Sigmund Freud argued that each individual has a limited quantity of love. Consequently, the more a person loves someone else, the less love he has for himself.Rollo May took issue with that position. He observed that when a person falls in love he feels more valuable and treats himself with more care. He further suggested that this inner sense of worth comes whether or not the love is reciprocated. He agreed with those who say that we are able to love others to the extent that we are able to love ourselves.
For some time I have maintained that love is elicited. The more we are loved, the greater our potential for love. If such is the case Freud has given us a half-truth. We do have a limited capacity for love.And May has given us a half-truth. To love someone who loves us in return is scary (we are giving without any assurance that we will receive), but it is invigorating nonetheless. It renews us, giving us an even greater capacity for love. But to love someone who does not return our love can drain us.
Love is commanded in the Scripture. I’ve often been asked how that command squares with my position. Usually behind the question is the assumption that since love is commanded it must be controlled by the will.Not necessarily. I may be able to will to treat you in a loving way. But love is always greater than the sum of its parts. The difference between doing loving things for you and feeling love for you may be subtle but it is there. And at times that difference can register in a profound way. For instance, parents may determine to treat all their children alike, yet love one more than another. Teachers may consciously try to not allow favoritism even though they are attracted to some students and possibly even repelled by others. In each case I suggest that the individuals involved are able to see the difference between loving acts and love itself.
Some might maintain that we never express love to another person without meeting some need of our own. But if there is a love that approximates the love of Jesus, it must be possible to love someone who either cannot or will not acknowledge our love. And to love such a person is costly. Because our resource of love is not restored in the process.
Are we able to pay the price? We are if we are receiving love. The Christian experiences regularly the love of Jesus through friends, worship, instruction from His book, prayer and reflection on what He has told us and done for us, especially during the tough times.
Are we willing to pay the price? That is a question that must be answered within the context of specific relationships. Can I love the son who has broken my heart? Can I love the student who I can’t seem to reach? Can I love the church member who seems to have so little to give to me? Or the neighbor who irritates me?
We know God’s answer. He loved us while we were his enemies. And we know God’s desire. He tells us to love each other the way he loves us.Suppose that we belong to Jesus and we are willing to try to love someone we haven’t been able to love. If love is more than doing loving things, how do we go about it?
I suggest first, that we try to get to know the person. That knowledge might put our feelings in a different perspective. If we still have “problems” with the person try to think about why we consider those things to be problems. That also could give us a different perspective. Risk talking about our feelings with the person. That must be done with great care remembering that our objective is not alienation but to break through the barriers that keep us from loving. Ask for God’s wisdom as well as the ability to love that person.As we love we are renewing and enlarging the ability of others to love. And as representatives of Jesus Christ our love enables others to feel His love.