By Rev. Grant R. Schnarr
What is love? The Writings say that everybody knows that love exists but it is difficult to define what love is. There are so many different kinds of love if you think about it. There’s romantic love. You see that on television, read about it in books today, in the movies. There’s love for children, parental love. There’s love of self, love of goods, possessions. There’s a love to God, a love to the neighbor, a love of life. There are so many different kinds of love.The Writings say that if you want to take one all-encompassing definition of love it would be this, that love is the life of man, the human race. Love is life.
If you think about that, God being love itself, life itself, flows into us with that love, and that’s what gives us life in this world, gives us motivation. We can see that whatever we love in our life we put in front of us, we pursue it, we follow it. What we love within, deeply within, we build our life around. It is very much a part of our existence, this love. So it is our whole life, this love.
Now we are also told that the more we learn to love genuinely, the love of our neighbor, to bring in God’s life, God’s love, into ourselves and outward to share it with others, the more we truly begin to live for the first time. Because with that love comes a genuine life from the Lord, a feeling of self, comes a feeling aliveness.
So how do we learn to love our neighbor? And what is this love to the neighbor? Christ defined it this way, “It is the essence of love to love others outside of oneself, to be one with them and to render them blessed from oneself.” Three things there: to love others outside of oneself; to want to be one with them; to make them happy. We can see this if we look at the nature of creation and God and why He created us.
God, being love itself, desired someone, something outside of Himself, that He could love, that He could benefit. Someone who would have their own identity, someone who could take that love and return it back to Him. And so God breathed into the nostrils of man the breath of life, that gave man the feeling of self life, gave the man the feeling as if he were God in his own right. He gave man the opportunity to take that love and bring it into his heart, to express it to his fellow men. That’s why God created us apart for Himself, gave us our own identity, our own sense of self life. He gave that to us so that He could love us, so that He could be with us in the world.
You know, it’s not as if some day if we are very good people we’ll be absorbed back into God, into the Godhead. That would do away with the purpose of why God created us in the first place. The more we learn to bring God into our lives, bring love into our lives, the more we feel that identity, the more feel as if life is our own, and the more we feel as we are alive. So God created us apart from Himself.
At the same time He wants to be one with us through our choices, through our choices in our daily life, through what we make our ourselves we bring the Lord into ourselves. We bring in His goodness, His life. We do this in service to others. We do this in changing those things that are wrong within us, that block it out, putting them down, putting them away, opening up the way so that the Lord can come in and be one with us. And so He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in to him and sup with him and he with me.”
And then the third part of love, to render someone blessed outside of himself. When we learn to bring the Lord into our life, to lead a good Christian life, then the Lord can flow into us. And with that goodness comes happiness.
That’s what creation is all about. The more we follow the Lord’s ways, the more we follow the order of life that He has set up for us, the more goodness, and with it joy comes into our life. Happiness and goodness are one and the same thing. And so the Lord can bless us through our choices, can make us happy.
But we don’t have to just see this in creation, we can also see this in our daily lives, that effort to conjunction, that effort to be one with people. Perhaps you remember when you were a child, picking up a puppy dog for the first time, a little kitten, and holding it tight, and trying to be one with it, to bring it in. You just couldn’t get any closer to it. Sure, many of us remember that feeling, that effort to be conjoined, that oneness, to bring that little xx into our lives.
The same is true as we grew older with the friendships we first started to develop when we were teenagers, exploring friendships for the first time, something deep, something more meaningful. We wanted to share the inmost secrets of our heart with someone, and share the depth and breadth of what it means to be a human being, to have an intimacy with someone who we could be with, who would understand us, whom we could help in their life, that effort for conjunction.
And can we not see it in a man and a woman, a husband and wife, two people who come together in an effort to be conjoined, not just on a physical level, but within, to be one in thought and affection in all things of life, not to lose identity, but the two identities coming together to create one identity, another identity, only the two of them can create. To come together to have all those delights, friendship between a man and a woman, can bring within, spiritual delights. And then in a marriage relationship, with a commitment there, that can be brought down into the ultimate physical, where sexual relationship becomes an ultimate of that love, where we can bring that love into this world in a way that we could not do it otherwise. And so the Lord said, in the beginning He created them male and female, and said, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cling unto his wife, and the two shall be one flesh, wherefore they are no more two but one.”
How very different this is with a person who has made their life one of selfishness. The selfish person, unlike those who have tried to give, builds a whole universe around themselves. They become the center of the universe as it were, and everyone and anything that is around them, becomes a tool that they can use. True, they do love people, but why? Those people who are close to them, those people who serve them, they love. So the Writings say, “To the degree that someone serves the selfish person, that selfish person loves them.” The friends of a selfish person become pieces of property more than anything else, things that they own, things that they can use, rather than things that they can help, give, share with. And so we have people who develop relationships simply so that they can get something out of them, so that they can take instead of give.
We can see this possibly in a man who chooses his partner of the opposite sex because of what she looks like, simply because she is a status symbol, and he wears her around like she’s a piece of clothing and discards her as soon as she gets old, worn out, or if he finds a better one. Does that happen today? It does.
People who choose friends, not because of what’s inside of them, not because of what they can do for their friends, but because of how much money they make, or whether they have status, or whether that person will help them out to get that job or to keep the job, or to get in with the right crowd. Does that happen today? It does happen today. It’s selfishness.
So the person who builds their life on self, everyone around them serves them. And this is confirmed also from Eric From in his book THE ART OF LOVING, he says, “A selfish person is interested only in himself, wants everything for himself, feels no pleasure in giving, but only in taking. The world outside is looked at only from the standpoint of what he can get out of it. He lacks interest in the needs of others and respect for their dignity and integrity. He can see nothing but himself. He judges everyone and everything from its usefulness to him. He is basically unable to love.”
Now the only thing we may disagree with there is that bit about being unable to love. The Lord has set it up in such a way that we can always turn back to Him. We can always open up our hearts and change our lives and begin again. But it is true to the extent that we build our lives on selfishness that it is harder to get out of it. If we wrap ourselves up within ourselves, how hard is it to unwrap, to begin to love. And so the Lord even said, “He who commits sin is the slave of sin.” That after a while following those paths, your attitude does become harder and harder to change.
And so there are some questions that we should ask ourselves: one of those being, why do I have the friends that I have? Is it because of selfish reasons? Is it because of what they can do for me rather than what I can do for them? And you know what we’ll find? We’ll find that there are mixed motives. Every one of us has friends for selfish reasons, and also good reasons. But to look and to see where the bad is, where we are using our friends instead of giving and try to change that, to perfect ourselves, to pray to the Lord for help to become better and more loving people, more concerned and more understanding about our friends, about our partners, rather than just taking. So we’ve got to look at that in our lives.
Now it’s so easy being a single person, being alone, to fall into the trap of going for the quick fix, going for that feeling of intimacy that we all desire so much, to go into friendships with people without thinking at all what they’re like inside, to move into physical relationships with members of the opposite sex because we need that feeling within of security. And we can get that for an hour, maybe a day or two, moving into relationships that aren’t really based on any kind of commitment. But if we do that, what happens? If we don’t have to discipline, to sit back, to think about what we are doing and use our heads and not just what we feel in our insides. What happens is that we form relationships that on the external, on the very sensual level, are formed together and bonded, but within you may be miles apart from the other person. And people can move into relationships where, on the external bonds are created, emotions come up, where people are together and stuck together as it were, but on the inside they have nothing in common. They have no real or genuine affection from within, and it`s such a hard thing to break. And it causes so much pain.
All the Lord’s teachings about leading an orderly life, the way He’s set it up, are there for helping us. They are not there just simply to tell us what to do and if we don’t do it we are going to be hurt. No. Think about that. He gives us those teachings so that we can be happy. That’s the only reason, so that we can be with Him.
Now, love isn’t all giving. And if you think that Christian love means to give and give and give and be used and be hurt, you are wrong. Christian love is not being the martyr. What good does it do if you are giving and giving to someone who’s always taking and taking from you and hurting you, what good does it do? Does it do you any good? No. It doesn’t do you any good. You are being hurt. Does it do the other person any good? No. They continue on being selfish. They continue on hurting themselves by that selfishness. Christian love sometimes says, No. And if you will believe it, Christian love not only benefits, it sometimes punishes. It looks to the end in view. It looks to be the most good thing to do, the most useful thing to do. And if you really love someone and they are hurting themselves and you by using you, the best thing is to say, No. That’s Christian love.
Now how do we love? It’s a hard question. It takes real discipline to learn how to really genuinely love. It takes sitting down and looking at yourself and deciding what you need to work on, to change, what selfishness comes up in your life, and deal with one or two of them, to put them out of your life and begin to start giving. And so you’ll find in life that the more you look at yourself and be honest with yourself, sure you may be afraid for a while to see those things within, but if you deal with them, pray to the Lord for help, a change will take place in your life. You will be able to begin to feel that love come within you. But it takes a real discipline.
How often in our lives do we decide to change something, and maybe the next day we remember and we start working on it. Maybe the next day we wake up and we remember again we make the same change, and then the next day we wake up and we forgot all about it. Maybe a month later we remember, Oh yeah, I was going to work on that, wasn’t I? It takes real discipline. It takes concentration. And even more than this, the love takes patience, patience not only to those we deal with, but patience with ourselves. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen instantaneously in our lives. There are going to be times when we fall down. There are going to be times when we hurt ourselves, but we’ve got to get back up again and try. And if we do this, that’s all the Lord asks is that we try. And if we put that little grain of mustard seed of effort into our lives, it will grow and become a tree.
Now the last and probably one of the most famous quotes from the Writings of Swedenborg is this. “Love consists in this, that its own should be another’s. To feel the joy of another as joy in oneself, that is loving. But to feel one’s own joy in another and not the other’s joy in oneself is not loving.” To feel one’s joy in another, what does that mean? That means to give that goodness that we have in our lives to someone else. To give what is one’s own to another person. It means, if we have gone through an experience and learned something about life, and if someone else needs that, to give it to them, to help them.
Let’s say somebody is having a real problem with anxiety, they are very anxious over something that is going on in their life. Maybe you have dealt with that before. Maybe you’ve come through it. Sit down and talk to them, to help them out, to give them those answers that you have found in your life. That’s loving.
Maybe someone’s going through a tragedy in their life, the death of a loved one. Maybe you’ve gone through that too and have dealt with it, to help them out, to tell them what it’s going to be like, to tell them how you hung on through the storm. That’s loving. I remember that Tom had said that after his wife had died that it was as if the Lord had put all these people in front of him in the next couple of weeks, all these people who had the same thing happening to them, that their spouse was dying. It was after the Lord was saying, “I’m going to make something good come out of this, that you can do something here to help your neighbor. And to go and to give to that person, to tell them what you went through, that is loving. That is giving. You don’t have to do that. It’s so easy to stay in our own little houses, our own little closets, and our own little minds and not reach out and give because it’s so vulnerable to give. If you don’t give after all, you won’t be hurt. What the Lord’s saying is, take the chance. Risk. Give. And you will receive that love within. That’s what life is all about.
And to feel the joy in another in oneself is also loving. But we can see that. Maybe in a child’s first step, those of you who have seen that. When that child takes that first step, you should see their faces, they’re beaming. They know what they’re doing. It’s a great miracle. The feeling that we feel within, that’s love. To see a couple, a young couple in love, get married, all the dreams that they have, their visions for what their marriage will be like, that feeling we can feel in our hearts during the wedding, that’s love. To see someone who has worked for a company all their life go up and be rewarded and recognized upon retirement, and to look into their face and see them as they are reflecting back on all the things that they have done and accomplished, that’s love, to feel that feeling within.
But it’s not all the good things, to feel the joy, but also the pain. When other people are suffering, when people are hurting, to feel that within ourselves, to feel what they must be going through within and hurting us too. But more than this, to go to them, to pick them up, to hold them, to make them feel better, that’s what love is. That’s what love is all about.
Love doesn’t come naturally, not the genuine love the Lord wants us to have. It’s something we’ve got to cultivate in our lives. It’s something we’ve got to bring with us, to open our hearts to the Lord. We do that by recognizing our shortcomings, by praying to the Lord to remove them and beginning a new life. If we do this and then begin to give with sincerity, with concentration, be willing to risk, then the Lord will begin to flow into our life and fill us with all goodness and all happiness. For even as the Lord said, “Do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return and great will be your reward in heaven.”