Love Must Be Received
In various conversations I’ve had lately, it has just come more and more abundantly visible to me that love is not a one-way street. Love is something that must be accepted, received. It is a gift. And if it is a gift, then it can be rejected, and all too often, we all do this.
Now, yes, we can be loved poorly. But sometimes we are loved well, but we do not receive that love. We bat it away out of fear or we hardly recognize it and so we miss what’s handed to us. Some have been loved so poorly that certain kinds of intimacy or relationship is threatening, and that means that love is threatening, so they can’t bear to take it in. When it’s offered, it triggers panic or at least anxiety, and so they back away or even bolt.
Others have been loved so little that their identity is at least partially based on not being loved or not being lovable. Then when love is offered, it flies in the face of their very understanding of themselves. To accept that love would be to accept that their identity is somehow wrong, and that requires tearing apart one’s whole understanding of oneself, a daunting project to say the least. To tear apart who one is may mean being left with nothing or at least be left with uncertainty, which could mean something worse than before. That can be terribly frightening.
Maybe it’s not the core pieces of one’s identity that we decide are bad or unlovable, but we all have pieces in ourselves that we believe are this way. And so even little pieces can be threatened when we are offered love. Being loved means that those parts aren’t unlovable, and we might have to disassemble those parts of ourselves. The easy thing to do, then, is to simply deny it, put it down, deflect it, just so long as you don’t have to take it in.
Of perhaps we take in love but stick it in the wrong place. Or maybe we mistake something else for love and try to put it where it doesn’t belong. If we mistake adoration for love or pity or dependence, we will fail to take in real love, real care. Or we might take real love and use it to boost our ego instead of accepting it as a good gift. We tarnish the gift by almost taking it instead of receiving it.
So when love is offered, it must be accepted as what it truly is – a gift. We must be careful not to take it as granted or as a threat, which can be hard. We must struggle against some of our instinctive reactions to protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe, which means that we must learn to recognize when we are reacting that way. Surely asking the Spirit to guide us in this and open us up to these things would be a boon.
And then we must learn to sit in what we are given. In a culture where we are so tempted to quickly jump from one thing to another, we cannot risk love being just one, brief jolt and then on to another thing to satisfy us or catch our attention. Real acceptance requires letting whatever we are given soak into our hearts, to sort of simmer in a way. We take in understanding of mathematics when we spend time immersed in it, and it we only quickly glance at it, we do not learn it well. Similarly, if we only briefly acknowledge love, it will not penetrate our hearts. We may have to choose to open up parts of ourselves to that love so that it may enter places that we normally disavow.
I read another blog a while back where someone was denouncing a ministry that encouraged people to spend time taking in the love of God because Scripture never affirms such a thing and implied that it is frivolous and self-centered. I cannot disagree more. That we have 80 years on Earth and then all of eternity to be with God suggests that we are given a great deal of time to take in love. That we are born young and helpless and given nothing to do but trust in others to love us and that Jesus called us to be like children suggests that we must spend time being loved. That we reject love suggests that we have the capacity to not be loved or to be loved poorly, and thus we must learn, be trained and train ourselves, to be loved. We were designed to take in love, and sin has marred this; therefore, part of the growth and maturing process, the healing and redemption from sin, is to cease rejecting or abusing love that is given and learn to take it in.
Yes, we can abuse learning to be loved and make it self-centered, and we can become so focused on it that we forget or simply ignore other aspects of a healthy and holy life to which we are called, but the same could be true of any spiritual discipline from worship to prayer to Bible study. That does not negate its value. We must learn to take in love, for only when we are loved will we truly be able to love, and only when we are able to love will we live with our God as He desires.