Picture: Flickr, creative commons
Today I’m making space for this beautiful piece from Christina Hubbard (find her on Facebook, Twitter and check out her free ebook 5 Ways To Love Like You Mean It). I believe Christina’s risky Christmas experiment will give hope to many who often find this season full of tension.
The reality for many of us around the holidays is that it’s hard to be present to the people closest to us. Let’s face it: love is messy and requires copious amounts of time and effort. But when we endeavour to love others even when we don’t feel it, a surprising thing happens: we begin to recognise the mark of God’s love for us more deeply.
The Big Love Experiment
Last Christmas I did something that no one has done in our family for years: I invited everyone to our table. Uncles, aunts, and cousins I had not seen for a very long time. Most of us didn’t mesh geographically, politically, philosophically, or spiritually. Despite our differences, I knew someone needed to be brave enough to restart the relational conversation.
I was nervous to step out of my safety zone. What I feared was our history of back-handed hurtful comments and the awkward ambiance in which no one says what they really mean. As I made preparations, I questioned if opening my home and my heart to this family of strangers would create new rivers of pain.
Part of me wanted to help heal the wounds that time had ruptured between us. I hoped my house would be a neutral ground where a new story could begin to be told: one that would let everyone know they were welcome. Another piece of me selfishly hoped this little party would soften my scarred heart.
What scared me most is the fact that I didn’t know what would happen. This was strangely exciting too. When we risk our hearts to serve others in love, we stand on the invigorating precipice of possible blessing.
That was the plan for the big love experiment. The gathering could either be a great discovery or an explosion like a science experiment gone awry.
Learning Risky Love
So many times I’ve just gone about my life, trying to love in the same old ways: careless compliments, meaningless gift cards, and thoughtless text messages. In the words of Will Durant, “We are what we repeatedly do.”
It’s much like a brain traumatized by depression or anxiety, stuck in harmful thought cycles. However, new thoughts can replace old ones. Every time I introduce a healthy thought to a broken one, I rewrite the way my brain thinks, and, ultimately, the way I cope with life. It’s the same with love.
Love is purpose and work. It’s the choice to change the way things are by forging a path into the way they could be. Acting on our intention to love is how we feel it in our soul.
My children, love must not be a matter of words or talk; it must be genuine, and show itself in action. This is how we may know that we belong to the realm of truth. (1 John 3:18-19, NEB)
A Risk Worth Taking?
Come they did. It was non-stop eating and noise. Through the course of the two days, I decided to talk less and listen more. I wanted everyone to feel free of expectation. There were times I eavesdropped on conversations to make sure everyone was behaving. What surprised me were the beautiful stories being told: all these very different people with their pasts, dreams, hurts, and hopes.
The gathering was just a small affair, but I sensed God’s love in a profoundly tangible way. I saw how being present to others with provision and hospitality enlarged my heart with compassion, just as Christ has compassion on me in my selfish ways. As I witnessed family members who barely knew each other exchanging meaningful gifts, I was participating in drawing them closer to each other and to God. We shared and laughed like the past had never been. I felt an enormous sense of gratitude that God connected us as family.
As I watched everyone drive away, my home felt holy and changed. I will never regret that risk. What I realised is that God never calls us to love passively: he wants us to love in forward motion.
Here are five simple ways that have helped me love others better:
- Invite people to the table. Include someone you struggle to love
- Really listen, then ask great questions
- Make a screen-free zone so you can spend meaningful time together
- Take inventory of how the people closest to you like to be loved
- Say thank you often. Be specific
When we love with action and risk, we allow God to invade our life with a meaningful experience of his presence and affection.
Question: What do you think of the idea of loving others to understand more of God’s love for you? Who do you need to love with more purpose?
For more practical ways to love better, check out Christina’s new ebook: 5 Ways To Love Like You Mean It
Christina Hubbard is a U.S.-based writer and poet who shares about identity, worth, and the creative process to help others find God’s imagination in their own lives. She loves her motley tribe by reading great books together, making wonderful messes, and giving them plenty of space to run free on the suburban prairie of Kansas. Connect with her at http://www.creativeandfree.com.