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!

When Overwhelmed, Ask, What Do I Need to Do Today?

Keeping sane and productive in an insane world, principle #8: When overwhelmed, ask, what do I need to do today?

When the world seems big, it’s O.K. to make it small. You can do that by focusing on today.

You have a million things that will confront you in the future. You have a million things that you can imagine will confront you but will not. So, what do you do when the future of your kids, your job, your church, your friends, and your health overwhelm you? You can set it aside and focus on today.

What does that look like? I have had plenty of times where I have felt overwhelmed. When I started worrying about relationships, my children, or the church, I just started asking, “What do I really need to do today?” My list of worries was large. My list of actions for today was relatively small. My answer would be something like this, “I need to pray, exercise, spend time with my family and friends, do certain tasks related to work.” As I got about doing these tasks, I would feel less overwhelmed. I would be more sane and productive.

If you think about it, this is a good practice even when we are not overwhelmed. Focusing on what actually needs to get done today is a great way to organize our mind and hearts and ground them in what matters. You can imagine the future, but you can live today.

The Roman philosopher Seneca was captivated by this idea. Seneca asks, what harm is there in looking forward to tomorrow? “Infinite harm; for such people do not live, but are preparing to live. They postpone everything” (Letter XLV). Worse is when people look forward to living in a far off time when they can settle down to “a life of ease” (Letter CI).

So, what should we do? Seneca says, “let us so order our minds as if we had come to the very end. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s account every day. . . . Therefore, my dear Lucilius, begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life” (Ibid.). This will enable us to see tomorrow better, too. “If God is pleased to add another day, we should welcome it with glad hearts” (Letter XII). This will focus our energies where we need to focus them and keep us from worrying about things that we do not need to worry about.

This is what Jesus taught as well. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:34). Focus on the tasks you have today. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

I remember running on a rural road in Pennsylvania. We were staying in a remote cabin. We had literally no internet service. No wi-fi. No cell connection. It cleared my head. I started thinking, what would I do if I only had this day without any connection to the outside world? What would I do? The answer came back: I would run. I would enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. I would spend time with my wife and children. I would accept the good God had for me. That’s what I had: today. That’s what I had, and that was good.

Asking, what do I need to so today is a principle that we can use to get us grounded at any time and especially when we are fully of anxiety and overwhelmed. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I pray that it will be a blessing to you the next time you feel overwhelmed. If you liked this post, please share it on social media or subscribe below. You can also read some of the other principles that I have used for keeping sane and productive in an insane world here. I hope to see you hear again.

Why Don’t People Get It? You’ve Got to Teach Them

How do you react when people in your family, organization, or church don’t do what they are supposed to be doing? How do you react when they just don’t seem to get it?

It’s easy for a leader to get frustrated when people don’t do what they are supposed to do. It’s easy to look out in dismay at those around us and say, “Man, these people just don’t get it. They’re going the wrong way.”

Whenever a leader feels that frustration, a good idea is to ask herself, have I made clear where I want people to do and how they are supposed to do it? Have I really taught people what to do? Continue reading “Why Don’t People Get It? You’ve Got to Teach Them”

Hope Beyond the Headlines

In times of extremely dangerous threats, it can be hard to see hope.

The time of Isaiah the prophet was one such time (8th century B.C.). For a long time, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had enjoyed relative prosperity without major threat of invasion. Now, the Assyrian Empire was brutally subjugating the territories around them and menacing the nations of Israel and Judah.

As this threat arose, Isaiah called on the people to consider the state of their lives. Were they living the right way? What were they living for? Had they forgotten the needy around them? Were they living for luxury and sensual pleasure rather than finding their enjoyment in God? This was a time for introspection (see Isaiah 1).

But it was also a time in which the people needed hope. Scary times don’t seem like times to hope. They seem like times for fear and fear. It’s very easy in those times to see only the threats and not see the things that are above them and beyond them.

So, Isaiah preached hope. He preached about a time when a descendant of their kings (from the house of David, see Isaiah 11:1, 10) would rise and create a glorious, prosperous, and peaceful kingdom. Isaiah describes this kingdom using different pictures, like those of the animal world. In this kingdom, for example, the lion will lie down with the lamb. This is the emblem under which he represents the amazing peace of the kingdom of the future King.

Not only that, the nations would actually submit to this King, and this would usher in peace and justice throughout the world. “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10). It would be a glorious worldwide kingdom of peace and justice.

The Apostle Paul was a Jewish Rabbi who was nourished on those promises and looked forward to their fulfillment. He was looking for God to intervene and set up that kingdom. In Jesus, Paul saw a threat to this future kingdom. He was so upset by people following Jesus that he sought to imprison anyone who followed Jesus.

Then, all of a sudden, Paul shows up in Damascus, Syria arguing with everybody that Jesus was in fact the very King Isaiah was predicting! What in the world happened?

According to Paul, Jesus was alive, though crucified, and he met the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus. As he explains it, Jesus spoke to him in a vision so convincing that it changed his life forever. In addition, he was convinced that Jesus was not only the King for the Jews but for the entire world. He saw it as His mission to tell everybody about this risen King.

Years later, Paul wrote a letter to the followers of Jesus in the great city of Rome. As he reflected on Jews and Gentiles coming together to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, he realized that all that Isaiah had prophesied was coming to fulfillment. He writes, “And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope'” (Rom. 15:12).

And we are still seeing it fulfilled in our day. In the past 100 years, we have seen more people from more nations become followers of Jesus and submit to His reign than ever before. In places where the name of Jesus was unknown, prayers and praises to Him ring out all over the world. There is much more to come, but Jesus is reigning now.

So, we have more reason to hope than Isaiah did. Isaiah could only see the kingdom far off. We have seen it fulfilled in Jesus who said that the kingdom of heaven was here because He was here. We have seen it fulfilled in people submitting to His reign all over the world.

It’s easy to lose sight of that hope in the midst of a dangerous threat. We need to remind ourselves and one another of the reality that Jesus is now reigning and His kingdom is expanding over all the earth. That is the hope beyond the headlines.

It’s not always easy to see and feel this hope. To see and feel it more clearly and fully, we need God’s help. That’s why the Apostle Paul told the followers of Jesus in Ephesus that he continually prayed that God would enlighten their eyes to see the greatness of Jesus’ power and reign (see Eph. 1:18–23).

The more they could see it, the more they would become what Richard Lovelace calls “a new center for the reordering of life on earth as it is in heaven” (Dynamics of Spiritual Life, 47). Jesus wants His reign to manifest itself in how we live as people of His kingdom in every sphere of life: family, business, school, state, the arts, and everywhere else.

But we don’t have to do it alone. God has given us the church to help us. One of the major purposes of the church is to equip people to make an impact on the world, living out Jesus’ reign in all of life (see my explanation of the four major purposes of the church here). How do we help each other do that?

  1. We pray for each other to see the reign of Jesus more clearly like Paul did for the church in Ephesus.
  2. We seek to make the church look more like the kingdom of God. We accept one another and “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 15:7, 14:19).
  3. We help each other think through what it means for us to live out our lives, marriages, parenting, work, and play in light of Jesus’ reign.
  4. We pray for God’s leading and working in each aspect of our daily lives, not just the so-called “spiritual” parts.

If we do this, we can really become a people who live in light of the hope that comes from the reign of Jesus, even in the darkest hours. This is the day of Jesus’ reign. God will help us and answer our prayer, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).