"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Matthew 5:43-44 NIV
I just finished an insightful book titled, "To Love as God Loves." Author, Roberta Bondi, looks at the subject of loving as God through the guidance of early church mothers and fathers. One of these saints, Dorotheus of Gaza, proposed the following metaphor (I'm paraphrasing). Imagine a large circle representing the world; at its center is God. As we move ever closer toward God, the distance between us and everyone else in that circle grows closer.
While perhaps not a perfect example, you get the idea. The more we learn and grow in God's love our ability to love others grows closer. Where previously we found it impossible to love those we found despicable and have even those who have abused us, we now found it possible.
Why does this ability to love as God not come automatically when we accept Christ? While we have become a new creation, the fight against the primal part of our existence and basic instincts continues. Fear of harm and self-preservation tells us we shouldn't have to love those folks. We, likewise, find loving God as he loves difficult too. Loving him completely means relinquishing control and facing and conquering our inner demons.
But difficult doesn't mean impossible. With the Holy Spirit's help, we can overcome our inadequacies. We don't need to remain bound by those things that hinder us from loving as God loves. Instead, we can grow into this love by recognizing who we are and the things standing in our way. Then, having identified those things, we take them to God in prayer seeking his help. Like all our spiritual journeys, this is not a one-and-done thing but a daily exercise, an evolving awareness of who we are and who we can become.
God of Love, we come humbly before you confessing we do not love as we should. We have faltered in our love for you, others, and ourselves. Forgive us; we pray and help us pause and reflect on those things about ourselves that constrict us. By the Holy Spirit, grant us the courage and strength to overcome and to grow, moving ever closer towards you, the center of the circle. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.