Our isolation caused by COVID19 from friends and family members (sometimes they can be both!) has been really hard. Maybe we have begun to feel a little guilty for taking their companionship for granted. It will be a while before we do that again. When we look back on some of the things they did that bothered us, they probably don’t seem as important anymore.
God has made us social beings. That’s why we feel a need to share our experiences with others. Watching a funny show, for example, just isn’t as funny if we don’t have anyone to share it with.
I have always enjoyed Charles Shultz’s Peanuts cartoons. They often illustrate things about everyday life in a very interesting way. In one strip, for example, Shultz pictures the inner longing we all have to be loved and also our inability to really love others:
Charlie Brown: All it would take to make me happy is to have someone say he likes me.
Lucy: Are you sure?
Charlie Brown: Of course, I’m sure!
Lucy: You mean you’d be happy if someone merely said he or she likes you? Do you mean to tell me that someone has it within his or her power to make you happy merely by doing such a simple thing?
Charlie Brown: Yes! That’s exactly what I mean!
Lucy: Well, I don’t think that’s asking too much. I really don’t. [Now standing face to face, Lucy asks one more time] But you’re sure now? All you want is to have someone say, “I like you, Charlie Brown,” and then you’ll be happy?
Charlie Brown: And then I’ll be happy!
Lucy: [Lucy turns and walks away saying] I can’t do it!
Of course, we long for much more than to just hear the words, “I love you.” We long to know that someone really loves us, just the way we are, with no strings attached. A lot of us have learned through experience, though, that no one will ever love us enough to completely satisfy us.
Why is that true? Why don’t we receive the kind of love that really satisfies us? I am convinced that there are two barriers to experiencing unconditional human love. These barriers are deep within us, and they keep us from giving and receiving love. Let me explain.
First of all, every last one of us was born with a selfish, self-centered nature. Just watch two toddlers trying to play with the same toy if you doubt this truth. As we grow older, we learn to hide some of our selfishness, but it is still there. You can see it if you ask someone who is head over heels “in love” why he or she loves the other person. You will hear replies like: “He/she makes me feel important” or “He/she understands and appreciates me” or “They make me laugh.” Notice that all those statements have “me” in them.
Let’s face it, we are all too self-centered to totally love anyone else unconditionally. That’s why the Bible declares that “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way….” (Isaiah 53:6).
We usually only love others when our love is returned or when there’s something in it for us. This “me centeredness” is why the others around us have trouble loving unconditionally. They are “me-centered” too. We all tend to fight for what we want, to put ourselves first.
That leads me to my second thought. The way we view our own goodness is also a roadblock to unconditional love. Although we want to be loved unconditionally, we also want others to see that we deserve that unconditional love. We want to be loved because others see the good in us. We all think we are basically good people.
Brace yourself for a shock. God says that isn’t true. Even the great Apostle Paul had to admit, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh….” (Romans 7:18).
Here is the good news. There is Someone who is willing to love us even though we don’t deserve it, and that same Someone can help us to love others when they don’t deserve it either. God loves us through His mercy. It is only His grace that makes us worthy of that love.
Notice how Paul put it, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5). As we come to realize that God is willing to love us “according to His mercy” (i.e. unconditionally, not based on anything good in us), then it is easier to love others because they don’t deserve it either. When we see how much we need God’s love, that makes it easier to love those around us in the same way. Jesus said very plainly, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).
I would be glad to point you to the One who wants to wash away your sin and love you as if you never sinned, as if you were completely perfect.
When you do that, this benediction can be yours: “Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).