With half the country thrilled with the results of the presidential election and the other half apoplectic, it’s important for us to focus on unity as a nation. And a big part of achieving unity is making the decision to love one another so we’ll be willing to listen. This blog is adapted from Chapter 10 of Focus or Failure, which addresses the topic in more detail. I hope you’ll find it useful as you find ways to reconnect with brothers and sisters who may not share your perspective.
Of all the words that are more misused, abused, and misunderstood, there is no word like the word “love.” Of all life’s focus points, none that is more misapplied, misdirected and ill-received than love. Of all the great needs of America and humanity, the greatest is to be loved. Not selfish, immoral or irresponsible love, but a love that bestows no greater feeling of self-worth than when it is given or received. It converts hate; it changes tragedy into triumph and tears into joy. It is our greatest challenge. We are all guilty of failing to love.
One of the stories that circulated in the Marine Corps back in 1969 when I was in Vietnam was of a young Marine, Johnny Simmons, who had stopped at Travis Air Force Base on his way home. There, he placed a call to his parents to ask them if they would mind if he brought home a friend who had lost an arm, a leg and one eye in combat. His parents, uncomfortable facing such a homecoming, suggested that another time might be more appropriate.
Several times this young man repeated his desire to bring his friend home, but his parents still were resistant and clearly uncomfortable. Sadly, he agreed that maybe they were right and saying good-bye he hung up. That night, he took his life because while it was his own arm and leg and eye that had been shattered in combat, it was his heart that had been shattered upon returning home. Undoubtedly, his parents would have offered unconditional love had they but known he was talking about himself.
I wonder how many times you and I place conditions on our acceptance and our love of others, not realizing the pain and destruction we reap in their lives.
Let go of egotism
Understanding and loving attitudes have been in short supply the past few months, as passions and fears stirred mutual animosity during the run-up to the presidential election. Many voters were angry and fearful the government no longer worked to protect their economic security or religious freedom. Sadly, many other voters feared their own fellow citizens, projecting the ugly rhetoric of a tiny minority onto the motivations of nearly half their brothers and sisters.
I’ll have more to say soon about the election. For now I will be praying for President-Elect Donald Trump to be guided by God’s love. I will also be praying for voters — supporters of both Trump and Hillary Clinton — to stop viewing opponents as morally-abhorrent monsters, and to realize that differences of opinion do nothing to diminish God’s light in each of us. Don’t let ego or fear drown out love.
Make the decision to love
Love can be learned and like other attitudes it is a result of what we think, feel and do. It is a result of understanding. Suppose you were driving to work on a busy freeway in the morning. Traffic is backed up for miles and it is already very hot. Your air conditioner is broken, traffic is at a standstill and the guy behind you leans on his horn. After a few minutes, you might exit your car to go back and at the very least give this individual a few cogent observations about his behavior. But, as you approach the car the driver leans out of the window and tells you that he was just notified that his child was near death at the hospital and he needs to get there as fast as possible. All of a sudden your behavior changes. Instead of becoming part of the problem you now want to be part of the solution. In fact, you might try to get out and direct traffic out of the way.
The point is, like other attitudes, love is multi-dimensional. What you once thought about that person and the emotions associated with that line of thinking are now gone. In fact, the action you were about to take is also dramatically altered. Now, because you understand that person’s behavior, you accept it. Further, because you accept the behavior you are now willing to get involved, and that is what love really is all about. Understanding, acceptance and involvement.
Love the whole person
Love is God-inspired. What is required is a renewing of the mind and spirit so that we might walk down a path leading to life in all its fullness. We enter every relationship with self-interest and often manipulative self-protected unloving attitudes. We must be open to renewal. We must grope for a glimpse of the truth. God said He is Truth. God is Love. Love offers hope, hope that difficulties will pass, hope that the storm will soon be over, hope that the pain will soon be gone, hope that we will soon be over the mountain.
Finally, love allows us to be real. When our girls, Holly and Heather, were small, I used to read them a story by Margery Williams titled, The Velveteen Rabbit. In this story, the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse what it takes to be real. “It doesn’t happen all at once,“ said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp eyes, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has fallen off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”