Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
On October 4, 1970, at the height of her career, Janis Joplin, aged 27, was found dead in her hotel room. Was her tragic death an accident or suicide?
Later the police reported that they had found fresh needle marks on the rock singer’s arm and near her body a small amount of heroin. Not long before Janis had told a friend: “When I am not on the theatre stage I just lie around and watch television and feel very lonely.”
But what is love to so many people today whose lives are filled with loneliness? You and I and millions of ordinary people that we rub shoulders with every day, are struck with this malady of loneliness at some time—and many for a long, long time. Rich and poor, famous and infamous. None is immune.
We Need Love to Function Properly
Thomas Wolfe, the great novelist, wrote, “Loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.“ H.G. Wells, the world-famous historian, said on his 65th birthday, “I am sixty-five and I am lonely.”
And a well-known former Secretary-General of the United Nations, the late Dag Hammarskjöld, confessed in his personal diary: “Alone beside the moor land spring, Once again you are aware of your loneliness, As it is and always has been.”
In a very real sense almost all of us to one degree or another are enduring pains caused by feelings of inadequacy, emptiness, loneliness and a lack of love. And without sufficient love we limp along in the shadows of life. We simply cannot function properly without love.
If we don’t feel adequately loved, chances are we will find a substitute love in loving things instead of loving people—all sorts of things like money, houses, cars, boats, alcohol, sex, over ambition, and so on. Then we end up sadly using people and loving things.
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We Need to Understand What Love Is
What then is love and how can we get our needs for love met or improve the quality of the love we already have?
First, love is much more than a feeling. It is as much a matter of the will as it is the heart although both are important.
Love is thus a commitment. It is a choice I make—a choice of my will. I may not like everything about you, nor like everything you do. That would be a totally unrealistic goal anyhow. And we may not be totally compatible—no two people ever are. But I love you because you are you: because you are my husband, my wife, my son, my daughter, my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, my friend or whoever. Because of this I am totally committed to you and to your growth as a person. Whatever you need me to be within the limits of my own weaknesses and immaturities I will strive to be for I am committed to you.
Sometimes, instead of being committed to another’s growth, we may be more committed to our own happiness. Then all to readily we bail out of marriage and commitments. But love without commitment is not love at all. It is a fantasy.
However, for this kind of love to survive, honest communication is necessary. It requires accepting each other’s feelings without being judgemental; and admitting our weaknesses and failures without feeling condemned.
Love is also a goal—a motive. Love doesn’t usually take care of itself. You have to work at love to make it grow. You need to make it your aim. If you don’t you won’t find it. As the Bible wisely says; “Let love be your highest aim.”
Love is acceptance. It does not set out to change other people to make them what I want. That is conditional love and isn’t real love at all. In fact, I cannot change anyone else. Try it and we all know what happens. It makes people feel angry—and rightly so. The only person I can ever change is myself—and as I change the people around me change also!
True love allows you to share your true self and it does not judge you. It does not say that you shouldn’t do such and such, or even worse, you shouldn’t feel that way, and so on. It accepts you as you are.
Love is a by-product of maturity. It is perhaps the highest fruit of maturity. If, therefore, I would aim to be loving and be loved, then I need to make it my ambition to grow and mature.
It is no coincidence that right in 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul makes the following statement:
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man I put childish ways behind me.
Immaturity destroys love. The immature person wants others to meet his needs and resolve his problems while the mature person takes full responsibility for himself.
Love is giving. If we want friends, we need to be friendly. And if we want love, we need to be loving. This is a law of life. To receive love we need to give love. As Jesus puts it, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
For some of us our need to be loved is so great that we feel we have nothing to give. Or we may feel we are so unlovable we are afraid to reach out and give love. We only want to receive love and we thus drive those away who could meet our needs. However, no matter how impoverished or unlovable we may feel, we all have some love to give. If we give what little we have, we will receive and in turn have more love to give. And love begets love.
We Find Love Through the Two Channels of Love
However, it is true that we learn to give love and acceptance by our first being loved and accepted by somebody else. So if we don’t feel sufficiently loved and accepted to be able to give to others, how do we find a solution to our dilemma?
First, we can find love and acceptance through a human channel. As we take risks and open ourselves to an accepting person or persons, and let them see us as we really are, faults and all, we discover that instead of being rejected, we are loved and accepted and through them we learn to love and accept ourselves. And as we learn to receive love and acceptance, we can give and receive more. This is growing in love.
And second, we can find love and acceptance through a divine channel. There is no greater way to find love and acceptance than to realise just how much God the Heavenly Father loves us. His love for us is so great that he sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to come as a babe to Bethlehem on that first Christmas Day, two thousand years ago, and then to die on the Cross to pay the penalty of our sin—that which destroys us and separates us from God, the source of all love.
John, the Apostle of love, wrote: “We love him because he first loved us.” All we need to do is to realise and believe how much God does love us and that Christ died for us, and accept his free gift of love, forgiveness, pardon and eternal life. And this is the true message of Christmas, and the essence of true Christianity.
Receiving God’s love and giving love—his love in us—is the greatest gift of all, and it is available to everyone who asks God for it.
By: Dick Innes, October 1983