A few years ago I was having coffee with a friend of mine. He asked how our little house church was going. I let him know it was going great and asked about his group. What he said next really shifted my paradigms in a good way.
He said, “Well, we’re all learning how to love God and love one another…”
I nodded and sipped my coffee, but then he kept going and added this: “…and we’re all learning how to receive love from God and to receive love from each other.”
That made me stop and think.
Until that moment I don’t think it ever occurred to me that a room full of people trying to Love God and Love one another would totally fail unless they first learned how to receive love from each other first.
It seemed so obvious once he said it out loud, but until that moment I had never really understood this principle.
So, the next time our house church got to together we talked about this and everyone agreed that it was pointless to try to love God or love one another if we weren’t all primarily capable of receiving love – from God and from each other.
That’s when we started spending more time focusing on learning how to receive love…which isn’t very easy for most of us.
See, opening ourselves up to be loved by others involves being vulnerable. It means being known in ways that might make some of us uncomfortable.
Truthfully, to be fully loved one must make oneself available to be profoundly hurt as well. There’s no way around it.
Vulnerability is what makes love possible, and it’s also what makes being wounded possible, too.
That’s the big risk, and most of us never allow ourselves to be fully loved because we’re always holding something back out of fear and protecting ourselves from the possibility of pain.
As C.S. Lewis put it:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ( C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)
However, if we can really let go and allow ourselves to be known and vulnerable and open for potential pain, we also make ourselves ready to receive love – both from God and from others.
So, what I’ve learned over the years is that this love is a complete cycle. It starts, I believe, with learning how to receive the amazing, unending, inconceivably transcendant love of God. Because God IS love, this is our primary way of knowing and experiencing God – to be still and know that we are loved by a God who is love, and to realize that we were created in the image of love. This means that to be loved is at the core of our identity. To be human is to be beloved by God. Once we grasp this, and start to experience this as a regular part of our everyday reality, we’re ready to move on to learning how to be loved by our fellow human beings.It also helps if we can understand that not everyone experiences love the same way. Some of us are best loved by physical touch (hugs, pats on the back), others feel most loved when we speak words of affirmation over them, or when we spend quality time with them, or when we perform acts of service for them, or when we give them a thoughtful gift. [These are “Love Languages” described in Gary Chapman’s book of the same name].
Once we’ve taken time to learn someone’s love language and then start practicing ways to show them love in the ways they experience is best, we can finally begin to engage one another in more loving ways that hit home and do the most inner good.
So, how are you learning to be loved by God, or to receive love from others? Until you’ve gotten really good at receiving love, I don’t think you’ll ever really learn how to love others, or to love yourself.
Being filled with the amazing love of God – which transcends knowledge and is higher, wider, longer and deeper than anything we could ever imagine – is the reservoir we draw from when we want to show love to others, or to ourselves. Until we have been filled with this love, our efforts to love anyone, or anything, will be greatly diminished.
I encourage you to try learning how to receive love more – from God and from others around you – even as you look for ways to love God and love other people in your circle of influence.
The world needs more love, and so do we. Why not start learning how to increase our capacity for giving and receiving love?
PLUS: My publisher [Quoir] has also dropped the price on almost every Kindle edition in their catalog to just .99 cents on Amazon right now, for the entire month of April.
Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife have returned to El Paso, TX after 25 years, as part of their next adventure. They hope to start a new house church very soon.