“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
– from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams –
At the core of love is a deep appreciation of whatever or whoever is loved. Turned inward, this appreciation can become hoarding and miserly, a totally self-serving what-can-you-do-for me love. At the other extreme, it can become a totally self-giving what-can-I-do-for-you love. Neither extreme is completely healthy, but self-serving love is more damaging. It absorbs and depletes the energy of love, giving little or nothing back. Self-giving love can deplete itself, too, if it’s not careful. But it has an advantage. The act of giving is, in itself, a filling and fulfilling act. There’s something right and good and satisfying about giving. It enhances life. The ancient wisdom is true: “It is better to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).
Writer John Steinbeck beautifully explained self-serving versus self-giving love in a letter to his son: “There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.”
I doubt that Steinbeck realized this, but he was talking not only about two different types of love but also about two different gates, two different roads – the same two that Jesus spoke about when he said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). The broad and narrow gates have nothing to do with the afterlife or creeds or belief systems. Jesus is talking about our life journey here and now. The broad way is the path of self-serving love. Taking. Using. Egotistical, according to Steinbeck. It destroys life. The narrow way, the one that few find, is self-giving, unconditional, non-condemning loving-kindness. It enriches life. But among all humans in any culture, creed, or religion, few find it.
Yet self-giving, unconditional love is the point of our life journey. In fact, it is our journey, our one overarching purpose: to learn and practice love. Simple. But easy? Not so much. Still, anyone and everyone can do it.
Are you old? Learn and practice love.
Are you young? Learn and practice love.
Are you rich? Learn and practice love.
Are you poor? Learn and practice love.
Are you healthy? Learn and practice love.
Are you sick? Learn and practice love.
Are you educated? Learn and practice love.
Are you uneducated? Learn and practice love.
There’s nothing to memorize, no test to pass, no prerequisite to fulfill. There’s no particular group to affiliate with, no dotted line to sign on, no creed to assent to, just you and the core of your heart, and your intention to love the world into a place worth living in.
With love as our purpose, we dedicate our minds and hearts to learning and practicing loving-kindness toward everyone – to those like and unlike us, to those of our “tribe” and not of our “tribe” – treating everyone with grace and respect, not only for their sakes but for ours as well. We diminish ourselves and our own humanity when we close our eyes, cloister our hearts, and exclude individuals or groups from our loving-kindness. We contribute to the disintegration of an already fragmented world, which then makes us feel fragmented. But when we integrate peace and grace and respect into our dealings with all, we contribute to mending the world and making it whole, which in turn gives us a sense of wholeness, of integrity.
The more we learn about selfless love, the more we see how expansive it is. It’s expansive in that it contains everything we could ever want: hope, joy, peace, courage, and everything that makes life good. It’s also expansive in that it is unlimited in its reach. Love has no borders. It flows past, around, over, and through all boundaries and divisions that we humans can construct.
God is love. So wherever we find love, we find God. We’d do well to keep our eyes and hearts open, for somewhere around us, perhaps in surprising places, we’re sure to find love working quietly, graciously, and generously as one of the great wonders of the world.
Next week: Mirage – When Reality is Not What We Thought
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Text and photos © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.