Deb and I had a nice date last night. Our conversation eventually turned toward the topic of love and it has been occupying my thoughts this morning. For a long time, I have used Dallas Willard’s definition of love as “willing the good of others.” It’s a great practical starting point for learning how to love.
But here’s what I’m discovering about love “on the ground.” As much as I may want the good for others and even give myself toward that goal, I also want them to want the good for themselves. I think that’s an essential aspect of love. If I forget this, my love easily distorts into manipulation, coercion and control. Love must respect the other person’s will and cannot force its agenda upon the other person.
A great image for me of distorted love is Marie from Everybody Loves Raymond. She obviously wills the good for others (or at least what she thinks is good). She works hard and serves those around her. Yet, there is no regard for whether the one she “loves” actually wills the same good for themselves.
So whether it’s marriage, friendship, parenting, pastoring or any form of human relations, if I love a person, I’m not only willing their good, but also respecting them enough to want good for themselves.
So what are practical ways of willing the good of others? I’m sure there are many ways, but here are some things I’m learning.
Prayer. I really learning to talk with God about the good of those I love and trust that he will guide and guard them into his will. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m learning to trust the Spirit in others as much as I trust the Spirit in myself. God has proven his faithfulness and love to me when I’ve been misguided, mistaken and even downright rebellious. It’s all part of the journey with Jesus. It’s taught me how to trust the Spirit in my life. So I must trust the Spirit in others’ lives as they walk with Jesus.
Vision. I’m learning that the only sustainable fire for a good life is a compelling and winsome vision of what human life looks like completely immersed in God’s new creation as embodied by Christ. (Sheesh! What a mouthful.) An imagination consumed with a vision of a life hidden in God with Christ (Colossians 3:3) provides the only sustainable momentum for crossing the line of intention and further into a life of goodness and love. Deconstructing and reconstructing the human imagination around a vision can take a loooooong time, especially when guilt or inspiration can happen in mere moments and yield quicker returns. But a proper vision of real life in Christ lasts far longer and produces consistent and sustainable results.
Embodiment. This goes hand-in-hand with vision because vision isn’t merely communicated through words. Vision is dramatized in real life. It’s fleshed out so the imagination has something to grab beyond mere theory. Jesus came proclaiming the greatest good for humanity – the kingdom of God is here, so change the way you live and follow me. But his words were reinforced with a deep life of character, wisdom, love and power that actually lived God’s kingdom in front of everyone. Jesus didn’t just tell people about good news. He IS the good news. If we are to truly love (will the good of others) then we must be the same. I can’t simply talk about the good news. I must BE the good news.
Silence. This might seem contradictory to what I’ve said about vision. There’s a place for communicating. There’s a place for advice. There’s even a place for confrontation (including the in-your-face “you’re ruining your life” intervention). But there is also a place for silence. Not the silence of withdrawal, disassociation or denial, but a holy and loving silence. I liken it to the silence of the father in the story of the prodigal son. The father could have said so many things when his son acted so disrespectfully and destructively. He could have said even more things when his son returned filthy and groveling. Yet, I’m amazed as much by what the father doesn’t say as I am by what he does say.
This kind of silence is an art form, learning to live in the tension of Proverbs 26:4-5 – answer a fool… don’t answer a fool. (I’m not saying the people we deal with are fools. I’m saying learning to love properly requires learning when to speak and when not to speak.) It takes discernment, wisdom, prayer, and a whole lot of confidence in God to be at work under the radar.