By Shannon Shayler
If we can do so much good by showing love to others, and if we ourselves can gain so much in the process, why don’t we do it more? Why do we often fail to say and do the loving things we know we should? What stands in our way?
A main obstacle is our pride—you know, that sensitive little nerve somewhere deep inside that most of us will do almost anything to keep from getting hurt. All too often, it seems, we don’t show love because we’re afraid it will backfire. We fear rejection, and that makes us overly concerned about what others may think. Perhaps they’ll think we’re being too forward. Perhaps they’ll think we’re being insincere. Perhaps they’ll think we have selfish motives. Perhaps they’ll feel put on the spot—that they have to reciprocate, even if they’d rather not. So how do we overcome our pride?—The same way we overcome our fear of diving boards: by taking the plunge!
Love is stronger than pride, because love doesn’t care what people think. It just loves anyway.—D.B.B.
The truly loving are truly humble, and the truly humble are truly loving, because humility and love are inseparable. You cannot have real love and not be humble, and you cannot have genuine humility without a lot of love. It takes humility to be affectionate, and it takes humility to receive affection.
This is true even of our relationship with God. Once we have been told that God loves us and that Jesus died for us out of love, we have to humble ourselves to receive His love. Love is a humbling thing!—D.B.B.
Here’s another roadblock—and it really comes down to pride, once again. So many people live without love because they’re too shy to make the first move—like the could-have-been couple in this sad tale:
Once upon a time there was a little girl who spent her days sitting beside a pond watching a frog on a lily pad. Now the little girl knew that the frog was probably a prince. And the frog, who was indeed a prince, knew that the little girl could kiss his nose and break the magic spell that had been cast upon him by a wicked witch. But the little girl on the bank of the pond was too shy to begin a conversation with a frog, and the frog could simply not bring himself to tell her how badly he wanted her to kiss his nose. So the little girl went on sitting there watching the frog—and that is the end of the story.
Take the plunge!
If you could observe people from all walks of life for one day and make note of every missed opportunity to give a little love, and then ask them later where they think they went wrong, most would probably say that they were simply too busy. The world has sped up tremendously in the last few generations, and nearly everyone is under terrific pressure to get ahead, stay ahead, or try to catch up—often at the cost of the things that really matter most in life. Survey after survey has found that people value the love, support, purpose, and the sense of fulfillment they derive from family and friends more than material success, but the same surveys find the same people complaining they never have enough time to spend with family and friends.
The solution is simple, but not always easy: If it’s a priority, treat it like a priority. Remind yourself each morning and throughout the day that you’re going to put people ahead of material gain or getting things done. Try to make every encounter with everyone you come in contact with a positive one. That usually doesn’t take more than a smile, a compliment, or a word of sympathy—and it usually doesn’t interfere with what you’re doing or cause you to get less done. In fact, your work will probably go smoother and seem far less stressful. Before long, you’ll see people light up when you enter the room, and those smiles, compliments, and kind words will come back to you. What’s more, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you made someone’s day or job or life better—and that’s a real accomplishment!
If you’re too busy to show love to those around you, you’re busier than God Himself.—D.B.B.
If we could learn to look at people and situations the way God does and then act accordingly, how differently we would do things! Just about everyone has heard the biblical maxim, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”1 Most of us agree in principle, but it’s often another case of easier said than done.
What we need to remember is that God never expects us to do anything He knows we can’t without His help. He wouldn’t tell us to love unselfishly if He weren’t right there with us to help us do just that. This is where faith comes in. If we really believe what He tells us, we act on it—even if it’s contrary to our natural reasoning or the way the world around us operates. And when we do, we reap the innumerable and incomparable rewards God has reserved for those who love unselfishly. It may not pay off immediately or in dollars and cents, but you won’t be sorry. Sooner or later God will more than make it up to you! Even the seeming sacrifices aren’t sacrifices. They’re investments that will someday pay big dividends.
One morning, I called on two women who were in the same Miami, Florida, hospital. In Marie Smith’s room there were flowers in abundance and all sorts of cards and beautiful little gifts. Marie was just surrounded by those thoughtful little offers of kindness. But that had been her life, for through the years she had sown love and thoughtfulness in the lives of others. Now it was coming back to her in her hour of need.
In the other room a woman was lying alone, bitterness and suspicion written on every feature of her face. Selfishness and criticalness had ruined her life. There she was, lying with her face turned to the wall. She had built around herself a wall of friendlessness, coldness, hardness of heart, and selfishness, and now she was shut in alone as she faced death.
Oh, what a difference in those two rooms!—Virginia Brandt Berg
When most couples vow “for better or worse,” in the starry-eyed magic of the moment they can only imagine their lives together getting better and better. New parents take one long, deep look into the eyes of their baby and vow to never hurt or disappoint the child. Children promise to stay best friends forever. Doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, missionaries, and others dedicate their lives to serving others. It’s love—that superglue of families, friendships, and every other good thing—that inspires such commitment. Why then do married couples squabble? Why do parents nag, belittle, and get impatient? Why do friends drift apart? Why does the inspiration to selflessly serve wane?
Familiarity often breeds contempt. As time passes, we become familiar with the people we are closest to, and we stop valuing and treating them like we should. The wear and tear of daily living takes its toll, and the bright newness of once-treasured relationships begins to fade. Up close and personal, everyone’s flaws and wrinkles begin to show. Routines become ruts. Our once-prized blessings begin to weigh on us.
Sound familiar? Then it’s time to reverse the trend. That will take a conscious effort and may not be easy, especially if the problem has been going on for some time, but it can be done. Count your blessings. Remind yourself of all the things about the other person that drew you to them in the first place. Then put yourself in their position and ask the same question. The quickest and surest way to return the shine to any tarnished relationship is to polish your half. Get busy being the person you set out to be at the start, and the other party will almost certainly follow suit without direct prompting.
And remember, God specializes in fresh starts. “If anyone is in Christ,” the Bible tells us, “he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”2 That’s a promise about salvation, but it’s also a promise for everyday living. God will revitalize and renew any relationship if we ask Him to start with us.
The elderly couple had been married for many years—so many years, in fact, that they knew each other’s thoughts. At least that’s how they each rationalized why they’d stopped talking to each other. One night as they sat on their porch taking in a beautiful sunset, both were touched by the scene, but neither said a word. The husband thought to himself later, What a soul-stirring sight that was! It was all I could do to keep from telling Marge how much I love her! Let’s not let familiarity rob us of opportunities to tell those closest to us how much they mean to us.—Retold by K.P.
Bitterness and resentment can build walls between people faster than almost anything, and it often starts with relatively small matters. Another person does something to hurt or wrong us, and we hold it against them. That’s the first brick. They do it again, and we add a second brick. Now that we know what to look for, the offenses—and bricks—mount quickly. Soon just thinking about that person seems to justify another brick. Before long, we can’t even see the other person. All we can see is the wall.
One of the worst things about resentment is that it’s self-justifying. “Okay, so I’m not perfect either and share some of the blame, but what he did to me was much worse!” But when we harbor resentment, we’re the real losers. It not only cuts us off from the person we resent, but resentment’s destructive nature is such that it can’t be contained to one relationship. Those negative feelings spill over into other relationships. Walls go up on other sides, and we become isolated in our unhappiness.
Bring in the wrecking ball: forgive.
If you can’t find it in yourself to do that, follow these steps:
1. Make a list of the other person’s good qualities and strong points.
2. Go back to the beginning and try to understand why the person acted in the way you resent. Were they deliberately trying to hurt you? If your positions were reversed, would you have acted differently under the circumstances?
3. Acknowledge that your resentment is just as serious a problem as whatever the other person did wrong, then ask God to forgive you, take away the resentment, and renew your positive feelings about that person. You can’t rid yourself of resentment by an act of your will, and you can’t work up love—you need God’s help.
Now bring in the wrecking ball.
A woman once enumerated her husband’s faults to a divorce court judge. She simply couldn’t live with “that man” one day more, she said. On and on she went.
Finally she paused to catch her breath, and the judge asked, “Well, why did you marry him in the first place? You must have liked something about him then. What was it?”
“Well,” the wife said, “he was a good man, a hard worker, and a faithful provider. He was also kind to children, and he was loyal.”
“Isn’t he still all those things?” asked the judge.
“Well, yes,” the wife replied in a huff, “but…” And then she started to repeat her grievances. “He’s terrible! He throws his clothes on the floor. He never puts anything away. He’s always late for dinner. He’s hard to get up in the morning. He picks his nose in public. He fusses if I burn the toast. …”—All were relatively insignificant offenses.
“Very well then,” said the judge. “Here’s my preliminary ruling: Go home and think about those good qualities for which you first loved him, and try not to think about the things he does that peeve you. If after 30 days you still want the divorce, come back.”
The judge never saw the woman again.—Adapted from D.B.B.