I remember a certain young man who came with his fiancée to be married in our church. One question I ask couples in premarital counseling is, “How did you know, as you were growing up, that you were loved and cared for by your parents? How did they communicate that to you? With physical affection, verbally or by being there for you?” The young man’s eyes filled with tears as he said, “I never did know whether I was loved or not by my parents. My father couldn’t show it, and my mother wouldn’t.”
Why are people so stingy with their affection? Why are people so protective and defensive, so self-centered and self-absorbed? Why do people hug their love closely to themselves, hoard their affection and only dispense it carefully in coffee spoons? Why do we limit our love and respond like a Shylock in our relationships?
Is it that we are afraid of yielding ourselves and giving up control? Is it that we cannot handle emotional intimacy because we do not know how to respond? Or do we fear that we will be misunderstood and rejected? Or are we wary of making a commitment that might ask too much of us?
But I want to suggest that the reason we hoard and ration our love and stay as uninvolved as we do is our concern that we will run out of love; that if we love too much today then we will have only crumbs and leftovers for tomorrow; that if we love too many people today then we will not have any love left for those closest to us and for ourselves. Those of us who lived through wartime rationing learned how hoarding commodities changed people’s personalities and distanced them from others – even members of their own family.
People act that way today with their love and will tell you, “It is too much to be asked of anyone.” Parents often nurture a similar attitude in their children and manipulate them emotionally until the children feel so dependent on their parents that they believe were they to love anyone else very much, they would have no love left for their parents. Sometimes marriages are neurotically sustained with such hoarded love, and the couples live only for themselves.
However, we never run out of love, and so we have no need to hoard it. When we love, and I mean love generously, unconditionally, with constancy and abandon, with passion and reaching out, we find we never run out. We never run out because, when we love, God is within us as a power and provision, replenishing and enlarging our love. The more love we share.
Jesus never ran out of love, although on occasion he did run low on energy and headed to the hills for rest and renewal. He assured his followers that they would also never run out of love, told them how they would do greater things than he was doing and urged them to be faithful in ministry unto the end. He said they would be clothed with such power from on high that they would never run out of love, no matter how much they were asked to give, no matter how deeply they were asked to share.
It is a needed truth for us today who shy away more and more from helping each other, from being “good Samaritans,” who hoard our love, who don’t want to get involved, who want someone else to help the helpless, to love the loveless, to touch the untouchable, to walk with the lonely.
It is a needed truth for us in our marriages and our families. We would have healthier and happier marriages if we didn’t hold back and gave more of ourselves to each other. We would experience more joy in rearing our children if we worried less about them and loved them more, knowing that whatever patience we need, whatever discernment we need, however much love and affection we need would be ours through God’s grace.
In saying this, I think of Susanna Wesley who gave birth to 19 children and reared 15 of them into adulthood. How did she do it? How did she have the time and the energy in a day without modern-day conveniences or child-rearing experts? How did she have enough love for 15? She said God supplied the energy and love for each one.
Were we more generous in our love within our families, we would also find we had enough love to share beyond our home, enough love to share in the community with those in need. Families who know they have more than enough love and some to spare hold this world together. They are the ones who help their neighbor through a crisis, take in a foster child or two, get involved in community helping agencies, open their home and their hearts, and the whole family serves at the crossroads. By their love they bring forth futures for those who have stopped believing they had one.
It is also a truth we need for our individual Christian witness. To follow Christ is to follow him all the way into the needs of human hearts where we are asked to serve, to sacrifice and to give ourselves away in love. When God puts it in our hearts to help someone, God also provides the resources so we never run out. As the apostle Paul put it, “He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.” God provides the love we need for sharing and serving. We can gather it fresh every morning – and every moment – and we will never run out.
Hear how it happened in the Veteran’s Hospital in Coatesville, Pa.:
It was lunchtime on the psychiatric wards of the Veteran’s Hospital here. Patients privileged to leave the locked wards had gone to the main dining room. For the 60 or so left in the locked wards of Building 4, there was a small dining facility with food delivered from the central kitchen. Building 4 had one nurse and two orderlies to get the seriously mentally ill patients through their meals. Six hands were simply not enough.
A toilet overflowed, but the nurse could not find anyone to clean it up. She was having trouble keeping her eye on five patients in wheelchairs, along with a dozen others milling in a hallway, each trying to get her attention. Three times in 20 minutes, she had to rush by a patient lying curled in a corner before she had a moment to stop and gently urge him to his feet.
“Doesn’t this ever depress you?” a visitor asked.
“Not really,” replied the nurse, with a smile. “If I ever begin to feel depressed, I just remember that the hospital staff is among the few people in the world who care what happens to these men. In some cases, we’re the only ones who care.”
That loving nurse had learned how with God we never run out of love. If we trust God and give love away generously, positively, with kindness, compassion, affirmation and respect, we will always have enough – and more!
Rev. Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor at Aiken’s First Baptist Church.