A storm approaches. You have no life boat. You don't even have a life jacket. You are out in the middle of the turbulent, dark ocean. What do you do? Abandon ship and crew? Leave yourself vulnerable to the mercy of the unrelenting waves? Wouldn't the smart thing to do be to hunker down together, hang onto the most secure thing possible and determine to ride out the storm?
Here is what I think:
When life gets stormy, we can have the tendency to withdraw from the wisdom found in connection. Even though most of us realize that "there is strength in numbers," there is a strong urge to flee in the face of hardships. After all, connecting with people can make us feel uncomfortably vulnerable even without the added disturbance of problems. Feeling the need to make ourselves feel safe as quickly as possible, it seems almost natural to adapt an "every man for himself" perspective. But living a life of "watching out for number one" is the opposite of security and contentment. It will eventually lead to a life of disappointments, frustrations and stress.
Sounds obvious, I know. Living a life of love can sound obvious. Why then do we fail at it so often? It is not the easiest way to live. It is not the quickest way. It is definitely not the most comfortable way. Taking the risks of love can lead to difficult or downright painful experiences. However, taking the risks of not loving guarantees them. The difference? Choosing to love (live selflessly), builds a life of purpose and meaning. The things discovered beyond ones own perspective through connections with others. Choosing not to love (live for yourself), builds a life void of those meaningful relationships.
I'm speaking of relationships that are not pursued for our own sole benefit. The cause is to selflessly love, a side-effect is our own well-being. We may still suffer from harsh treatment, but we will not be crushed. I am not talking about staying in abusive or unhealthy relationships. I am talking about the ability to love. Sometimes you love someone that you can no longer trust. Two different things.
The point is that we will be better people for having loved the unlovable. Why? Because that kind of love comes from God. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom. 5:7-8 (NIV). The more like Jesus we become, the more fulfilled we will be.
The crux of the matter is that without first receiving and connecting with God's love for us, we will not be able to love others in the manner that will produce within us: character, endurance, hope, purpose and myriad other lasting traits. God is the source of ultimate love and truth. Connecting to that source through Jesus is the journey of our salvation.
Not that I profess to have arrived by any means. Afterall, I write these things to myself. But I take heart in the words of the Apostle Paul:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Phil. 3:12-14 (NIV).
Love may be the harder way, but it is definitely the better one. It is eternal... so we do get to take it with us!