During Lent, we remember Jesus’ command: “Love one another as I have loved you.” My question is: is it still possible to love one another as Jesus loved us? We live in a world of us versus them, a culture of contempt. We are broken into camps around politics, theology, and understandings of race. Don’t forget human sexuality, biblical authority, and denominational structures. Did I mention the pandemic? Frankly, some of us are too tired to even be patient, let alone loving. Even with all that said, I promise you we don’t have to give up on love. In this article, I want to share the top four ways to practice love this Lent.
Does Love Equal Approval?
First, I want to share one common concern. That’s the concern that love means approval. If I am called to love you, but we disagree about fundamental understandings of the world, am I compromising my faith? Am I sending the signal that I approve of what I believe is sinful or unjust behavior?
Here’s what I have found. Loving as Jesus loved does not mean acceptance of behaviors or beliefs. It does however equal acceptance of the other person’s humanity, and their inner divinity. No matter how misguided you think their beliefs and behaviors are. In the end, judgement is God’s domain, not ours.
Now, on to the problem and the solutions: the four ways to practice love this Lent.
Why Loving as Christ Loved is Hard
Polarization tends to beget polarization and it takes us farther and farther from Jesus’ command. Polarization is built on fear and judgement. “I am right, and you are wrong. In fact, you are so wrong that I can’t trust you, talk with you, or even be me when you are here.”
These victim stances have no place in the consciousness of Christ. He ate with sinners. He interacted with Pilate. He did not try to winnow out the “other.” He allowed Judas to remain. He set personal differences aside and, in their place, created community amongst his people.
Four Ways to Practice Love This Lent
1) Practice Looking for Common Value Polarizing constructs are only given life when we act on them. By letting go of “us versus them,” you take the first steps toward loving as Jesus loved, and to creating community. Instead, let polarization dissolve by embracing the opposites, or by finding, identifying, and focusing on common underlying values.
2) Practice Listening When you are with someone you don’t love, listen for their humanity. Put yourself in their shoes. Ask: how has your personal journey brought you to this place? How has it shaped your perspectives?
3) Practice Extending Grace The person you can’t stand to love may look at you the same way you look at them. Surprise them by extending grace. Give them grace to make a mistake, to be on a different journey, to grow in their own timeline, and to be recipients of God’s love, and yours.
4) Practice Praying If you can’t find love within you, ask God to show you how, to teach you how to love them. If that doesn’t work, keep praying.
It’s Possible to Love One Another as Jesus Loves Us
The pandemic has shown us that there is no us versus them. There is only us. People from every walk of life and every country on earth have been impacted by the pandemic. If we hope to come through it with any sense of unity, we have to practice loving one another as Jesus loved us. It’s not automatic; it takes intention. I invite you to take on these four practices this Lent: looking for common values, listening, extending grace, and praying.
We don’t know everything the post-pandemic future holds, but the more we trust God in our approach, the more that we can live by Jesus’ command. Then, the more confident we’ll be knowing that we can survive and even thrive once again.
Excerpted and adapted from Rebekah Simon-Peter’s upcoming book (Market Square Publishers, 2022)
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