Lowercase love or LOVE?
I love my children, loving them is easy. LOVING them is another story altogether. Let me explain what I mean. There is a kind of LOVE that the scriptures tell us is part of the character of God. I Corinthians 13 is a working template for love lived out within humanity, but even that is inadequate to express the core of Who God is, even when He is wrapped in humanity. The LOVE that Jesus demonstrated through His Life, Death and Resurrection is so poorly captured by those words in 1 Corinthians in any language – they are best experienced, rather than talked about. We are image-bearers of God, divinely designed to express a kind of LOVE in the world, and certainly in our families that transcends our best human attempts at lowercase love. It is important to remember, we are works in progress. We are still learning what it means to LOVE. And in the meantime, we love with lowercase love. We can only LOVE because He first LOVED us. 1John 9:14
I saw this meme on Facebook today and immediately my eye caught that last text: Love is not self-seeking. Mercifully, God has me in an intensive season of reminding me that I am fully forgiven for my shortcomings that I have repented of, so when I read that part of the meme, I felt no condemnation (praise God). But I did immediately jump back to how much as a young mother I needed to learn what self-seeking means in the context of parental love. I believe when we know what self-seeking looks like, we can turn away from it and back to LOVE. Once you (and I) know better, you (and I) can DO better. God LOVES us through this process. Remember that.
I’ve come to understand that there are a lot of not-so-obvious ways to self-seek as parents, even when we honestly think we are doing ‘xyz’ FOR our child or children. Before I spill my heart on that, let’s look at the phrase: love is not self-seeking.
Love does not seek its own desires.
Ou zetei ta heautes is what it says in the Greek. Loves does not seek its own interests. We know that 1 Corinthians was written by Paul, a Jewish Roman citizen who spoke Greek but whose thinking patterns were Hebrew, having been educated in the rabbinic tradition and with a firm foundation of what we have come to know as the ‘old testament’. Always remember though, that this heritage is infused with and made more full by Paul’s life-altering encounter with the risen Messiah, Jesus/Yeshua – the One Who embodied LOVE. These 14 attributes of Agape Love from 1 Corinthians carries the scent of One Who has forever changed the face of LOVE. Without Jesus, this LOVE would not be filled with the meaning that it is. With Jesus, we will still need His help to make it actionable and sustainable. Please remember that.
Bible scholar Skip Moen says that the phrase we are looking at is made up of zeteo, to seek and heautou, the reflexive “of himself.” Skip says it is the same kind of passionate seeking as in ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness’. It is intense. LOVE does not seek things of itself, rather it seeks the well-being of others; it is not self-serving. This is not the same as self care. Self care is important. LOVE of this kind also willingly exposes itself to vulnerability and gives up self-service for the sake of another, regardless of the outcome. In this LOVE, there is no calculation of the probabilities of a return for this investment. This LOVE does not focus with strong intent on what I will get out of it.
Read how Skip Moen puts it:
“Love is about giving up who we are for someone else. This self-sacrifice does not come through human discipline, human altruism or human martyrdom. This love exists only because it is divinely produced in the believer caught in the grip of a bond stronger than death. If our attempts at love still rely on a calculation of the return, if we seek to protect ourselves in case of disaster, if we are restrained in our sacrifice because we worry about what will happen to us, then we have not understood the depth of real love. Love does not seek its own desires. “
So much more can be said, this only touches the surface of what it means to not seek one’s own desires. And to put it into the context of parenting will take many more conversations. But I think (hope) this gives you a starting point, or a continuing point to see the standard by which the people of God approach this particular attribute of LOVE. Yes, it is a tall order, and I personally fell short many times when it came to LOVING my family. But it is important to know what we are aiming toward, and that is the point of this blog post. Once we know the direction, we can align our lives to the Master, and live in our calling.
So what might happen when we as parents lowercaselove with self-desires at the forefront?
For me, it produced pockets of discord in my home and in my being. I experienced an encroaching bitterness and then shame that I tried to cover like Adam and Eve’s fig leaves (Genesis 3:7) through more acts of service toward my family in hopes I’d feel peace again. It produced a gnawing feeling that, because the results (fruit) were not what I’d hoped for, that I was a failure as a person. Guilt. Shame. Feelings of failure. More self-covering. I was looking for fruits of the Spirit but I got something different. When the fruit of LOVE is compared with the fruit of lowercase love, then it’s no wonder resentment builds. They do not produce the same fruit. It is no wonder because the lowercase love is not life sustaining. Nor with it comes joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Whew!
But the thing about this kind of LOVE is that it is not sustainable in ones own strength. We can bring forth this kind of love occasionally in our humanity, but eventually it will give way to self-serving acts of service that are lowercase love. Here is an example. Two nights in a row I patiently read Goodnight Moon to my child five times in a row simply because it delights them, but on night number three maybe I read it five times in a row because my self interest was for them to think of me as a patient and loving mother. Do you see the difference here?
On many days when it was hard to homeschool seven children, I kept up with it because it was the best for them. But on other days I did it because I wanted others to think I was a good homeschool mother. If I am being honest, some days my value as a person was tied up in projecting an image of ‘good wife, mother, friend, Christian…fill in the blank’. The acts of service (lowercase love) I did in that mind set were born out of lesser love: I am doing this for you so you will value me. Or so you will love me in return. The recipient still received something from me, but it was a missed opportunity to show forth God-sized LOVE. Additionally, in those times when I expected a response from my children for something loving I did for them, it was the response I was serving, not my children.
There is now no condemnation for those in Messiah Yeshua!
Repeat this until you really believe it. The response to reading what I have written is not intended for shame and guilt. So if you do relate to this at all, you can ask God our Father to set you back on His Course of LOVE, which is really what repentance means. I am fully forgiven for my missed opportunities when I put esteem of man above God (idols). I am fully forgiven for choosing the easier lowercase love over His LOVE. God freely forgives, and exchanges love for LOVE.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until I became the mother of previously orphaned twin sons who were unable to positively respond to my lesser love that I begin to ask God to cultivate in me LOVE, including this attribute that LOVE Is Not Self- Seeking. To parent my twins in a way that is healing, they needed the LOVE of God poured out to them through me. But first, I had to walk in His LOVE for me who once was a spiritual orphan needing a Heavenly Father. WOW. Let that sink in. We all were once spiritual orphans needing LOVE. He will show us the Way.
There is so much to say about the things I learned about God’s LOVE for me, though my journey parenting boys with complex developmental trauma. I hope you will join me as I continue to share on this blog what God places on my heart.
As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts.