How to Love- Part 5
Are We Failing to Love Our Neighbor?
by Ernest O'Neill
"How to Love." That's what we're trying to discuss these days together at this time each morning Monday through Friday - "How to Love". We're discussing that because so often we say that love is the secret to everything in this life. It's the secret to all our problems nationally and socially. It's the secret to all our problems personally, psychologically and domestically. Yet we say that and there is very little love in our world. That's why we have so many problems.
So we're spending some time together these days talking about how to love and what love is. You may remember that during the past week we've come to the conclusion that certainly the most famous definition of love makes it very clear that love is something entirely different from what we like to make it out in this present century. That definition is the one that we often quote, you remember, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." What we've been sharing is that that definition of love makes it very clear that love is giving yourself - it's laying down your life. It's not giving things or giving presents. It's giving yourself. Further, it's laying down your life for your friends. It's giving those things in place of what your friends would have to give of those things. In other words, it's giving those things so that your friends will not have to give them. Laying down your life for your friends is something you do for your friends even though it means a loss to yourself. There is, in other words, a vicarious element in love, giving of yourself instead of another person.
We Misinterpret “Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself”
We've been sharing that that's probably the biggest reason for the shallow, superficial love that is shared in our society today. Love today we so often base on the other commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself", and on the inadequate interpretation of that commandment that you therefore love yourself first and then you love your neighbor because you now know what loving means. What that ends up us doing is loving yourself so busily and so utterly that you have no time to love your neighbor. Or you spend so much time in your life learning how to love yourself that you have no time to devote to loving your neighbor. Or you are so concerned with your own self-worth or self-value and you are so utterly convinced that you're not loving yourself enough that you never get around to having any time to love your neighbor.
In fact, that is what has given rise to so much superficial love in our society. So many people who hear husbands and wives, and mothers and daughters, and sons and fathers saying, "I love you," feel in their own heart of hearts, "No, they don't really love me. They love me as much as is convenient for them to love me. They love me as long as it doesn't cause them any trouble or any inconvenience. But they don't really love me as if I was their own selves. They don't really love me in place of themselves."
Most of us, of course, know that. We know in our heart of hearts that so many people say they love us today, but we know that if it came to the test, they would not lay down their life for us. In other words, they would not put their life in place of ours. They would not give us their life and their time and their future and their happiness so that we could have time and future and happiness for ourselves. They would not treat us as if we were their very own selves. They would not treat us the way they used to always threat themselves. They used to always live for themselves as the center of the universe. They always used to live to defend themselves and protect themselves and save themselves trouble. They don't, in fact, live now in order to protect us and defend us and save us trouble. Yet we know in our heart of hearts that that's what love is.
Love is Vicarious
Probably the greatest reason for the superficial love in our society is the fact that we do not face the fact that love is vicarious. Love is laying down your life in place of your friends' lives. That's what love is in war when one soldier throws himself on top of a hand grenade or throws himself on top of a landmine and allows himself to be blown to bits in order to shield his friends in the same trench or his friends in the same dugout. He's giving his life in place of their lives. He's saying quickly in his own mind, "I'm going to give myself for them. I'm going to allow myself to be killed so that they will not have to be killed."
That's what love means in the definition, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend." Never do we believe that, for instance, in a plane crash, when all the passengers are thrown into a river and they're drowning in the cold water and the lifebelt is thrown to one passenger. We do not believe for one moment that that one passenger says, "Now wait a moment. I have to love myself first before I can love this person beside me who is about to go under for the third time. So first of all, I must save myself. I must grab this lifebelt and I must allow them to pull me to safety. Then after I have loved myself, I know what it means to love myself -- so then I will be able to love my friend who is about to go under for the third time -- then I will be able to throw the lifebelt to them.” Well, it will be too late by that time.
So we all know that real love is not taking care of yourself first and then, because you know what taking care of yourself means, you can then take care of them. We all know fine well that laying down your life for your friends and loving your neighbor as yourself is putting them in place of yourself even if it means you losing your own life. But certainly even if it means you losing your own time or your own convenience or your own professional or job advantage, or your own financial success, it means putting them in place of yourself. That's what real love is.
Many of us aren’t prepared to love others instead of ourselves.
Many of us are failing to love our neighbor because we are not prepared to do that. We are not prepared to forget ourselves. We are not prepared to treat ourselves as if we don't exist. That's what loving and that's what the freedom of love is. That's what the liberty of love is. If we could only realize that the burden and weight of anxiety we feel in this life is because we put ourselves in the center of our universe! We are the sun around which all the planets have to orbit. We are the center of the universe in our own minds. We are utterly preoccupied with our own concerns and with our own comfort and our own convenience and our own safety. We make everybody else sense that. We make everybody else's convenience and comfort and safety subservient to ours.
What love is is bursting out of that self. It's bursting out of that self-centeredness. It's bursting out of that narrow, little universe of self-preoccupation. It's regarding yourself as no longer existing, no longer needing comfort, no longer needing safety, no longer needing protection. It's utterly forgetting yourself, regarding yourself as no longer needing those things. It's treating your neighbors as if they were the only ones in the world that really mattered, as if you yourself were not alive to be considered at all or to be looked after. Instead of devoting your considerable talents and abilities and thought and planning to yourself, you devote all those things to your neighbors. Suddenly you begin to burst into a life of love, into a life of liberty and into a life of freedom.
Of course, the moment you begin to see that that is what love is -- it's putting your friends, it's putting others in place of yourself, then there is one great question that comes to all of us: "What will become of myself if I spend my life taking care of everybody else? Who will take care of me? What will happen to my life?" That's the question we will begin to discuss next week.