“Love is the hardest lesson in Christianity; but, for that reason, it should be most our care to learn it.”
This quotation from William Penn appears at the beginning of a chapter of “Quaker Faith and Practice: The book of Christian discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain.”
Learning to love is most definitely a question of learning by doing. I have found reading helpful, e.g. “The Road Less Travelled” by Scott Peck, but it is no substitute for actually loving another person.
Love is not just having a nice warm feeling towards someone or wanting to be with them. Love is about being sensitive to another person’s needs and desires and going out of our way to help them to be happy. And we can only begin to do that by paying attention to our own spiritual growth. We are not going to help anyone else become any happier, if we ourselves are miserable for much of the time.
But it’s not much good pretending to be cheerful. We need to find the deep and abiding joy which comes with doing what love requires of us, whatever the circumstances and however much it might cost us.
One of my all-time favourite quotes is, of course, by Thomas Merton. If I’ve quoted it before, it’s worth quoting again:
“As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering, by our very contact with each other, because this love is a resetting of a body of broken bones.”
If you want to love without suffering, don’t even bother to try. I have often heard these lines by William Blake quoted in Quaker meetings for worship:
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for Joy & Woe;
And when this we rightly know
Thro’ the World we safely go.
Joy & Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the Soul divine;
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
Suffering is a fact of life. Love, joy and peace are not to be found through avoiding suffering. They are the gifts of a loving God to anyone who chooses to live life to the full and drink the cup that is flowing over.
When we learn to love, we become the agents of God who becomes human when humans become godlike. Jesus is the supreme example. When Christ dwells within us and we “live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all war” (George Fox), then we too will become patterns and examples and will “come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one” (George Fox).
It may seem that God causes suffering. Maybe He/She does. I don’t know. What I do know, is that God loves each and every one of us. A good few years ago, when I was taking part in a group therapy session, the message that was coming through to me was: “I love you. I love you. I love you.” In the knowledge that we are loved, we become capable of loving others, so that we can tell them “I love you, because I love you, because I love you.” And now and then we catch a glimpse of the God within them, even though they may not yet see this themselves.