In this episode, we will continue our discussion on love. Kyle will start off by reading a story, and then we’ll discuss the different components of loving God, loving ourselves, and loving others.
006: The Rhythm of Marriage—Love, Part 02
Truly Equal is a marriage podcast created by Kyle and Christi Playford. Our goal is to talk about marriage from a fresh perspective. We tell stories about our lives, talk about how marriage is like a love song, and give practical solutions to the problems we've encountered.
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This is a story about a boy who grew up in small town America. This boy went to church every Sunday, Sunday night, and Wednesday night—and loved going. In church he learned about God and the Bible. Very early on (when he was about 5 or 6), he learned from his church and parents that God wanted him to “get saved,” otherwise God would send him to a place of eternal fire and torment. So the boy prayed and asked God to save him, and the boy was told that he was now a Christian. This made the boy happy.
The boy started learning about God from his Sunday School teachers and his family. Since the boy had a better memory than other children, when the teacher asked questions about God usually the boy knew the right answers. This pleased the teacher, which pleased the boy. The teacher told the boy to do good and to not do wrong, so the boy tried very hard to do good. He copied his teachers and parents, looked up to them and tried hard to do good and never do wrong. When he did do wrong, the boy heard that God was angry with him, and he needed to “get right” with God, or God would judge him. Maybe even tell him when he died, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” and send him to hell.
The boy’s father also would get angry when the boy did wrong, and call the boy, “stupid,” “dumb,” or “a moron.” When the boy grew old enough to work, the boy worked for his father since his father had a business. The boy learned that his father was nice when he did well, and angry when he messed up. The boy began to believe God was like his father. His church often started prayers with, “Heavenly Father.” His church thought his father was a good man. However, the boy thought that if his dad on earth got angry with him when he messed up, God must get even angrier with him.
As the boy grew and went to college, he still tried very hard to do right, but with this slight difference: when he would mess up, or make his teachers or pastors disappointed, or even when he would make a mistake when playing games with friends, he would start to call himself names in his head, just like his dad would. Stupid. Idiot. Moron. The boy began to hate the person he was when he messed up, and since he messed up a lot, he began to hate himself. He covered this with a mask of humor and flirtation and knowing the “right answers,” which he was always good at. No one knew who the boy really was, and the boy was extremely happy with that, since he thought that if anyone found out, they would call him stupid—or moron—just like God and his father did.
After college, the boy went away for a long time. He started reading different books that talked about God in a strange way. These books said that God wanted to see people as they really are. This frightened the boy very much. He didn’t want God to see him for who he really was. But then the books said that God deeply loved him as the person he was, not the person he should be. This further frightened the boy. Was the God of his childhood untrue? Was everything he thought about God wrong?
One day the boy went swimming. While the boy was swimming, he thought about love and God. He swam very hard and it grew difficult to breathe. When the boy would turn his head to breathe he would gasp for breath. Suddenly a thought that was not his own broke through his own thoughts and said clearly, “I love you so much I can’t breathe.” The boy heard the voice and believed what the voice said was true. This was the God the boy desired and loved.
He went back to his room and cried, and was forever changed.
(This is a true story about Kyle and his life. These things make him who he is today, and love is a very personal experience for him.)
God's Love for Us
Growing up, Kyle heard that God loved him, but only if he did the right things. Whenever he followed the rules, it brought him love and acceptance. But if he did the wrong thing, he not only experienced consequences (which is normal), but anger and name calling as well. At first, Kyle thought this anger and impatience was simply a normal part of love. But after spending time alone in China, he realized that those behaviors were unloving.
So amidst the confusion of love, we must first address the question, "What does God's love for us look like?" or "How does God love us?" One of the greatest things Kyle has ever heard on this topic is a quote by Brennan Manning:
"God loves you as you are, not as you should be, because you're never going to be as you should be."
As for me, I believed that God loved me no matter what—at least in my mind. However, in my heart I felt like if I did the wrong things, then God wouldn't really love me as much as if I did the right things. I didn't think that God would stop loving me if I did the wrong things, I just thought He wouldn't love me as strongly as if I did the right things. But at the same time I was taught that this way of thinking was wrong, so I grew up confused between what I knew was true and what I felt was true.
In the Bible, I Corinthians 13 is called the "love" chapter, and it defines what love looks like:
"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." (verses 4–7)
So if God is love, then God is patient with us (much more than we ever are with ourselves). And God's love is also kind. This is huge because kindness influences actions. The same action can be done either in kindness or unkindness. So first of all, God is kind with us. The actions that He does for us or to us are out of a kindness and a goodness. God actually loves us, is patient with us, and is kind to us. Everything stems from first of all understanding God's love for us.
Love God Entirely
Once we understand the love that God has shown us, we can turn to the two greatest commandments in the Bible. Jesus said that these sum up the law and the prophets—the whole Old Testament:
"'You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.' And, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27; Matthew 22:37; Deuteronomy 6:5)
This is the heart behind the law. The law is all about love. If you do the law, but do it out of the wrong motivations (anything but love), then it's not helpful because that's not the intent of the law. Gregg, from the podcast Untangling Christianity, has a helpful rephrasing of this verse:
"Love God entirely, love yourself rightly, and love your neighbor likewise."
So first of all, we cannot love God entirely until we understand how God loves us—or how God doesn't love us. God doesn't call us "stupid," or "idiot," or "moron." And God doesn't withhold love from us if we're not doing what we're supposed to do. God isn't impatient with us, and he doesn't get fed up with us. We are never irredeemable in God's eyes. So the key to loving God entirely is understanding how God loves us. If God is the most patient and the most kind being in the universe, then Kyle has no problem loving God with all of his being: gaining more knowledge of Him, talking with Him, and exploring who He is. Loving God entirely is about having a relationship with Him. When we understand that God's disposition towards us (no matter what we do or don't do) is love, patience, and kindness; that becomes a really big motivator for loving God back. It takes all the duty out of it.
Love Yourself Rightly
Once we understand how God loves us and how to love God back, then we can learn to love ourselves rightly. This is something that's very difficult for Kyle, and he suspects it may be for many other Christians as well. Yet, growing up I always heard the verse explained in this way:
"It says, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' It doesn't say, 'Love yourself,' because we all already love ourselves. So therefore the verse is saying, 'Love your neighbor as you already love yourself.'"
Whenever Kyle heard the verse explained this way, he would think, "I don't love myself." In fact, not only did he not love himself, he oftentimes loathed himself. So how does that work?
To clarify what loving yourself rightly means, it's first helpful to talk about what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean to just have warm, fuzzy feelings about yourself. It's not just positive psychology, or a narcissistic view of yourself. Instead, it means taking the time to analyze who you are (and who you are not), learning to be patient and kind with yourself, and knowing you have flaws. This is not often talked about within Christianity, but we believe this is very important. Because if you beat yourself up internally, that's a problem. That's the opposite of loving yourself. And if you don't love yourself well, you won't be able to love God or others well, because you'll think about them the same way that you think about yourself.
Love Your Neighbor Likewise
So to re-cap, we first learn from God how to love. Then, as a result of His love, we love Him back. After that, we learn to love ourselves. And finally, we love everyone else in that same way. This is an outpouring of the love that we've learned. As Kyle likes to say, "Love fills, and then it overfills." If we're patient and kind with ourselves, then we can truly be patient and kind with other people. And if you're married, your spouse is one of the easiest and quickest ways to love others in the same way that you are loved. Also, if you find yourself being impatient with those around you, you may want to ask yourself if you're being impatient with yourself. If you are, you may want to ask if you view God as being impatient with you. It usually begins with a misconception of how we view God's love for us. If we don't view God's love for us rightly, how can we love ourselves rightly? And in turn, how can we love others rightly?
Brennan Manning — preacher
Untangling Christianity — podcast
(This is part 2 of 2 on the topic of love within the rhythm section of our "Marriage as a Love Song" series. You can listen to part 1 here.)
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