I wanted to know how to love well, but I never anticipated how God would teach me.
In the spring of 2009, I was sitting with a group of coaches for a leadership conference. One of them, Iris, is a woman I greatly admire. We are similarly wired, though she is a fair bit older than I. She jokingly calls me her “mini-me.” I joke back that when I grow up I want to be her; she tells me to aim higher.
We were taking turns sharing recent growth in our lives. Iris told us that several years before, she had asked God to teach her how to love well. As I looked around the group, I could tell we were all thinking the same thing: we could not imagine an Iris who did not love well. It was obvious God had been answering her prayer.
It occurred to me that I would like to know how to love well too—and that God would be sure to answer that kind of prayer. I expected (or at least hoped) that God would answer that prayer by giving me warm, fuzzy feelings for the people in my life.
He did not.
That summer, we moved back to a country we had left five years before and were reunited with dear friends we had known for a decade. In fact, we found an apartment immediately adjacent to them and looked forward to glorious, practically communal living.
After nearly two tough years of isolation and illness in our previous country, that summer was defined by every “re-” word I could imagine including: restoration, rejuvenation, and refreshment. Our kids spent all day every day that summer running around outside with friends. As my health returned, I began training for a half marathon, spending every morning running along a beautiful canal near our house.
I remember thinking, I love my life! and then immediately feeling trepidation. You see, the last time I had felt that way, God uprooted us and sent us to another country. I wrestled daily with a fear that He might take this newfound joy from us as well. After a while, I came to the conclusion that God was simply blessing us richly and that my job was to enjoy it fully. So I did—for a time.
Not long into our time back, our friends invited us on a double date to TGI Friday’s, one of the few western restaurants in town. We were ecstatic—this was the kind of time we had dreamed of during those days of loneliness. At dinner, our friend started telling us a story about their summer in the States. I thoroughly enjoyed it, until he came to the concluding sentence, “And that is when God told us, this is our last year here.”
I swallowed the ache in my gut and squeezed out the words, “You are really messing with my theology here, because I had just concluded that God is good.”
Back at home, my husband and I lay in bed and talked about what this would mean for us and for our kids. He asked me, “How do you feel toward God right now?”
“I hate God!” I blurted out. (I am somewhat prone to hyperbole.)
“Well, that’s a little extreme,” replied my much more emotionally-level husband.
“He can take it!” I responded.
Knowing that sleep was elusive, I put on my running shoes and went outside to the courtyard. For two hours I ran and walked in circles, telling God exactly how I felt about this turn of events.
Somewhere in my ranting, God spoke:
Gina, you want me to teach you to love well? Then you need to see what you love more than Me. You love this life I give you more than you love Me, because look at how you respond when I am going to take it from you.
I stopped, the truth of this sinking in. This was an answer to my prayer.
You want to know what you love? Follow your anger, and it will show you. Those pieces of your life that you would despise losing—that is what has your heart. Often, what our anger reveals are our idols. Even the good gifts of God can be those idols if they hold a higher place in our hearts than He does.
In living overseas, maybe even more than at other times, God gives and He takes away. Still, we can be people who love well when we put Him first in our hearts and hold loosely to the rest. Loving well begins with loving Him more than anything else.
Questions to consider: Gina challenges us with “You want to know what you love? Follow your anger, and it will show you…Often, what our anger reveals are our idols. Even the good gifts of God can be those idols if they hold a higher place in our hearts than He does.” What are the things that make you angry? What are the idols He is revealing in your heart?