So how does one apply this immutable force in everyday life? Is there some sort of mechanism or practical application that can aid us in harnessing the power of love? Organized religion, whether or not it seems to be the most obvious choice, is only one place and it doesn’t always do the best job. It appears to have fallen victim to “there is only one true perspective rule.” Let me tell you that admitting that love may not be harnessed through organized religion, gives me a great deal of sadness.
The portrayal of love in literature lifts up and celebrates its bond between sex and desire, but as I learned in Catholic school, this dangerous mix also offers, potentially, a lot of sadness. I understand that love and desire can be a lethal combination, but if King Solomon and Shakespeare are correct, it can also greatly enhance human life. Another wise teacher told me this about love and attraction: “Attraction is like a beautiful coat. We are all brought into the world with a certain beauty, like a beautiful coat that catches a certain person’s eye. But it is, after all, only a coat merely attracting someone to the true essence of a person. Truly, how can a simple coat compare to the beauty that lies underneath?”
Seeing love as an immutable force also dispels another assumption I had about love: for love to be true, reciprocation is necessary. In fact, reciprocation should never enter the equation. In the First Letter of John, in the Christian New Testament I used to ponder this line: “Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that God loved us and has sent his Son as an offering for our sins”. We should never choose to love expecting that it will be returned. Loving another should be open ended and fearless, for John continues, “Love has no room for fear; rather, perfect love casts out all fear. And since fear has to do with punishment, love is not perfect in one who is afraid.” 1 John 4: 7-9. When we love without fear, the consequence often inspires reciprocation but it is in no way contingent on it. Love should never be withheld when it isn’t returned because then love’s true power becomes squelched (just ask any parent). It was enduring the experiences of unrequited love where I learned the most about love’s true nature and was transformed as a result. Those experiences may have caused burns but it was also those experiences where I began to discover how to wield love’s energy effectively. Love is often most powerful when it continues to propel us forward even in the face of opposition. When you look at love this way, the phrase “love your enemies” begins to make a lot more sense.
As an individual, the most important insight that I gained through all my trials was that the power to love on my own would always be deficient, leaving me vulnerable to harm. With God, though, who, is love, my heart is augmented with a power that knows no boundaries. I’ve truly found that even with the limited capacity humanity has for a full understanding of its nature, when openly and embracing the love of God, we are transformed. For me, being burned isn’t so much of a concern any more because I have become flame-proof. That is quite a statement to make and I have never been quite as confident to say it as I am now. In consciously praying for God to assist my simple heart, I get results. I can’t explain it any more clearly than that, except to say for those of you who may believe that I’ve just embraced another illusion, that the results I get aren’t anything I could have foreseen. Of course there are always set backs, but the knowledge and experience of its power never goes away. It’s like riding a bike—once you learn how, you never forget.
As a parent, I also have the opportunity to experience love on an even greater level. Throughout the lives of my children, i have engaged in many things that as I single person I never would do, from boy scouts and camping, to endless amounts of time in my car and sitting on my ass while they fulfilled simple dreams. I always talk about life in crazy town, and with three men I have very legitimate reasons for saying so. But love is a little bit cray-cray. When we put personal desire aside for the sake of one we love, amazing things can happen. I was never transformed into a person who enjoyed the activities of the men in my house—in fact I still wouldn’t choose them for myself. Yet some how I am still renewed and transformed. It is hard to put it into words, but like the Grinch I really feel my heart grow 10 times its size, even if it is for just a few moments.
The discovery here may seem to be a simple twist of the language, but it really isn’t. If we are to harness the great power of love, it has to be done in the way love intends, not the way we intend it. This may seem paradoxical, at first. How can one harness something by relinquishing control? We can’t change the nature of love any more than we can change the nature of fire. We, as human beings, place way too much emphasis on what love should look like, rather than simply allowing it to propel us forward. In the face of that, remember, any expression is incidental. Opening my heart to love means forsaking all fear and trusting that some power greater than I, knows what to do. When love is the true conduit there is no mistaking the power that will flow through. It is truly empowering. In order for love to move us, we must place our own will aside, because there is too much risk of being burned if we don’t.
Thinking of the moments in my life where I felt love in its purest form move me forward, usually isn’t a Kodak moment. It usually meant reluctantly letting go of my personal will, and moving through the tightness in my stomach that meant I was moving into uncomfortable territory and watching what unfolded. The result was always amazing, even in a tough love situation. The clarity of those moments can never be questioned it is just so pure. When I allow the force of love, which for me is God, replace my small and imperfect heart, the power of those moments is truly death-defying.
My favorite Gospel is John’s. It is my favorite not so much because of his poetry, but because of the great lengths to which he goes to help us understand love’s true nature. For Christians, the death of Jesus on the cross is clear evidence of a love and devotion that continued even in the face of rejection by almost everyone. It also strikes at the heart of God’s attitude toward human beings. It isn’t the only story of a god so benevolent that he makes a sacrifice, but it surely is the best one (in my humble opinion). It also may feel like the love bar is set too high for us lowly humans. To utilize a power that strong may take some practice.