Love is a River

by D’Ann Davis

We talk much at Living Hope Ministries about how our definitions of love need to be re-oriented to that of God’s definition of love as we see in Scripture.   We seek to cast off the flawed, sinful, worldly definitions of love that would include blindly agreeing with anything anyone says so long as it does not bother one’s own comforts and preferences, and seek to instead do what is best for our loved ones in pushing them to Christ.  We dialogue about how we should love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, love our neighbors as ourselves, and consider others as more important than ourselves, in light of Matthew 22:37-40 and Philippians 2:3-4.  We also talk about not having idolatrous forms of love in emotional dependency or having an idolatry of one’s self in total independence apart from the community of believers.  But I would like to address love from a different angle.  It is evident in walking with the women of Living Hope, that there is a skewed perception of what intimacy and love look like within the community of believers, as it relates to us being an inter-connected body with many moving parts of differing relationships.   I would like to address a common misconception that we only have a certain amount of love to give others and if we give to one person that means we must then create a deficit of love for another.

To be clear, rarely does a woman ever walk into my office and express great angst and sorrow about not having enough love to give everyone.  In fact I do not know that I have ever had someone come in with that issue to process… a woman’s anxiety that she cannot be as concerned for others’ well-being over her own because she has exhausted all resources of love she has available.  Usually the misconception I am talking about shows itself when a lady is in relationship with a friend, mentor, minister, family member, etc., and that other person develops a new friend, in addition to the woman in my office, or begins dating.  Women with this perception of love will then believe that now their friend/mentor/minister/family member, whomever it is, has now moved on to someone else and can no longer be in relationship with her or no longer cares to be.  Our people often have the idea that the love we have to give others is like a pie.  If I only have eight pieces of pie and if I give one to a friend and two to another friend, those three pie pieces are gone and I cannot give them to anyone else, leaving me with only five pieces of pie to give to others in my life.  Even as people with the pie pieces stay in my life, in this view of thinking, I have nothing left to give anyone who is not in the chosen few.

This is a faulty way of viewing love and relationship though, and it is certainly not biblical.  When a woman operates this way and believes everyone else does, she becomes extremely jealous and possessive of others.  If she feels her pie piece is in danger, she will dislike those she feels are trying to take it and will cling more exhaustively to the pie giver.  She will view others as a threat and often will simply detach and give up on a relationship if she feels threatened.  Many of the women in my flock will pull away from friends who are dating, engaged, or married, thinking they might as well throw their pie piece in the trash if they cannot have the whole pie, and assigning blame to the pie giver that they probably want to give all eight pieces to their new friend or romantic relationship anyway.  This is a broken, skewed view of love though that is certainly not concentrated on the above referenced idea of Philippians 2:3-4 that reads, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  We must look to the word of God to re-orient our perspective to His.

We see in First John 4:10 that we did not love God, but He loved us.  Verses seven and eight of the same chapter exhort us, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  So love comes from the Father, not from us.  And since God is love, we have inexhaustible resources in love in the Father.  The problem is that most of us come to love with a “me first” mentality and seek to do whatever we can for us to feel the most loved.  At our core we even approach God with this motive at times.  As referenced earlier though, God’s goal for us is that we love Him with our all hearts, souls, and minds, and be transformed by His love that we might love Him and then others as ourselves.  It does not exhort us to love ourselves more or to use others to fill that void in our lives only God can fill, but it exhorts us to love Him and then others.  The order there is also imperative.  It does not command us to love our neighbor above God and His truth, but to love others secondary to Him, the Lover of our souls.  Thus all love we extend to others must be rooted in His love as an outworking of our responsive love to Him.  We do not adopt the culture’s view of love, but we are conformed to His image per His will and we demonstrate our love for Him in obeying His commandments (1 John 5:2).

Another name for the brokenness that fuels this “pie love” mentality is relational idolatry.  In Jeremiah God rebukes the Israelites in 2:13 by saying, “For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  When we seek to use others to meet our needs then we are enslaved to our idolatry of that relationship and are unable to love God or the other person.  We must repent of this and seek out life and fulfillment in Christ and His sufficiency.  People make terrible idols because they are sinful and broken.  Christ, however, is the Living Water, and anyone who drinks of Him shall thirst no more (John 4:14).  When we seek Christ as our Savior, and not others, then we are freed to love Him above all things and are able to love others out of the overflow of His love in us.  Love is a fruit of the Spirit according to Galatians 5:22, so when we walk in the Spirit we will demonstrate love for others and be less concerned with how much love we feel we are getting from others.  We can be loving servants as opposed to wasteful, self-absorbed consumers of love because we will know we are loved by the Father, and our identity will rest in Him.

The great thing about love being based in Christ and being an inexhaustible resource, is that it renders the “pie” view of love useless.  To use an analogy of our executive director, Ricky Chelette, in a healthy view of love it operates like a river instead of a pie.  The water is the love, and the boats in the river are the different relationships.  As more water is poured into the river, all of the boats rise.  One does not rise over the other, but all the boats rise and benefit from the influx of water.  When a person grows in love for God and others, all of her relationships benefit.  She might have relationships of different shapes and sizes, as a spouse is clearly not the same type of relationship as an acquaintance or a friend, but all relationships benefit from the growing love of the woman.  Now surely, there are many who do operate out of a pie mentality when it comes to relationships and unhealthily isolate from community when finding a new friend or romantic interest, but that is not a biblical way to approach relating.  Proverbs 18:1 reminds us, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom.”  We are also told in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake assembling together.  So as believers we are encouraged to be intimately connected in the body and walk deeply with others in varying degrees of relationships.  When we have loved ones who are operating out of a pie mentality and creating closed, exclusive relationships in which they distance themselves from all others, we should approach them in love and truth.  However, our motive must be that we love God and we love them, not that we are operating out of an unhealthy pie mentality ourselves and are using the Bible as a weapon in an attempt to greedily grasp back a pie piece for us.

When a woman encounters a scenario where a loved one or friend invites others into the circle, that needs to be seen as a blessing and celebrated as a rising of the river, not as a pie piece being stolen.  A woman needs to learn that a single human relationship does not exist that will meet all of her needs, and even if she were to have all eight pieces of another’s pie, that would be sinful idolatry and still would not be enough to heal her.  She needs to be accepting and inviting of others as opposed to closed, stagnant, and exclusive in her relating.  She must accept that her loved ones will have other loved ones that are not her, and those relationships do not detract from her relationship if everyone is healthy.  She needs to repent from envy, covetousness, possessiveness, and jealousy.  It is imperative for her to be willing to adjust to changes in others’ live and remember that the world does not revolve around her, and others do not exist to serve her every need.  She has to focus on Christ, and then seek to love and serve her friend as opposed to documenting every missed hang out, scrutinizing the delay of every returned text, or stewing in anger over all the ways she has had to adjust her own preferences due to the existence of others.  She needs to consider others more important than herself and realize that relationships shift and change and that is all a part of the growth of life.  Some relationships are seasonal, and that is great.  Few relationships are lifelong, and the only ones that are lifelong are those between people who have learned to embrace change, celebrate the entrance of others into each others’ lives, and seek out the good of the other over one’s own preferences and tastes.

Paul writes on the characteristics of love in First Corinthians 13.  Nowhere in this chapter does he describe love as a closed, exclusive, pie-like idea.  He understands the nature of love and how it increases exponentially upon itself and snowballs.  He writes in verses 4-7:

 “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Paul understood the nature of love and was writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, this is part of God’s heart on love.  It is not self-seeking and is patient and kind.  It is not jealous and rejoices in the truth.  It hopes all things and believes all things.  So as we approach relationships and grow in love with others, let us give others the benefit of the doubt.  Let us not run or detach because we fear change or rejection.  Let us press into Christ and find our greatest affection in Him, and then love others as ourselves.  That is where we find life… in knowing and loving Him and being transformed by Him that we might serve others.  That is real love.