too often I selfishly protect myself long before even considering anyone else; I become consumed with my own desires and needs. But friends? God is still faithful, and I’m thankful that He gives me another chance.
So what can we do?
Accept love. Accept the deep riches of God’s love for you–His compassion, mercy, acceptance. Accept the love that your family and friends extend to you. In receiving it, you bless them in return.
Extend love. When we’re accepted, we should respond by recognizing the good we see in others, communicating our care for one another, and serving with actions of sacrifice.
Let’s love. And let’s live like we’re loved.