“…that you love one another as I have loved you”
When 67-year-old carpenter Russell Herman died in 1994, his will included a staggering set of bequests.
Included in his plan for distribution was more than $2 billion for the City of East St. Louis, another $1.5 billion for the State of Illinois, $2.5 billion for the national forest system, and to top off the list, Herman left $6 trillion dollars to the government to help pay off the national debt.
That sounds amazingly generous, but there was a problem. As you will guess by now, he did not have that kind of money. His only asset when he died was a 1983 Oldsmobile. He made grand pronouncements, but there was no real generosity involved. His promises were meaningless because there was nothing to back them up.
It goes without saying that it is easier to love in our imagination but dealing with real life is a different case. Jesus commands us to love real people, as they present in the messiness of everyday life.
The command to love is, no doubt, beautiful. But it is extremely challenging. The reason is obvious. Real people are difficult to love. There are no perfect human beings and we are all subject to flaws and quirks that can really annoy. This is apparent in marriage when romantic love wears out and couples are brought face to face with the real person they have married; when the cute infant becomes a toddler, then a teenager; when a best friend who is stranded overstays their welcome and everything gets too close for comfort.
We think we love people unconditionally but we never do. What each of this situations show is that we only love the idea of people in our heads and not the people in reality. When they become present to us in reality, all we can see are their flaws, imperfection and how different they are from us.
The one single thing that erodes our capacity to love is fear. Since we want to protect ourselves we are prone to notice and remember what is negative more than what is positive in the lives of those close to us. It is here that cultivating gratitude can help us to love. Remembering what you are grateful for in a relationship can help you think about the problems without being swept away by what is negative because you are able to look at the whole picture.
Gratitude provides a healthy perspective. The power of gratitude motivated Jennifer Gayle to state: “When you look at life through eyes of gratitude, the world becomes a magical and amazing place.”
Gratitude is a catalyst that enables us to see everything in our lives as gifts, even the difficult people in it. It erodes fear and lends us the capacity to see what is truly beautiful about us, other people and the world at large.