THE GREATEST GIFT we have been given in all of creation is love. It was for loving reverence and to glorify Him that God created man (Eccl 12:13). It was to love one another that Jesus commanded (John 15:12). And, it was God’s love for us that offers us eternal life (John 3:16).
Love is referenced hundreds of times in the Bible, yet it remains one of the most enigmatic topics in our culture today. Rather than trying to define love, let’s look at a few obstacles that prohibit us from giving and receiving love, both within ourselves and with others, so that we may work to not only fulfill God’s will for us but also to revel in the glorious benefits of His gift.
SELF-ESTEEM – Have you ever considered that how you see yourself impacts how you relate to others? What about how your image of yourself affects your relationship with God? Your self-esteem has a profound influence on your ability to not only accept love, but also to give love to others. If externally you present a confident, secure, loving person while internally feeling uncertain, insecure, and unworthy, then learning to accept yourself may be a good place to start. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, personal likes and dislikes, and things they want to work to change about themselves. Yes, everyone. Yes, even therapists. The goal of improving ourselves and thus, improving our self-esteem, is not to become ego-maniacal but to be authentic. To get real! It is about releasing the strongholds of negative self-thoughts such as: fears of failure, poor body image, judgmental comparisons of ourselves to others, and all those nasty little mental statements we often make about ourselves that we wouldn’t dare say in the presence of another person. Just imagine, if you were able to let go of all the emotions and energy often spent second-guessing and degrading yourself and instead replace those things with a positive plan of action which includes accepting, valuing, and loving yourself, you would not only be astounded by the changes within yourself, you would also be amazed by the changes in people around you and the blessings God has waiting for you.
UNFORGIVENESS—This is a big one for many people, and yet, many of those very people don’t even recognize that they are carrying the burden of unforgiveness. Think for a moment about a few of your current relationships: friends, spouse, children, co-workers, your relationship with God. Are there any areas in these relationships that are hindered by unforgiveness? Think carefully. Are you guarded in what you share with others? Are you afraid to tell someone that they have hurt you? Have you asked for and accepted God’s forgiveness while refusing to forgive yourself? Often we only examine the status of the current relationship while innocently overlooking the impact that past hurts continue to have on us. We are products of our experiences and difficult, even painful, experiences are to be learned from not ignored. For some, it would seem that to remove themselves from an unhealthy relationship or situation, create new expectations, make personal changes, and enter a new environment or a new healthy, loving relationship is the most appropriate answer. But what about forgiveness? Is forgiveness merely dissociating yourself from something or from another individual and wishing them well? No, forgiveness is not about that event or that person or the hurts, fears, and frustrations associated with them. Forgiveness is about YOU, the person who holds the key to breaking the barrier of unforgiveness and freeing yourself to openly giving and receiving love.
COMMUNICATION— Just because humans have the ability to relay information to each other in a nano-second does not mean that we know how to communicate! In fact, because of our media-soaked, technologically-addicted lifestyles, many people have lost the basic abilities of communicating one to one. Communication is not merely written words on a page, spoken utterances, or inferred body language. Communication is personalization, emotion, spirituality, time (and timing), understanding, responding, listening, sharing, giving, speaking, acting...Love itself is communication. God ‘expresses’ His love for us by His very nature. We affirm others by ‘telling’ them how much we love them. Our concern about something or someone is often ‘shown’ by our decisions and actions. All of these are positive forms of communication. But what about some of the negative communications we exhibit without even recognizing them? What about the underlying meanings of our actions or our words as perceived by those around us? Healthy communication is not only about the message that we share with others, but it is equally about the perception of that message by the intended recipient. Many of the couples and families I work with are connected to each other 24/7 via their cell phones, emails, blackberries, etc.; yet, when I ask them to participate in a 10 minute daily communication exercise face to face with one another, well more than half do not succeed! What are your words, thoughts, actions, ideas, plans, and feelings communicating to those around you? Are you present, really present and in the moment, when communicating with your loved ones? If not, then take the moment, make the time, share yourself with God, with family, with friends, with strangers, maybe even with yourself!
Whether returning God’s love to Him, accepting and loving ourselves, or sharing love with others, we must realize that love comes from within each of us. God’s love is alive in His written word, it is alive within us through His son, Jesus Christ, and it is eternal through His Holy Spirit. Don’t forget the importance of allowing yourself to receive love; but most importantly-- Love God, Love Others, and Love Yourself!