Where were we? Oh yes…we started with a reference to a television show: The Neighbors, ABC’s little comedy about two very different but still very much alike families learning to live together amid the madness of the the modern world. Somehow, from there we ended up thinking about love. Or maybe we should say “inevitably” instead of “somehow”, because when alike-but-different people try to live together we are going to wind up with either love or one of its opposites–apathy or enmity. There really are no other choices.
Have you noticed that there is very little argument about the desirability of love? We may haggle a bit over definition or application but as to the essence of love itself, there seems to be very little debate. I’ve yet to hear anyone say “The problem with the world today is there is just too much love” or anyone complain “My life would be so much better if there wasn’t so much love in it.” No. We love love! We enjoy it and and revel in it and cry over its loss. We don’t need wise ones to tell us without love we have nothing because we intuitively know it in our hearts.
This love of love begs a question though–why is it so hard? Why is love so much work? Why doesn’t it come easier to us? Why do we so easily slide toward apathy and enmity when the fruits of such are so visible in our broken world? I’m fairly confident there is no one-word answer to these questions, but I’m going to offer one anyway–protection. Protection? Isn’t that generally a good thing? The answer to that question is easier–it depends on what you’re protecting, and in the world we live in it is easy to protect the wrong things. I’m going to use myself as a bad example here.
The other night I was sitting with my wife enjoying the evening when we were interrupted. I didn’t react well. In fact. I acted like a baby. Exactly like a baby. By that, I mean my primary motivator in the moment was my very smallest self–my ego, which didn’t want to share or play well with others. Rationally, I know better. I know that shrinking to my smallest self never brings more happiness or light into the world. But I did it anyway. I literally became, for a short period of time, that little child we have all seen pitching a fit and screaming “Mine, mine, MINE!” at the world.
Now why would I do such a thing? Human weakness? Of course that plays a part. We are all weak. But it’s more than that. We are all wounded by the imperfection of the world, and those wounds play themselves out in our particular circumstances. Above all, we don’t want to be wounded again. Ironically, this usually sub-conscious desire to protect ourselves from the pain of our wounds binds us to them even tighter, assuring their power over us.
This why we can all agree that love is such a wonderful thing but be quite selective about how we apply it. We are protecting ourselves. Not our best selves or our highest selves, but that little wounded person inside. For nothing is quite so scary as love. It opens us to wounds. It might not be returned. It might be taken advantage of. It surrenders power and possessions and time and money. It surrenders pride. It heals our wounds not by protecting us from them but by daring us to walk right into their gaping maws.
I think this is why when Jesus talked about the neighbors in his day, he not only encouraged loving them as one loves oneself, but he picked some aliens of his own as examples. He encouraged faithful Jews to be more like a Samaritan traveler and to emulate a Roman centurion. He ate with people the “righteous” thought wicked. He was telling people to stop living out of their smallest selves. That by doing so they were not only binding themselves to the misery of their wounds but spreading it to others. That living in such a way was certainly not abundant living, regardless of ones possessions. That in fact living in such a way is not really living at all. So he encouraged people to expand their love, to widen their circles, and to risk even their lives in the attempt. For indeed, what does it profit to gain the world but lose one’s soul, and where is the finding of the soul but in the giving and receiving of love?
Considering this, I really have some work to do.