When one of Jesus’ disciples asked him what the most important of all God’s commandments was, he replied, “Love thy God and thy neighbor.” Jesus was someone who chose his words carefully because he knew they would be recorded for all of time. This is a very clear and deliberate statement. Jesus is telling the many generations spanning across the globe that would read his words how love trumps the rest of life in importance. He is calling people to get the idea and the practice of love right, even if they get nothing else in life right.
Jesus would not have said this if love were not truly the most important facet of life. Our modern scientific evidence supports this in its findings. Hugs and physical affection have been scientifically linked to good health, while fear and anger have been scientifically linked to a compromised immune system and disease. We need love like we need food and medicine. And yet it is so seldom prioritized like it should be. We feel pressured to be productive more than we feel responsible to give love and more than we feel entitled to receive love.
It is so important that we reevaluate our behavior. Love is the ultimate thing we cannot quantify, yet we cannot afford to have disbelief in. Love heals us when we are down. Love illuminates our path when we are lost. Love brings out the best in us. Love is our deepest calling and our deepest desire. The amazing thing is, we can replace the word “love” with the word “God” and all of these statements will still be true. We need a relationship with God to be complete because human love will fail us from time to time. God is the embodiment of perfection and is capable of loving us with perfect consistency. We are meant to share love with people and with God. If all of humanity would embrace this concept, it would be unbreakable.
Recent medical studies indicate that adverse experiences, especially in children, are linked to disease and life expectancy. Children of broken homes, divorced parents, domestic violence households or substance abusing parents are far more likely to have physical health issues than those who grew up in a stable environment. Broken hearts literally destroy lives. However, people are capable of healing themselves by seeking what they need the most, which is love. Therapy for a broken heart is all around us, if we know where to look.
The first thing that most people do in order to recover is retreat. Most people who have reason to reject their upbringing cannot separate themselves from the trauma of their past unless they remove themselves from it radically. This often involves physically relocating far from the figures of their past, even if just temporarily. While this initial separation is beneficial and therapeutic, it is hardly a sustainable resolution. When an individual separates from the toxic people in their lives, it prevents those people from inflicting further harm upon them. It does not, however, correct the person’s own broken thought patterns and feelings. This is where love becomes an essential.
We often think of broken people as needing a lot of counseling, which is ironic because, even though broken people should receive counseling, the foremost need of a hurting person is relationship. The brain and the heart work together in many ways, but they are essentially different and the heart has a huge say in what the person believes. The brain is the seat of intelligence, but emotion overwhelms intelligence. That is to say, our emotional faculties have a bigger influence over us than our intellectual faculties because feelings set the tone for even the most objective thinking that we are capable of. Get the heart right, and the head will follow.
The importance of love in our lives cannot be overstated. Love has the power to calm the storms of the heart that form our identities. If you are aware that you have a long road of recovery ahead of you, seek a loving support system before you do anything else.
The word “love” is used lightly these days as a euphemism. We say things like, “I love this hamburger,” or “I love this sweater” even though we know it is an incorrect use of the term. Sadly, even when we speak the word “love” to another person, it is often an abuse of the term. People tell each other they love one another without meaning it or even understanding it. This is not what God intended when he commanded us to love one another. In the bible, when the word “love” is used, it is used in a very specific sense.
The original Greek word used to mean “love” is “agape.” There were several levels of love defined in the bible, ranging from romantic love to fondness, but when Christ speaks about how we are meant to love one another, he uses the word “agape.” This word is translated to refer to selfless, altruistic love. This kind of love involves putting another person before one’s self for their benefit. This is the kind of love we all yearn for at our deepest level, but because we leave in a culture that encourages self worship and focus, it is often lost to us.
Going through life without ever knowing “agape” personally is tragic. God intended selfless love to be a gift for everyone to receive, directly from him and between one another. It was meant to get us through heartache and misfortune, as well as be a staple in every day life. The good news is, we are still free to give and receive real, selfless love whenever we make the choice to. God is calling every one of us to open our hearts to him so that we can receive the most perfect love we have ever experienced. When we allow ourselves to feel the reality of God’s love, goodness and grace, we achieve the capacity to love others in the same way.
As Christians, we are commanded to be compassionate in the world, yet so many of us find it hard to accept people who are different than we are. There are many Christians who only feel comfortable within Christian culture, and are offended when they encounter the ways of the world. While this logic is common to human behavior in general, it is backwards to God’s sacred commands of how to walk in Christ’s footsteps.
Consider this story about the origins of the title “Christian.” During the first century A.D., after Christ had left his disciples to carry on his work, Christianity spread to the ancient Greek city of Antioch, a major city and trade hub of the time. Up until the time of Christ, it was common practice to essentially throw people in the street if they were mentally or physically ill, lest they affect the rest of their household. Christ was the first one to run to the aid of people who were afflicted with a condition, and his followers brought this philosophy to Antioch. When the Greeks saw Christ’s followers caring for the sick and the hurting, they were so unfamiliar with compassionate behavior that they had to create a term for it, which translates literally into “Christ ones.” This is where the title “Christians” comes from.
Christ showed us that we should be compassionate, not only to fellow Christians, but to a hurting world. God does not request, but commands us to show love to addicts, diseased, mentally ill, homeless, depressed, anxious, disadvantaged and lost persons. We are not to place judgment on those who are different from us, but rather we are to form relationships, give aid and offer kindness and patience.