I have found the secret to love — to being loved and being a more loving person! Though I’d like to take credit for this secret, I cannot. The secret to loving has been around for a very long time.
The premise for the secret to love can be summarized in just three principles:
God is love and He loved you first.
If you put God first, you will always know you are loved.
You can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself first.
While I have been aware of these points and the scriptures I used as the foundation for them, I don’t always live them out in my daily life. If I did, I’d be a perfect wife, mother, and friend. Trust me, I’m not. So, rather than present these principles as a formula for love, allow me to share how these three truths lead me to love.
1. God is love and He loved you first.
“God is love. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us.” 1 John 4:16-19
The first time I really understood this scripture was when my eldest kids were young.
When my son was four years old, my best friend’s mother was dying of cancer. I shared the sad truth with my son. Valuing the wisdom of children, I asked him what he thought I should tell my friend’s mother. He said, “Mommy, tell her that God loved us first, so she doesn’t have to be afraid. Jesus is holding his hand out to her and she should just hold it.”
First-born kids typically feel a little more pressure to be the best because first-time parents believe we are all going to be perfect. I imagine my son felt that too. I suppose knowing God loved him even before he could accomplish anything gave my son more confidence.
For him, it was simple. Even death could be met with peace because God loved us before we could even love Him back. What’s to fear? I had to think and pray about this truth for many years before it sank into my heart. Now, when I get overwhelmed with not being or doing enough, and thus not being a loving person, I step back and remember God loved me first. I don’t need to fear anything. I am free to love.
2. If you put God first, you will know you are loved.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30
To really allow the truth of God’s love for me to sink in deep, I have to put in the effort. Any relationship requires commitment and hard work. My relationship with God is not different, though easily ignored.
For me, making my relationship with God a priority means taking time for prayer and reading the Bible each day. I also go to daily Mass as often as possible. My prayer time is my lifeline to God. It allows me to surrender myself to His will and hand over my concerns. It also opens me up to experience the love God has for me.
This morning, I was reading the story about Jesus healing a man who was deaf and mute.
Jesus took him away from the crowds to pray with him and said: “Be opened” (Mark 7:34).
The man was healed of his deafness and his speech was restored. The man left Jesus to proclaim to everyone what had happened. This healing reminded me that I am more open to love when I spend time alone with the Lord. When we experience God’s love, we are able to love others with the love we received.
3. You can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself first.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31
This last secret to love builds on the first two. We need to know God loves us and experience His love before we can even love ourselves. But this last principle is possibly the most important to understand so that we can love others.
The context of this scripture in the Gospel was teachers debating about the law and which of the commandments was the most important. Jesus told them to love God with everything and then to love others as you love yourself. That’s pretty radical. He said this was the basis of all God’s laws.
God wants us to love ourselves better so that we can be better lovers.
This one is so hard for all of us, and most especially when we are loving others who need more care. In my experience and work with caregivers, I emphasize that the best thing we can do for those we care for is to take care of ourselves.
This was a hard concept for me to grasp, especially when my daughter was younger, in and out of the hospital and we had three other young children at home. We often feel like we need to give more to love better lovers. But the truth is we need to refill our empty tanks so we have more love to give.
The blessing of struggling with autoimmune diseases is that if I don’t take care of myself, my body shuts down. It won’t help me to care for my daughter, be there for my husband or for anyone else. One of the last things my mom said to me before she died was, “You have so much on your plate. Please take care of yourself.”
Before Christmas, I promised myself, the Lord and my mom that I would follow my own advice and take care of myself first. I changed my diet to a stricter diet that helps combat autoimmune response, started exercising again and got back to the MS Center to discuss a new treatment plan. I had to love myself first, so I have more love to give.
This morning in prayer, God laughed with me.
I can’t explain exactly how I know, but I know. I was rattling off the crazy things in my life, that just seemed so all important until I sensed God laughed. It wasn’t a mocking laughter, it was a hearty laugh of a loving Father who thinks the best of me.
This sense of God’s laughter and love for me, made me look at how silly my worries were in the grand scheme of things. I planned out a day that made my life a little easier. Then, I laughed as I remembered- I’ve found the secret to love.
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She is the author of Breathing Underwater: A Caregiver’s Journey of Hope. Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. She can be reached at CareforaCaregiver.com.