Love As I Have Loved

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35 (NIV)

In the Gospel of John, chapters 13 through 17 are known as “The Farewell Discourse.” The scene is set – Jesus is having his last get-together with his disciples. He has a lot to say to them before moving on to the next part of his journey – betrayal, torture, abandonment and death. Supposing Jesus knew what was coming, it is simply amazing to witness the overflowing grace he showed in his behavior at this event. He started by washing the feet of his disciples – illustrating for them, humility in action (better yet – love in action). And then he shared his new commandment – the command that, if kept, would be the foundation for all other commands ever given. For, how can one love another and then murder him or betray her or steal from them? It isn’t possible.

So, this new command Jesus gives to his closest followers is that simple, right? “Love one another.” Actually, there’s a lot more to it. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” And that, my friends, is the hard part! Love other people as Jesus loves me? As a Christ-follower, I have found this to be the most difficult thing I have ever tried to do. To love as Jesus loved is next to impossible; but in attempting to do so, I am showing the world that I am His disciple. In attempting to do so, I am following Him as He has asked. He knows I am not perfect. He knows there will be times when I allow other people to get on my nerves, get under my skin, and make me act poorly. He knows I will not always be able to step up to the plate of love and hit one out of the park. And that’s the beauty of how He loves me – He knows all that about me and He still loves me. That’s really all He is asking me to do for others.

Several people who have been put on my path have helped me to come to a place where this command of Jesus is something I can attempt on a regular basis. Two of those people have given me wonderful insight and made suggestions that have been significantly helpful in my journey towards becoming the best Christ-follower I can be. I now offer up the following very brief prayer (or mantra), and a phrase to ponder that those two people have shared with me:

  1. “Bless ______, change me.” This prayer, given to me over fifteen years ago, has been my go-to mantra whenever I am confronted with a person who is difficult, disagreeable, unruly, arrogant, etc. As that person is talking or behaving in a way that is detestable to me – or even just sharing an opinion that is different from my own – I say this prayer over and over again in my mind. All I have to do is fill-in-the-blank with the name of the person or, when I don’t know their name, I use the word “him” or “her” or “them.” It almost sounds too simple, but it really helps to lift the resentment, the angst, the fever that sets into my heart when someone is ticking me off. It comes in especially handy when I’m stuck in traffic.
  2. “Love them when they are most unlovable; because that’s when they need your love the most.” I have written about this one in the past, but feel the need to share it again in this context. Jesus’s love has been most healing for me, exactly when I have needed it the most: when I was so unlovable that my behavior had repelled most of the people in my life into the outer stratosphere of my selfish little universe. When my soul was unattractive and my countenance off-putting, Jesus still loved me. In fact, that’s when He showed me most how His love for me shines through other children in this world: through the tough, but gentle honesty of my big sister who was strong enough to confront me about my addictions; through the welcoming and accepting attitude of all the people already in recovery from addiction; through the guidance and love of an older co-worker who, with her husband, became a lifeline to normalcy – having me over for dinner, taking me to movies and plays, and consistently pointing out the progress I was making. Those who have loved me when I was most unlovable (and there have been many times when I have been unlovable) have served as messengers of Jesus to me. Now it is my turn to be His messenger.

For me, Holy Week is a time of deep reflection and enormous gratitude. Where once I sat in the guilt and shame of feeling unworthy, today I rejoice in the blessing of being just another sinner who follows Jesus. I follow Him as best as I can by looking to the guidance He has given me through those first disciples: Love as I have loved.

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