“They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” I grew up singing this song based on Jesus’ words in John 13:35, and I still believe the truth of these words. Sadly, a quick look at the news or social media reveals a desperate need for more love these days, including among those of us who follow Jesus.
I’ll be the first to admit that love isn’t always the thing that unquestionably signals I’m a follower of Christ. The events of the last two years seem to have had a cumulative effect on all of us, making it more challenging for us to love at times because of our sense of overwhelm. That’s not an excuse but simply an observation. My intent is not to criticize, blame, or discourage. We’ve had enough of that! Rather, my hope is to offer some encouragement based on a simple concept that has been invaluable to me in my own journey to love more consistently—and to stay connected to God when the warm and fuzzy feelings aren't there and disappointment and doubt have rolled in like a fog. It’s called the Love Loop.
We see the Love Loop in 1 John 4:19 (CEB): “We love because God first loved us.” God initiates a cycle of love by loving us, and we respond by loving God and others. This beautiful cycle of love begins with God, who scripture tells us is love (1 John 4:8). Scripture also tells us that our loving God is a giver of good gifts:
"Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from...the creator of the heavenly lights." (James 1:17 CEB)
What's more, God's love is generous and extravagant:
"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" (1 John 3:1 NIV)
Saint Ignatius, who lived in the sixteenth century, put it this way:
"God's love is poured forth lavishly like a fountain spilling forth its waters
into an unending stream."
God’s lavish love comes to us in many ways—through other people, God’s continuing work in the world, the promises of scripture, God’s self-giving gift of Jesus, every aspect and creature of creation, and countless blessings that are evident every day if we have eyes to see them. All are loving gifts inviting us to love in return. Especially on those days when we don't feel very loving—toward God or toward others—simply noticing these gifts allows love to seep back in to our depleted souls, softening our hearts. Sometimes the most ordinary gifts can flood our hearts with love and gratitude: a beautiful sunrise or sunset, a word of encouragement, a smile from a stranger, a phone call from a friend, a hug, a delicious meal, a simple answer to prayer, the singing of birds, the comfort of a pet, a word of scripture, or a million other everyday things. Even our very breath, which sounds like God's name—YaHWeH—reminds us that we live and move and have our being in God (Acts 17:28). These gifts enable us not only to know God loves us in our heads but to actually experience it in our hearts. Even when we're struggling to believe God loves us or feeling disappointed or angry with God, simply noticing these love gifts can be like a lifeline, keeping us tethered to God.
As is true of all gifts, the real impact comes when we not only notice the gifts but actually receive them as personal expressions of God's love. Getting there can be a process, and that's okay. It may take time for us to view God's gifts and graces as expressions of God’s love for us personally. Perhaps God seems more distant to us, or we may feel we have to do something in order to receive God's love. The beautiful thing is that as we continue to notice and appreciate God's loving gifts, slowly but surely we will begin to receive them in a more personal way, which will fuel a response of love. The more we take in God’s good gifts of love, the more we are able to love as we have been loved.
The more we take in God's good gifts of love, the more we are able to love
as we have been loved.
The Love Loop, then, is noticing God's loving gifts and responding in love. Whenever we realize we’re not being very loving, that can be a signal that we’ve fallen out of the Love Loop and need to get back in it. There's no shame in this realization but simply the recognition that we're human and imperfect and in need of grace, which God freely gives. This awareness prompts us to make an adjustment—an intentional choice—that positions us to receive God's love once again, which results in our own response of love.
So, how do we get back in the flow of God's love? It’s different for each of us. For me, getting outside and enjoying God's creation—especially hiking in the woods—helps me to get back in the flow, as does meditating on scripture, journaling, and sharing from the heart with a good friend. Worshiping in community is another powerful conduit of God's love for me. Since the pandemic began, simply being present and noticing the simple gifts of the moment have been extremely powerful, as well. I’m offering some steps below that I hope will help you to make your own list so that you can implement the Love Loop in your life.
My prayer is that as we practice being aware of God’s gifts and learn to receive them as personal expressions of love for us, God’s love will flow more freely through us to a world in desperate need of love. May they know we are Christians by our love!
IMPLEMENTING THE LOVE LOOP
1. Ask yourself a few questions.
Go ahead and make a list. If you have trouble, reflect daily for a week or two on the ways you receive love, and then make your list.
2. Periodically check in with yourself, asking: Am I loving well? Become aware of "where you are"—whether you’re in or out of the Love Loop.
3. If you’ve fallen out of the Love Loop, as we so often do, offer yourself grace (the same grace God extends to you) and make an adjustment to get back in it. Look to your list and choose something that helps you to receive and experience God’s love—even if you don’t feel like it at first. Trust the process and be patient.
4. As you begin to receive and experience God's love once again, respond with gratitude and love. Perhaps your loving response will be to others before you're ready to respond in love to God, or vice versa. Wherever you are in the journey is okay. Just stay in the loop and let love flow. God will take care of the rest.
Hi, I'm Sally!
I'm passionate about connecting with God and connecting with people, offering spiritual encouragement and companionship. I'm so grateful to be on the journey with you as we walk with God together.