By Helen West
I was sitting in front of the face of Jesus in adoration one morning several years ago, desperately seeking direction in my walk with Him. I cried out to the LORD to tell me one thing, anything that He willed for me to do. He responded with a command to, “Love others as I have loved you.”
“Okay, a little cliché, but I can work with that, Lord,” I thought, and I set out to radically spread God’s love to those around me. However, I soon discovered what felt like a dam surrounding my heart, holding back the flood of love and mercy God had poured into me. I found myself being hypercritical towards others and making snap judgments of people, distancing myself from them if they behaved a certain way, said profanities, or expressed an opinion I disagreed with.
This plight went on for years as I wondered, “God, what is keeping me from loving the way you have called me to?”
It wasn’t until I was given the opportunity to attend a leadership retreat in the Fall of 2021 that it began to dawn on me what this commandment entailed. One of the activities with our small groups was to share life events that had shaped who we were in the present. They encouraged us to get vulnerable, and I was ready to stay within my comfort zone, sharing the same testimony I had in the past. However, as the first person in my small group began to share the inner workings of her story, my heart was broken wide open. I began to cry with her, rejoice with her, and found that many of her struggles resonated with me.
Seeing the humanity in the people surrounding me, I was able to take a deeper look at my hardships I had endured on my own path with the Lord, share them, and be met with receptiveness and compassion in return. It was in this communion with my small group that I found a greater ability to love others as God has loved me.
Coming off of that weekend, the Lord left me with a considerable truth: everyone has past wounds and experiences that have shaped them into who they are today and may not be detectable from the surface. Everyone has the same deep desires to be known and loved, and those needs can be neglected or wounded in many different ways. We may think that our struggles are unique or that another person doesn’t struggle at all— both of which are assumptions the devil loves to see us make because they foster isolation and resentment.
Contrarily, God challenges us to embrace individuals in their woundedness just as He has embraced us. Although everyday environments do not always allow for the deep intimacy I experienced at this conference, the Lord still calls us into relationships with others in the day-to-day. We have so much to learn from those around us and their crosses, as they can speak to the recesses of our hearts as well in unexpected ways. We can only reach the possibility to see God through others if we approach them with a tender heart that is abundant in love and forgiveness.
This is not a one time decision or a demeanor developed overnight. Radically loving others takes time, patience, strength, and trust. It takes spending time with the One who loved us into existence, learning from His experiences with rejection and hatred. This call to love our neighbors as He loves us requires us to stay close to Him who is Love and allow ourselves to be open to the ability to learn more about our God’s heart through authentic connection with others.