Five Reasons Why It Is So Hard to Love

Everybody thinks about the love they need. Few think of the love that others need.

Most of the songs we enjoy are about our own need for love and not about the love others need. I was trying to think about a song that was about the joy of loving others. My mind went to Jefferson Airplane’s “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love?” Then, I read the lyrics. The song is more about a person who has made a wrong romantic choice about the author of the song. Sure enough, Darby Slick had just experienced a breakup before writing the song. The person who is addressed is being rebuked for choosing the wrong person. They messed up. Not as noble as it first may sound.

The problem is that we all have trouble loving others. Parents may show real love and concern for their children but moving beyond that is very difficult. Why is loving others so hard? Let me give five reasons.

1. Our natural perspective is to see ourselves first. There’s nothing we can do about that. We see things from our own perspective. We see our own needs. We see our own inner world and no one else’s. We are always present to ourselves. There is a natural focus on self that is simply impossible to avoid, but it creates an obstacles to seeing the perspective of others. It will require more work.

2. Our natural self-perspective becomes exaggerated. We not only have a natural and legitimate focus on self, but it becomes illegitimate in all of us. We worry too much about ourselves. I would suggest that this is rooted in our alienation from God and our tendency not to trust Him as the source of love and provision. Without this anchor for our soul, our anxiety about our own needs runs wild.

3. Our excessive self-concern brings us into conflict with others. When people attack others, it is generally out of concern for themselves. They fear something may be lost. They see others blocking their goals. A husband does not feel respected, so he attacks his wife. His wife does not show respect because she does not feel loved. This creates a cycle of conflict (see Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ excellent book on this for a detailed explanation).

4. This conflict with others creates wounds. These wounds keep us from others. We need people, and we fear interacting with them because they have hurt us. We become more self-protective because of what people have done to us. This creates another layer of challenge in loving others.

5. We need wisdom and instruction to get back to loving well. Loving well is not easy. It takes some instruction and practice. Without some instruction, we will not learn how to love. It takes wisdom to know when and how to establish boundaries, when and how much to give, and how to love different types of people. That’s why love is an excellent characteristic that we can call a virtue. It is not easy, and it is rare.

Why is it valuable to know these things? Knowing reality is always our friend in the end. If we can see that it is hard to love and why it is hard to love, then we can start to learn to love. If we think it is easy or don’t know why it’s hard, it will be difficult to become a loving person.

In the next three posts, I will explain the resources of the Christian faith for helping us to become loving people. It is not enough to call oneself a Christian or become a follower of Jesus to be a loving person. The problem of loving others has to be pursued directly. It does not just happen automatically.

Becoming a loving person is one of the highest duties of human beings, according to Jesus. He said that God’s greatest desire and commandment for humans is that they would learn to love God and love others. This means that human destiny is found in the service of God and others.

How do we get there? That’s what we hope to explain, with God’s help, in the next couple of weeks.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you found it helpful, please share or subscribe below. Come back next week, and we will consider what love actually looks like. Blessings to you!

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Part 2: Fortitude & Temperance

The objects of virtue are defined by prudence and justice. By objects, I mean, the things we are to pursue, such as a relationship with God, a loving family, and scientific discovery. However, knowing what to do is not the same as being able to do it. There are many hardships and dangers in pursuing the best. This requires fortitude. There are many good things that distract us from the best. This requires temperance.

These are the four cardinal or principle virtues required in the excellent or virtuous person. Josef Pieper has written a helpful explanation of these four virtues for our time in consultation with ancient philosophy, Christian theology, and modern philosophers. In this post, I am considering his discussion of fortitude and temperance. You can read my post on prudence and justice here.

What are you willing to die for? This is the chief question of fortitude. It’s one every single one of us should consider. Preparing for death prepares us to live. As Josef Pieper says, “Fortitude that does not reach down into the depths of the willingness to die is spoiled at its root and devoid of effective power. . . . Readiness to die is therefore one of the foundations of Christian life” (117). This does not mean that death or suffering are valued in and of themselves. Pieper explains, “The brave man suffers injury not for its own sake, but rather as a means to preserve or to acquire a deeper more essential intactness” (119). The flip side is a desperate attempt to keep one’s life at all costs, “All neuroses seem to have as a common symptom an egocentric anxiety, a tense and self-centered concern for security, the inability to ‘let go’; in short, that kind of love for one’s own life that leads straight to the loss of life” (134). Consequently, careful consideration of what is worth living and dying for is at the root of our well-being. Continue reading “The Four Cardinal Virtues, Part 2: Fortitude & Temperance”

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Part 1: Prudence & Justice

The tradition of the four cardinal virtues was already old when Plato wrote about it in his Symposium. This ancient wisdom contained three aspects. Fist, morality was about a person’s character, the type of person he was, as well as the rules he followed. Second, the goal of morality was not merely following rules but to be a person of excellence, which is the meaning of the word “virtue.” Third, a virtuous act requires four key virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

In his book, The Four Cardinal Virtues, the Catholic theologian Josef Pieper explains the meaning of these four virtues. He does this in interaction with the ancient philosophers, Christian theologians, and modern philosophers. The result is a unique and helpful discussion of these four categories. Pieper believed that such a discussion was extremely fruitful. He said, “we may well turn to the ‘wisdom of the ancients’ in our human quest to understand reality, for that wisdom contains a truly inexhaustible contemporaneity” (xii). In this article, I want to summarize and highlight his discussion of the virtues of prudence and justice. Continue reading “The Four Cardinal Virtues, Part 1: Prudence & Justice”

Ambrose & Cicero on the Virtue of Serving the Community

Saint Ambrose of Milan (340–397) was a military governor turned Christian bishop. As such, he was concerned about the conduct of the priests under him. He wrote his tract On the Duties of the Clergy, in order to encourage his priests to live virtuous lives. In doing so, he copied the pattern, many of the arguments, and even some of the illustrations of Cicero’s work, On Duties (read about it here).

The structure of both books is the same. As Ambrose explains it: “The philosophers considered that duties were derived from what is virtuous and what is useful, and that from these two one should choose the better” (1.9.27). Both authors explain what is virtuous in the first book, then what is useful in the second, and then how to deal with a conflict between the two in the third.

In explaining the conflict between the two, Ambrose and Cicero are very similar. Ambrose says, “Let not, therefore, expediency get the better of virtue, but virtue of expediency” (3.6.37). Again, “True expediency does not therefore exist where virtue loses more than expediency gains” (3.6.44). Cicero says, “When men detach the useful from the honourable, they undermine the very foundations of nature” (On Obligations, 119).

Pursuing Justice
They are also very similar in their instance on the active life. Both men believed that virtue must have an outward face. The virtuous person does not hide in seclusion but seeks justice for the whole community. As Ambrose says, “We must think it a far more noble thing to labour for our country than to pass a quiet life at ease in the full enjoyment of leisure” (3.3.23). Cicero says, “you should embark on activities which are of course important and highly useful, but are in addition extremely taxing, full of toils and dangers which threaten both life and the many strands that compose it” (24). Activity not passivity is the characteristic of virtue. Continue reading “Ambrose & Cicero on the Virtue of Serving the Community”

The Glory of the Children of Light

[Listen to an audio version here]

The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece. Greece, a place of such wonder, beauty, and glorious history. From this place burst forth such a level of creative thinking about all subjects that the world continues to stand in awe of it. It inspires politicians, architects, artists, philosophers, and theologians to this day. It is the foundation of much of our own civilization. Lord Byron, the great English poet, who died in the cause of Greek independence, said, “Fair Greece! sad relic of departed worth! Immortal, though no more! Though fallen, great!” (Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto 2.73).

Even in Paul’s day, people would have looked at Greece in the same way. When the Romans conquered it, they took the Greek philosophers and teachers as tutors for their children and imbibed all they could of Greek culture and philosophy. For Christian theologians, the writings of the Greeks have been a conversation partner in a somewhat tumultuous relationship, sometimes wanting to throw them out and then going back to them again, seeing their value.

The Greeks themselves are today a Christian people, in the broad sense of that term. That is part of the story of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. In Acts 16, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, calling him over to Europe. He crossed the Hellespont and went into Europe. He entered the Roman colony of Philippi and met a woman named Lydia. She and her companions became the first church in Europe.

Paul and the Thessalonian Church
From there, Paul made his way to the capitol city of the region, Thessalonika. Today, the Greeks call it Thessaloniki. If you go to Greece, you can visit this ancient city. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue and told the people that Jesus was the promised Messiah or Christ. Several responded positively. “Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:4).

Others were not as enthusiastic. In fact, they were downright hostile. They gathered a mob that searched for Paul and his associate Silas. They didn’t find him, so they took a man named Jason and brought him before the authorities. Here’s what they said, “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:6b–7). The authorities made Jason pay bond, and then they let him go. Continue reading “The Glory of the Children of Light”