A few years ago I shared some amazing advice with my wife … and it was exactly what she DIDN’T need from me at the time. Without going in to all of the specifics, the advice I shared with her was more for me than it was for her. You see, she was sharing something painful and I do not like to see my wife in pain. When my wife hurts emotionally, I hurt. I feel uncomfortable. I feel helpless. I feel angry. So, as she was sharing her difficulty, I turned it in to a situation that became more about me than about her. Because I didn’t want to feel what she was feeling, I immediately went in to “fix it” mode. In essence I was saying, “If you just do what I’m telling you to do, then everything will be fine and you won’t be hurting … and by you, I mean me … I won’t be hurting. So, just start feeling better about yourself so I can start feeling better about myself.”
Yes, I was trying to love my wife, but it was in a way that was best for me and not best for her. What she needed from me at that point in time was someone to listen … someone to sit in the hurt with her … someone to simply say, “I’m not even sure what to do right now, but I’m willing to sit here with you even if we never figure out what to do.” Instead I was unwilling to enter her world right then because doing so would have meant I would have had to experience some hurt as well. I didn’t want that and it hindered me from loving her well in that moment. Although loving her well is exactly what I long to do as a husband, I don’t always get that right.
In Philippians 1:9, the Apostle Paul prays a specific prayer for the people of the Philippian church. He says, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more.” Now, I’m all for that. It sounds so nice and helpful. I want to be a loving person and I’m all for love abounding more and more. But, Paul goes on to say, “with knowledge and all discernment.” Wait a minute. You mean I can’t just love? I have to know and discern HOW to love? I can’t just love in the way I want to love or in the way that is most convenient for me? That changes things a bit.
Love is rarely convenient and to truly love will mean I don’t always receive what I want and certainly do not always do what I want. Basically what Paul is praying is that God would help them to be able to look at the people around them and to be able to know and discern what their real needs are and to love them in the ways they most need to be loved in that moment. This is much easier said than done … which is why we pray.
I find myself very willing to enter the life of another on my terms. I’ll give what I want to give or love how I want to love. But, doing that is like giving a thirsty person a piece of chocolate. Chocolate is good. It’s actually my favorite type of candy. And, I can feel good about myself for giving them something, especially if that something is really sweet. But, chocolate … even really good chocolate … is not what a thirsty person needs in their moment of thirst.
So, one way we can partner with each other is by asking God to not just help us love but to help us know how to best love those He has placed and will place in our lives. What do they need most in the moment? What do they need most moving forward? What will help them to best recognize the grace of God working in their lives? Sometimes what a person needs most is a listening ear and other times it’s a gentle (or maybe not so gentle) rebuke. Sometimes what they need is a helping hand and other times it’s a willingness to step back and watch them learn how to work through a struggle on their own. Life is complex … people even more so. This means there is no “one size fits all” way to help people and enter their lives. We need help from God to know and discern how He best wants to use us in the lives of others.
Jesus, you say that our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Your disciples. (John 13:35) Knowing that, I pray that Your love would overwhelm me more and more each day so that my love for others would overflow more and more. Help me to know and see and discern the best way to love those you have placed and will place in my life. Holy Spirit, empower me to love beyond my own capabilities and give power that enables me live a life that is pure and blameless. Amen.