Jesus was pretty clear about what he wanted his followers to do — love God and love other people. Over and over and over in the New Testament, we’re reminded to do everything in love, to be rooted in love, to bear with each other in love, to put on love like clothing, to spur each other toward love, and to love in action, not only in words. Paul even says the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. And just in case we may not understand what love looks like, Paul spends a lot of time in his letter to the Corinthians describing what love is and what love isn’t — love is patient and and kind and protective and hopeful, but it is not envious or boastful or self-seeking or easily angered.
I know all this. I know that my main job is to love people. And I do love people. Or at least I try. But I’ll be honest with you – sometimes it’s just too much. I know loving people means my heart is supposed to be tender toward other people, but sometimes I feel like my heart is a big piece of meat that is constantly being beaten on by a heavy metal tenderizer. Because loving people means hurting with their hurts. And there is just so much hurt.
Right now, people in my circle of love are fighting cancer and nursing sick parents and looking for jobs and trying to hold broken marriages together. People in my circle of love are recovering from past hurt and learning to forgive. And some people in my circle of love are not recovering, not learning; they are hurting themselves and flailing and floundering, and I am praying enough life preservers are tossed so they can grab onto one. And loving all these people pounds and pulls at my heart until I feel so raw and ripped up.
So I pray and lay bare my broken, shredded heart before God. And when I am alone with God, I don’t even have intelligent-sounding words to pray. You know, sometimes my prayers are more like suggestions to God of how to fix the problems. But when love has made my heart so tattered, there are no words, no suggestions. There is only Oh, God, please help. I don’t even know. I can’t even imagine. Please, please help.
In those groaning prayers, I find a little peace, a little comfort that God draws near the brokenhearted. Being near God fortifies me so that I can get back up and love some more.
There is the temptation to toughen up, to harden my heart a little, barricade it, protect it. There’s that self-preservation thing in me that suggests maybe I should keep people a little more at arm’s length, that maybe I could care and help and be kind without loving so daggone much. We’re afraid to love any more because it’s just so exhausting and painful and messy. But you know how things are always so upside-down with God? With him, the more we receive his love and then love others with his love, the less afraid we’ll be. Because perfect love drives out fear. So if I resist the natural urge to protect myself and go against my instinct and keep on loving, the fear will get smaller.
And loving people may keep my heart raw and broken, but if God is near to the brokenhearted, then broken is OK. It’s better than OK.
And so I pray for strength and stick-to-it-tiveness to keep on loving. I ask for help to not grow weary in doing the right thing, in keeping his command to love. And then I love. With all my raw, stretched-out, tenderized heart, I love. Because the only thing that counts is my faith expressing itself in love.