If I could boil everything I learned in my 20's down to one simple thing it would be this: let love be the center of all you do. Every decision, every conversation, every thought.
Forever an advocate of life-long growth and learning, I began thoughtfully asking myself several months ago what is the greatest lesson my 20's taught me? Over and over again I came back to this very simple truth: love.
I learned to love in ways I never could have understood much less practice, without walking down a lot of dark, crooked, lonely roads. My heart took a bloody beating on many occasions, some of which I wasn't certain I'd ever recover from. People we loved deeply walked out of our lives, left us bleeding, trust was shattered, betrayal wreaked havoc.
In every instance I had a choice: become bitter and callous and refuse to trust again, or fall on my face before the God of mercy and ask for grace. I chose the latter. Every time.
I could write a novel of all the stories of heartbreak and loss, but my heart is not to focus on those things, those experiences. My heart is not to perpetuate the same kinds of mistakes, mine or others, but to love deeper and harder than ever before. Perhaps with a bit more caution and wisdom, but no less love. With greater.
If we all understood one another's stories, we'd judge less, fear less, let our guards down more. We'd embrace, we'd encourage, we'd offer freely both love and affirmation. Oh how desperately the world needs more lovers and affirmers...
My 20's were spent wrestling with more heartache than I care to recall, yet I can't keep a quiet smile from my lips as I reflect. Not on the hurt or the loss, but on the way it all changed me. The way God used it to sharped and soften me all at once, to teach me what it means to truly, wholly love as He does. The pinnacle moment happened for me not that many years ago. In mourning the loss of a very dear friend I was struck by the realization that their leaving my life didn't mean I couldn't love them anymore. On the contrary, deeply loving someone who has wounded or abandoned you is one of the greatest loves there is. The moment you know you really love someone is when you choose to do so knowing they don't love you back.
It's incredibly easy to love someone who loves and celebrates you in return. It isn't so easy to love someone you fear harbors resentment of hatred in their hearts for you.
Thus is life in our fallen world. Betrayal is real. Fear is real. Loss is real. In friendship, in marriage, in family relationships. Even in work and yes, so very sadly and often in 'the church.' It happens. We're human. We all struggle to slay our own dark and selfish natures in lieu of 'loving thy neighbor.' It isn't easy. It's exceedingly difficult at times. But it's worth it. It's worth every tear and moan and sleepless night. Because in practicing love, we become love. We become the soothing balm the world so desperately needs. We live fully alive and insanely free. Our lives become full of joy and peace that truly cannot be explained. Darkness is driven from our doorstep and profound Happiness comes to reside.
Let love be the center. Be it. Give it. Offer if freely. The world is desperate for it.
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins."
1 Peter 4:8 (NIV)
"...There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love."
1 Peter 4:18 (The Message)