"Love to be real, it must cost — it must hurt — it must empty us of self." ―Mother Teresa
I came across this quote by Mother Teresa many years ago. I think it was during that stage when the cool thing to do was collect those cards and magnets that had bold colors/geometric designs with the quotes on them. Remember those? I still think they’re pretty cool, actually. Anyway, I was drawn to this idea of love hurting (maybe I was in the midst of a breakup… who knows) and I saved this quote as some sort of lighthouse in the darkness of that hurt. It’s really beautiful sentiment, isn’t it?
At the time, I took this idea of "real love hurts" to mean two things:
1) If we love people, we will hurt on their behalf. For example, if I do a good job of loving the people that I work for, my heart will hurt for them over their cancer diagnoses, the emotional burdens they carry, the financial stress they’re faced with, etc. I’ve certainly experienced broken heartedness for my friends and family when they are struggling with some major life obstacle. It’s true… loving people means hurting when they’re hurting.
2) If we love people, we will have to sacrifice. Loving people means feeling the occasional sting of selflessness… of not getting what you want all the time. Sometimes it’s super minor, like giving up a Saturday to watch some man-centric sporting event. Sometimes it’s major like sacrificing years of sleep when you have children. Sometimes its huge, like sacrificing your future, your plans, or even your life. Sacrifice is the loss of something for the gain of something greater… however, rarely does that stop us from grieving the loss, even if just a little bit.
Upon reflection, I think both of these interpretations are true. Serious love does end up hurting us in both of these ways. However, there’s another way that I’ve recently discovered that it hurts, also. And just like the first two, it serves to make us more like Christ… to "empty us of self."
My small group is reading a book these days called "Ten Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe," by Larry Osborne. (I’m not a huge fan of the book so far, for the record). However, the 2nd "dumb thing" it mentioned was that many Christians believe that forgiving means forgetting. Osborne goes on to say that it’s "dumb" to think that God is a forgetful God. How is it possible for an all-knowing God to forget something that we have done? Although The Bible says that, through forgiveness in Christ Jesus, our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), does that mean God has sin amnesia? If so, that presents a theological problem… it positions us as knowing something (the sins of our past) that our omniscient God does not. So no, God doesn’t forget.
Instead, he forgives our sins by canceling them. He cancels the eternal consequences of our sin (which is death, separation from Him – Hell) and treats us as though it never happened. This is not to suggest that He forgets about it, but instead that he chooses to relate to us (love us, bless us, define us, etc) as though we never committed such sin. This is truly incredible, if you think about it.
All of this means that if we want to love and forgive like Christ, we have to do the same thing. It means when people we love sin against us (and they do all the time) we are compelled to not hold it against them, not seek revenge, not change our definition of them, and not expect them to do it again. We are not to build walls using the memories of our past hurts. We are not to withhold our love out of anger. We are not to love less out of fear. That’s tough. And doing it the right way means that we make ourselves vulnerable to being hurt over and over and over again.
(Now, let me just throw out a qualifying statement here that I am NOT referring to situations of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. If anyone finds themselves at the hands of someone who is hurting them purposefully and maliciously for any reason, they have every right to do what they need to do to protect themselves. Moreover, I’ll clarify that "people you love" is mostly referring to those that you have no ability (or little ability) to rid yourself of – family and spouse. Friends, dating relationships, etc. do give you the opportunity to walk away, obviously).
But my point is that God loves and forgives us by choosing to be ceaselessly optimistic about our potential. He has FAR more faith in us than we do in Him. Every time I doubt that I remind myself of the apostle Peter. He was such a hot mess! And yet, Christ says "upon this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:8). So, God forgives us, cancels the eternal consequences of our sin, and loves us and trusts us the same as before. Our sin does not change who we are in His eyes. Yet, I think this makes for an oft-brokenhearted God. He gets hurt time and time again by our sin… our idolatry, our pride, our control… yet he pours forth his love from the cracks of that broken heart. Are we not called to do the same? Forgiving like God, loving like God, and having faith like God leaves us wide open to be hurt… and I think that’s the point. How else are we "emptied of self" if not for the gradual process of setting aside our pride and our supposed entitlements each time we get hurt? Each time we forgive, we hurt, and we enter into God's hurt and Christ's sacrifice for us.
And so that's what I'm learning these days. (Not that things are bad in my relationship... they're really not!) But, I'm taking this time to try to learn mature love. I once heard a great quote that said something along the lines of "dating is really bad preparation for marriage. Dating teaches you to run away, to try out different people, to always self-protect. Marriage requires exactly the opposite." Instead, I'm trying to take this opportunity of dating and start practicing the right things. And I'm sure anyone who's married would tell you that forgiveness is numero uno... or at least top 5. So, here's to learning to be like Mother Teresa and Jesus... I can't go wrong with that formula, right?!