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Love Is a Powerful Gift

Love is a powerful gift.

I was in my first “real job” after college, and I thought it was going well. Then one day Joanne announced she was taking me to lunch. With a great deal of care, she risked telling me things I didn’t want to hear. She described how some of my behavior was having a negative impact, and she suggested some ways I could improve.

That lunch was, as Yeats once put it1, a terrible beauty. It was terrible in requiring me to own up to my dysfunctional behavior. Yet it was beautiful in the way Joanne’s concern led her to risk being honest in order to help me. That lunch changed our relationship forever – transforming a work relationship into a lasting friendship grounded in love. From that day on, whenever either of us wanted to give the other sensitive feedback, we would joke: “It’s time for another lunch.”

Love is a powerful gift, a transformative spiritual force. It changes us. Love may be so overwhelming that we don’t know how to respond – which was my experience during my lunch with Joanne. I had to let go of my defensiveness and give up trying to justify my behavior. When her honesty and care met my openness to change, the transformation of my behavior and of our relationship began.

The spiritual journey is the way of love, the path toward discovering our true self in God, the journey to our home in God’s heart. My lunch with Joanne and what I’ve learned in the years since have taught me several lessons about the nature of love and what it asks of us.

Love requires the courage to risk being honest. Joanne took a significant risk when she announced she was taking me to lunch. One way or the other, that lunch was going to be a turning point in our relationship. Although it took us deeper, it could have gone the other way. There were no guarantees. All too often, our fear of being honest and our fear about how the other person will respond combine to keep us quiet. Honesty is a creative force that can drive growth. When we refuse to risk it, stagnation is likely to be the result. Our behavior stays the same, and the relationship slowly grows cold. Having the courage to risk the honesty that love requires helps keep our relationships vibrant and growing.

Our honesty needs to be grounded in love. There was a remarkable quality to my lunch with Joanne. While she was telling me something I didn’t want to hear, the message that came through was how much she cared about me. The obvious concern with which she communicated a difficult message allowed me to stay open and receive it. That experience taught me that conveying a difficult message requires giving that feedback in love. If difficult feedback – even if it’s accurate – is delivered in anger or demeans the other person, the encounter is apt to go badly.

Love creates the openness to accept the truth. When I look back on that lunch, I’m amazed that I was able to hear and accept Joanne’s feedback. All too often, I am quick to rationalize my behavior and defend myself. That reaction would likely have caused both the lunch and our relationship to take a bad turn. During our lunch, I was able to find the openness to listen and receive Joanne’s message. Her honest feedback was given in love, and somehow it combined with enough openness on my part to receive and consider it in love.

Love requires committing to ongoing conversion. There is no ceiling on our ability to grow. Love continually challenges us, stretches us, creates new opportunities, and urges us to become the unique individuals we are meant to be. When we close ourselves off to change and cling to the life we know, stagnation begins to set in. My friend Daryl had an image to describe stagnation: “A rut is a grave with the ends kicked out.” Love is the ultimate life-giving, creative force. It breaks ruts, prevents stagnation, and opens us to continuous growth.

Love is a powerful gift. As our lives unfold, we will find ourselves on both sides of the lunch table. Sometimes we will have to summon the courage – like Joanne did – to give honest feedback in a loving way. Other times, we will be on the receiving end of a message we don’t want to hear. When that happens, we need the humility and openness to receive a difficult message, take it to heart, and consider what it asks of us. Whichever side of the table we find ourselves on, it’s an invitation to experience love as a powerful gift. In that moment, we are invited to surrender to a spiritual force and let it transform both our lives and our relationships.

Questions to Ponder

Here are some questions to help you reflect on what love asks of us.

  • When does love require the courage to risk being honest with someone?
  • How do we ensure our honesty is grounded in love?
  • When does love call us to be open to receiving a difficult message?
  • In what ways does love urge us to commit to continuous growth?

Note

1 William Butler Yeats, “Easter, 1916”