Truly, there is no greater joy than to love. It is greater than simply being loved. Why? Because to love is to reflect God, who is Love. When we express the love of God, we see and feel more love. By increasing our love for everyone, we bless ourselves as well.
So how do we learn to truly love?
The Bible is a wonderful guidebook. It directs us in loving. First John says, "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.... If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us" (4:7, 12).
Loving someone better is not always so easy. But we can increase our love by considering the spiritual identity that God has given each of His children - by recognizing that another's true nature is, like God, good and perfect. It is so easy to love someone who has been good to us, because we readily see good in this person. But if there is someone in whom we find it difficult to see good, we can at least begin acknowledging the person's perfect, spiritual identity (see Gen. 1:26). We will then recognize more clearly the good nature that has always been there. We'll regard him or her more compassionately, even if we've been treated unkindly.
If others are unkind, their own views of themselves fall short of the identity that God has given them. Our love-based response can help them find a more spiritual view of their identity and thereby lead them to the peace and happiness that go with knowing themselves as God's spiritual reflection.
The woman who discovered Christian Science wrote the following with married couples in mind; but in fact, its message can be helpful in other types of human relationships: "There should be the most tender solicitude for each other's happiness, and mutual attention and approbation should wait on all the years of married life" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Pg. 59). Developing a consistent and heartfelt devotion to another's well-being is a powerful lesson in love, whether that person is a spouse, another family member, or an irritable acquaintance. We can be sure that in our devotion "God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us."
Recently, I made a business arrangement with the manager of a small store. The agreement involved an investment for both of us, but particularly for me and people working with me. At the last minute, a regional supervisor forced an end to the arrangements. I encouraged the store manager to work through the problem with me, but instead of showing her usual friendliness, she became very hostile. The situation needed healing. I had to love the manager - not affectionately, as I might love a family member, but with a yearning to see the good nature of everyone involved.
I struggled to pray. However, I improved my view of the situation by persistently affirming to myself the fact that the manager's true nature was the image and likeness of God; that everyone directed by God experiences divine love and harmony in daily life. I reasoned that hostility is not a part of anyone's God-given identity, so it couldn't be evident in my relationship with this particular individual.
I also saw that this situation called for compassion. The manager was obviously under pressure from others - likely afraid of losing her job. I honestly considered what would be best for everyone in the situation. While fulfilling the agreement would help her store, if the manager and her supervisor did not agree with this step, perhaps another time would be better.
A day later, we met again. All her hostility was gone, and we parted on very friendly terms, with the expectation that our original agreement could be renewed in the near future. The best part of the experience was that I came to know God better. I felt untouched by the hostility and more certain of the power of God's love.
We all have situations that require greater love on our part. We begin to truly love by acknowledging an individual's spiritual identity. And we can recognize that whatever someone does, we have cause for loving him or her, responding out of an unselfish consideration for that person's well-being. That's how God's love is perfected in us.