Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)If you want to know how much you love someone (or how much someone loves you), you have to measure it in death. Are you willing to die for this person? Now before we drift off into imagining some heroic act of selflessness, like pushing someone out of the way of an oncoming train or volunteering to take someone's place so that they live instead of you (a la Maximilian Kolbe...or if you prefer, Katniss Everdeen), that isn't really the kind of death I mean...or that I think Jesus means.
On one hand, yes...we should be willing to physically die for those we love. And I don't want to minimize the difficulty and anguish that comes with physical pain and suffering. But I think sometimes...and maybe most of the time...the tougher measure is not would we die for them, but how often would we die for them. And right there, that implies some other kind of dying (as most of us only physically die once).
The death I am talking about here is the kind of death you feel when you seek forgiveness, even though you don't believe you really did anything wrong. The kind of death that occurs when you bite our tongue instead of pointing out that their great idea wasn't really theirs, but was actually yours. It is the death that happens every time you choose against your own self interest...your own desire...in favor of someone else's. It is a death of the self....of the ego. And in many ways, I think this is the harder kind of death...because it isn't one and done, but something that repeats over, and over, and over.
Ultimately it is about being selfless, about putting someone else's needs or wants ahead of your own. And really that is what love is...what true love is. It is about the other person. As I am sure you have heard, love is not just a feeling. And love is not about how someone makes you feel, or what they do for you. No, love is about what we do for them. And so the measure of that love is death. Are we willing to die for them....not just once, but over and over. Because as we all know, the opportunities to fight against (and ultimately "kill") our selfishness, our ego, are abundant....and daily. But that's what it is all about. If we truly love someone, that is, if care about them more than we care about ourselves (and that's what all those Valentine's cards say, right?!), then we should be willing to endure whatever pain we need to, in order to allow them to have their need met or their want realized. Our happiness, our joy, should be found in bring them happiness and joy. But then, that is easier said then done.
Why? Why is it so hard to let someone think we are wrong when in fact we know we are not? Why is it so difficult to humbly seek forgiveness for whatever offense someone feels we brought against them, even if whatever we did was unintentional or the other person is only offended because they are being overly sensitive? Why are we so unwilling to put in the work necessary to change that thing about ourselves that frustrates the other person? And why are we so quick to reject the idea that we should have to do any of this?
The bottom line is that we are selfish creatures. Our default setting is to take care of ourselves first and foremost. And with that comes the desire to avoid things that are painful or uncomfortable. In other words...our first instinct in almost every situation is to avoid pain...to avoid death. And so when it comes time to love, to those acts of selflessness...of choosing someone else over ourselves...of deliberately choosing the suffering that goes along with self-denial...well...those moments...those actions..just don't feel right to us. That choosing against our self, that dying to self that is the measure of love just feels wrong. It's almost like we are programmed to not love. But that's a lie. That is our rationalizing, sinfulness talking. Love is a choice, but it is one we have been freed in order to choose. It is the choice that ultimately leads to our greatest happiness. But there is no denying, loving means dying. The more we do it...the more more we die...the more we love.
Father God, sometimes my soul feels like it is literally screaming when I try to deny what I want for the sake of someone else. And it is even worse when my "choice" in the situation is only to not resist or fight against what may be the other person's selfishness. I see that love...Your Love...is about giving...and sacrificing...and dying. But also see that it doesn't stop there. Because what we always seem to find on the other side of that dying to self, is life. When we love, we often find that we are loved. When we give, we find that we receive. We when allow ourselves to be last, we find that we are the first to realize that being first isn't what matters. Yes there is death, but there is also resurrection! Please, Father, continue to transform my thinking...and my acting. Let me die...as you died, so that I can love....as You Love.