Learning to Love Well

An unnamed waterfall along the Turkey Path in Colton State Park, Pennsylvania
An unnamed waterfall along the Turkey Path in Colton State Park, Pennsylvania

Over the past few years, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of loving well the people who are around me.  It’s mostly friends and family, but it extends beyond that to the people I meet, accidentally or intentionally, via social media, grocery shopping, on the trail, and so on and so forth.  In every interaction as well as in my thoughts, I want to love them well.

Looking down from rocks above Siyeh Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana
Looking down from rocks above Siyeh Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana

When I’m in an intense conversation, my prayer has been, “Lord, I want to love them well.”  When I’m not sure how to respond to a client, it’s, “Lord, how can I love them well?”  When Christians aren’t acting very Christ-like, my prayer has become, “Lord, help me to love them well.”  I’ve become a bit of a broken record.

Walking through the Keyhole at Monument Rocks, Kansas
Walking through the Keyhole at Monument Rocks, Kansas

The thing about loving well is that it’s not limited to saying nice things to them.  Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to call a sin exactly what it is – a sin – and help the person to overcome.  (Note that this is not condemning a person over their sin and then leaving them to pick up the pieces – this is repentance and restoration and continuing to love the person regardless of how they respond to what you say.)

A field near the Bentley Bonds Trail, New York
A field near the Bentley Bonds Trail, New York

Loving well is a heart-stance as much as it is an intentional way of treating people.  If you heart is set on loving people well – the way that Jesus would love them if He, Himself, were standing beside them – you’ll treat them with value.  You’ll also treat them with honesty, integrity, hope, faith, gentleness, kindness, peace, and a sense of fulfilling God’s best for their lives; without accusation or condemnation or pride.

Hiking a wash in the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Area, New Mexico
Hiking a wash in the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Area, New Mexico

The more I’ve walked the road of loving well, the more I’ve found that living this way is about more than just interactions with people.  There are things that come out of loving well that you didn’t necessarily sign up for.  For example, loving well will take you to grieve over the sin that God, Himself, sees in others’ lives – and in your own life, as well.  Somehow, in the face of love, sin and all darkness become repulsive in a completely new way.

Cliff Lake below St. Paul Peak, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana
Cliff Lake below St. Paul Peak, Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Montana

I’ve also found that loving well is one of the fastest routes to humility.  It’s impossible to be prideful in the face of true love.  Or maybe, it’s that humility is the only way to truly love others well.

Atop Star Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Atop Star Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

I don’t claim to have reached the pinnacle of loving well; I could give you specific examples from not so very long ago of how I didn’t walk it out very well.  But loving well has also brought peace.  It’s hard to insist on being “right” when you’re treating the other person with value and respect.  It’s hard to kindle a fire of anger when you genuinely want to love the person in front of you.

Evening on a canal near the Intracoastal Waterway, North Carolina
Evening on a canal near the Intracoastal Waterway, North Carolina

“Beyond all these things [compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing each other’s burdens, and forgiveness], put on and wrap yourselves in [unselfish] love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Colossians 3:14