Love Without Limits

I was nearly 30 before I ever went to a funeral. I was 27 when I first held a baby (a coworker’s niece), and well into my 20s before ever attending a wedding or any kind of shower. It took marrying into a large, loving, and functional family before I ever went to a housewarming, graduation party, or milestone birthday party.

Because I grew up not going to these kinds of events, the typical family get-together happenings (including large “church family” get-togethers) have never come easily to me. Even today, after many years of experience with my husband’s extended family, I get nervous before attending almost any large event. Thankfully, my husband, who is in most other ways more introverted than I am, is comfortable at these occasions, and he patiently supports and encourages me through each one.

My near-total inexperience with extended family events or milestones was never a surprise or a disappointment to me. I knew growing up that I lacked many things that my peers took for granted in their lives, due to my family situation and socioeconomic status. But I also grew up missing one other, much more vital thing that I never knew I was missing until much later:

I grew up thinking that the human heart is only capable of limited love.

I believed, from my experience and the examples around me, that people have a limited capacity for loving one another, and especially for loving multiple people at one time. I believed that the heart was like a small bucket, filled with a finite amount of love, which could be offered and taken back, depending on mood or circumstance or whim. I believed that all of one’s love could be given to one person, leaving nothing left to give to anyone else. And I observed that holding back one’s love was the safest route because it was a much better guarantee of never being hurt, rejected, or let down by another person.

Up until the time I got married (my late 20s), I’d had no reason to doubt my previous life experience with the heart’s limited capacity to give or receive love. Very soon, however, my world (and heart) expanded to include the ever-growing, fully functional, and exuberantly loving family that I had married into. Within just a few years, my previous experience and knowledge of the human heart were toppled by powerful and irresistible forces that convinced me I’d had it all wrong.

I learned that the heart is infinitely expandable—limitless, even—with no bottom or edges or measuring devices attached. I learned that I could add and add and add people to my circle of family or friends and I would never run out of love to give. I learned that I could love many people equally, and loving one person intensely due to some temporary circumstance never had to mean that another would suffer from any lack of love from me. I learned that even when I thought I couldn’t love any harder, or more expansively, or deeper … I could.

I learned that in my own human, imperfect way, I could love as God loves.

When I became a Christian, it wasn’t difficult for me to accept that I had been made in the image of God, after his own likeness (Genesis 1:26, 27). It wasn’t difficult to accept that I was capable of love because God first loved me (1 John 4:19). It wasn’t difficult, eventually, to even believe that I could have a myriad of talents and gifts, but without love, I was nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

So early on in my Christian life, I understood many of the principles of God’s love and how they applied to me. But it took people, lots of real people—with their messy lives, their challenging ways, their quirks and their flaws and their difficulties—for me to apply that understanding in practical ways, and to truly image God’s love in my life.

Somehow, as our immediate family grew to three, four, five, six … my love never ran out. In fact, it grew. It overflowed. It was abundant. I was continually amazed.

At the same time, in our extended family and very early on, I saw all around me how more and more people could be added—spouses, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends, relatives of friends, significant others of all kinds—with, again, no loss or dilution of love. In fact, just the opposite. An abundance of love, a never-ending, ever-flowing river of love. And remarkably (to me), love that was equally and joyfully distributed among all.

We are made in the image of God, every one of us. I can do my best to image God with my creativity, my willingness to serve, my acceptance of and patience with others, my inclinations toward mercy or generosity or kindness.

But wonder of wonders, I can also image God with my love. As God loves, so also my own love for others is without limits. The heart expands, and it never empties. Many years ago now, this was a complete surprise to me, but now it’s as natural as adding spouses or grandchildren or friends or in-laws to our family.

I learned that in my own human, imperfect way, I could love as God loves. Without limits, without reservation, without fear.

“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 3:1a)

Image by goeddelm from Pixabay

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