At his wife's memorial service, he stood to tell about their 46-year marriage. From the moment he met her, he'd had an overwhelming desire to take care of her. But he soon learned who would be taking care of whom. (The night their first child was born, and she woke him to say it was time to go to the hospital, he was such an emotional wreck she had to dress him after she dressed herself!)
His gratitude for her life made me stop and think about what motivates unselfish love. His love for her flowed from her care for him, in sharp contrast to a lot of relationships in which people feel they give so much with little in return.
What if we all could learn to love with gratitude? Sometimes it's hard enough to imagine loving those who are closest to us; but could it be possible to love even those we meet at work, on the street, over the phone?
Have you ever noticed how easily people love things like trees, flowers, and stars? The majesty, innocence, beauty, of these objects of nature inspire a reverence that often makes us love and feel loved. The same thing happens when I go to the beach at sunrise. Even under a dark cloud cover, when there isn't a glimmer of orange or pink, the soothing repetition of the waves and the gentleness of the breeze still give me courage to face the day.
But with people we aren't always so generous. We demand they prove themselves, sometimes over and over again, before we deem them worthy of our affection. Can we revere our fellow beings as readily as we do nature? Words from the Bible offer a reason to love others quickly, with gratitude and reverence: "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? ... For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet" (Ps. 8:3-6).
Our freedom to love others is anchored in the fact that God loves them. God has so loved His sons and daughters that we have been endowed with glory, honor, and dominion. And so we must learn to welcome others into our hearts as reflecting the clear shining of God.
True, at first (or perhaps after years and years of knowing someone) that glory, honor, and dominion may seem hidden, if not buried. But like summer flowers that stop drooping with a good drink of water, it's amazing what happens to people when they discover you are willing to love them just because of their relationship to God. They start to laugh more, even at themselves. They feel more freedom to be honest because they know that mistakes they truly repent of will be forgiven. People who know they're loved are more relaxed and trusting.
Well, where do you find this capacity to love? In the fact that we have been loved from the beginning by God, who made us in His perfect, spiritual likeness. So often when we feel we can't love, it is because we feel we're without something we need. But the Bible speaks of us as having "dominion," implying a God-given completeness in which every need is met. God is omnipotent and upholds us. He gives us the courage to be faithful in living up to our best, honorably and securely, which includes supporting the best in others.
Yes, we have to practice forgiveness in order to move past the mistakes, the character weaknesses, and the invariable disappointments of human action. But practicing forgiveness is an expression of pure love. It rescues and secures relationships.
That's why the life of Christ Jesus is so meaningful today. He loved freely, expressing the fullness of God's love, even to those who put him on a cross. In writing about his example, Mary Baker Eddy said of Jesus: "Through the magnitude of his human life, he demonstrated the divine Life. Out of the amplitude of his pure affection, he defined Love. With the affluence of Truth, he vanquished error" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Pg. 54).
The freedom and promise of Christian love make everyone's load lighter.