“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Love Makes The World Go Round

Love is an amazing thing. I very much like Raymond Feist's definition: "Love is a recognition, an opportunity to say 'There is something about you I cherish.' It doesn't entail marriage, or even physical love. There's love of parents, (to which I would add love of family), love of city or nation, love of life, and love of people. All different, all love."

And love is fundamental to human well-being. I am sure many of us can remember those sad, sad photos of those little children in Romanian orphanages in the 1980s, left in their cots 24/7, with no attention paid to them, who had withdrawn into themselves, totally unable to relate to anyone else, because they had been starved of love and attention. And it is well-known that in bringing up children, even "bad attention" is better than being ignored.

I would go so far as to say that we can only become fully rounded people if we love and are loved in return. Jesus recognised this when he described "Love your neighbour as yourself" as one of the two greatest commandments.

But it is not always that easy to do. We are so often concerned with the mundane busy-nesses of life; making money, acquiring the latest gadget, working, working, working, whether it is for an employer or at home, that we don't spend nearly enough time or attention on the truly important stuff - our relationships with our families, neighbours and friends. And we will regret it.

Luckily, it is something we can all get better at, if we try. Building loving relationships with all the people we come into contact with may sound like an unrealistic proposition, but stick with it; the rewards are beyond compare. Starting from where you are is the important thing, and building up slowly. Resolving to live your life in a spirit of love and compassion means recognising that there is "that of God in everyone", to use a Quakerly phrase.

In fact, the Quakers have a lot of extremely good advice about building loving relationships; let me share some of it with you:

"Do you respect that of God in everyone, though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or may be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people's opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language."

"How can we make ... a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other's failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other's lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God's love and forgiveness."

"Do you cherish your friendships, so that they grow in depth and understanding and mutual respect? In close relationships, we may risk pain as well as finding joy."

"Respect the wide diversity among us in our lives and relationships. Refrain from making prejudiced judgements about the life journeys of others. ... Remember that each one of us is unique, precious, a child of God."

"Do you recognise the needs and gifts of each member of your own family and household, not forgetting your own? Try to make your home a place of loving friendship and enjoyment, where all who live or visit may find the peace and refreshment of God's presence."

The teachings of Jesus sum up what we should do: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. ... Do to others as you would have them do to you. ... Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return ... Be merciful just as your Father is merciful."

There are people whose lives have been shining examples of putting this Golden rule, which is shared by all the major religions, into practice. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was one; Nelson Mandela is another; so is the Dalai Lama. What all these people have in common is that whatever life threw at them, they somehow managed to rise above the natural human instincts for revenge and hate, and continued to live their lives in a spirit of love and compassion.

It's a big wide world, and we are only little people. But each of us can resolve to make our little corners of the world more loving places.

 "There is something about you I cherish."

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