Learning to love

When an individual was called upon to care for his estranged mother, painful childhood memories loomed large. Out of a heartfelt plea, “Dear God, teach me to love,” came a tangible sense of God’s love that led to a dramatic healing and a renewed relationship with his mom.

As a child, I felt alienated from my family. My parents had divorced, and the fighting between my mother and her parents, with whom I lived, was bitter and incomprehensible to me. At age 7, I was sent to live with my father and his new wife. But I had a tenuous relationship with my father. And the feelings of alienation continued, because in my annual visits to my mother it was clear she was slipping into mental illness. As the years passed, I had less and less contact with her.

A number of years later, now an adult, I learned that my mom had been hospitalized and had lost the ability to live independently. I arranged residence for her in a nursing home near where my brother and I lived and flew across the country to check her out of the hospital. The kind doctor explained that my mom was exhibiting the mentality of a 6-year-old and would steadily regress.

The flight home wasn’t easy. Unable to sit up, when my mom wasn’t acting out she slept across three seats with her head in my lap. I began to think about my unresolved relationship with her and the fact that I’d spent a lifetime dodging family confrontations and wallowing in self-pity. Decades had passed, yet I was still burdened by lingering memories of domestic chaos.

I prayed with all my heart, asking for a comforting message from God, our Father-Mother, the divine Parent of everyone. Inspiring ideas came immediately. Willing myself to surmount my painful past had ultimately been inadequate. It dawned on me that I needed God’s love in order to be able to truly do this. I needed to love, plain and simple. But how?

The Bible makes the case for why we can love. “We are of God,” asserts First John, adding, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. ... God is love” (4:6-8). If God is Love, then real love is of God. To love is to be what we are, “born of God” – to express our true, spiritual identity as God’s child, which includes every quality of divine Love.

Christ Jesus proved that everyone has the ability to express the purity of God’s love. In restoring health and mental soundness to countless people, Jesus showed our pure, spiritual identity as the beloved child, or spiritual expression, of our Father-Mother, Love, to be intact. Even today, healing happens as we become receptive to the powerful, transforming presence of divine Love and are willing to drop anger and regret.

As I leaned back in my seat on the plane, the prayer came to me, “Dear God, teach me to love.” At that moment, I felt all resistance fading as God’s love for everyone blossomed in me. God’s grace overcame me as I opened my heart to receive it. I found myself eager to let go of the confusing past. I felt God giving me genuine love for my mom and every other family member. Forgiveness flooded my thoughts, and I wept with relief.

It wasn’t long before I heard a cheerful voice: “I’m so glad to be moving closer to you and your brother!”

I was momentarily dumbfounded. “Mom?”

God’s love had washed us both clean. From that point on, my mother was loving, buoyant, and enthusiastic. Her behavior was totally contrary to the doctor’s predicted mental regression. Weekend visits with her were enjoyable, and she expressed kindness and gratitude during the remaining year of her life. I felt that my mom finally discovered the God-inspired joy of life, and I finally got my mom back. In fact, for the first time, I found all my lifelong wishes for mothering fulfilled.

Since that time, I have treasured this idea shared in the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy: “The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, – a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love” (p. 1).

Learning to truly love isn’t just a want that brings forth healing – it’s a yielding to God, making way for divine Love’s answer. For me, that answer included not just redemption for my mom and me, but also a lasting sense of what real, healing love is and how we can all live it.

Adapted from an article published in the May 6, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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