When You Fail at Experiencing and Expressing Love
Recently, I read an insightful book titled, How We Love. The authors propose that our “love style” (the various ways in which we give and receive love in marriage) is dramatically affected by our answer to a core question. The question is simple: “Can you recall being comforted as a child after a time of emotional distress?” 1 Ponder that one. Carefully. Honestly.
Regardless of what you think of this approach, I think we can admit three things:
- Our experiences as children (good, bad or ugly) can leave a lasting imprint on our lives.
- These experiences can affect (for better or worse) how we give and receive love
- The gospel that brings salvation and assures the transforming indwelling of the Holy Spirit can change us for God’s glory and the good of our relationships.
My favorite devotional writer, William Henrichsen, insightfully describes a key problem with our experience of love. He asks, “How do you know when you are loved?” then proposes, “You conclude that you are loved either because you believe the veracity of the one saying it, or your expectations regarding what it means to be loved are met.” Henrichsen then states, “Scripture belabors the point that God loves you but He does not say that others ought to make you feel loved…The Bible commands that you love others, while insisting that His promises are enough to sustain you when you are in an environment in which you don’t believe you are loved by anyone other than Him.” 2
“…God’s promises are enough to sustain you when you are in an environment in which you don’t believe you are loved by anyone other than Him.” (William Henrichsen)
Wow! He concludes, “If a person says ‘You don’t love me,’ either there is something terribly wrong with the relationship, or the person is trying to manipulate you…If you have to prove your love by meeting the expectations of another, you will never succeed. Such an endeavor is like trying to fill a bottomless pit.”
The Veracity of God’s Love and Comfort
So, this brings us back to the “comfort” question. I hope you can admit honestly that some of us are very broken about how we experienced comfort as a child – and even today as an adult. Our hearts are naturally insecure and self-centered. We live in a fallen world. Our capacity to receive and give love is damaged, which is why we need the power of the gospel.
Our hearts are naturally insecure and self-centered. Our capacity to receive and give love is damaged, which is why we need the power of the gospel.
In the Upper Room, Jesus elaborated on the reality of the new covenant accomplished by his shed blood (Luke 22:20). This salvation would provide forgiveness and secure the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus carefully described the person and work of the Spirit. Four times (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7) He explained the Spirit, using his favorite term for the third member of the trinity, as “The Comforter” (pareclete). The Holy Spirit is the person and power of God indwelling us to give supernatural strength, help and support as “one called alongside” in every aspect of our journey – and our relationships.
Romans 5:5 tells us, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Whatever our human sense of comfort or love might have felt like in our early years – or whatever it is right now – the love of God, through the comfort of the Holy Spirit, can transform everything.
The Veracity of Our Divine Lover
So (borrowing from Henrichsen) we can experience and express true love based on “the veracity of the one saying it.” This means that every day, and throughout each day, we must “not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Romans 12:2). The world we grew up in, and live in as adults, leaves us deficient, focusing our expectations in the ability of people to “make us feel loved.” We are never satisfied in the love others give and become crippled in the love we offer. Only the assurance of perfect, divine love can free us to consistently and unselfishly love others.
Secure and Loving Like Jesus
We must also embrace the truth that as recipients of God’s love we have a new and secure identity. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1). This is one of many verses that underscores our new identity, perfectly loved by a perfect Father. As Spirit-filled, divinely loved and secure Christ-followers we are fully satisfied in our experience of God’s love and no longer have to place false expectations on people to make us feel loved. We can live like Jesus who “came not to be served, but to serve” and was free to give his life for others. (Mark 10:45).
As Spirit-filled, divinely loved and secure Christ-followers we no longer have to place false expectations on people to make us feel loved. We can live like Jesus who “came not to be served, but to serve” and was free to give his life for others.
Without a daily experience of this core truth, a believer can fall into what Paul Tripp calls, identity amnesia, “which makes you feel poor when in fact you are rich. It makes you feel unable when in fact you a have been blessed with strength. It makes you feel alone when in fact, since the Spirit lives inside you, it is impossible for you to be alone. You feel unloved when in fact, as a child of the heavenly Father, you have been graced with eternal love.” 3
A Personal Reflection and Prayer
I am grateful that almost two decades ago, the Lord led me to the discovery that, while the outer man is perishing, the inner man can be truly renewed day by day. (2 Cor. 6:16) Knowing that the hardest thing about the Christian life that it is so “daily” — we must constantly renew our minds in the veracity of God’s character of love and our new identity as an object of His love. (See The Deeper Life: Satisfying the Eight Vital Longing of the Soul to learn more about this dynamic daily renewal process).
We must constantly renew our minds in the veracity of God’s character of love and our new identity as an object of His love.
My prayer for you today is that you will live in the power of The Comforter, seeking His renewal and transformation that will enable you to live each day as a loved and secure giver of love, regardless of the way others might fail or succeed in making you feel their love in return.
1 Milan and Kay Yerkovich, How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage (Waterbrook Press: New York, New York, 2017) 13
2 William Henrichsen, Thoughts from the Diary of a Desperate Man (Leadership Foundation: El Cajon, CA., 1999) Day 296
3 Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies (Crossway: Wheaton, Ill, 2014) April 12