Studies have shown that those who lead happy and purposeful lives give priority to love.’ Jesus, too, stressed the importance of love: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). When we speak of love we have to make a distinction between the emotion of love and the choice of love. To lead a happy and meaningful life, we have to give priority to love as a choice. It is true that I have no power over whether others love me or not. But I have total control over whether I become a loving person. This comes out very clearly in the life story of Elsa who was born and brought up in Germany in the midst of World War II. Her father was an officer in the German army. He loved Elsa very much. Yet, when the war was over, he deserted the family by choosing not to return home.
Elsa’s mother was very angry and took her anger out on Elsa. Elsa had a difficult time as a child and as an adolescent because she felt that her mother did not love her, though she did not know why. But there was a moment when she came to an important realization. “At some point, I can’t say exactly when, I realized that if I could not get love I had to become love.’ It is hard to explain, but what I realized was that while I had very little control over whether others loved me, I realized that I had complete control over whether I became a loving person. Somehow I knew that if I became a loving person, people could not help but love me. Also, I realized that God loved me and that just by being a human being I was already completely worthy, and this was something no one could take away from me. Although I cannot fully explain it, there was a transformation when I decided to become love rather than seek love”
We give priority to love in three ways. First we choose to love our own selves. Then we choose to act with love to those who are very close to us – family and friends. And finally we choose to become love in all our interactions with people. First we choose to love our own selves. If we do not love ourselves we cannot love others. The love of self is fundamental to our emotional and spiritual health and well-being. That is why we are asked to love our neighbour as ourselves (See Lev 19:18). For some of us it is quite easy to love ourselves because we have been brought up in such a way that we have developed a deep sense of self-worth. For others love of self is quite difficult because of their past experience.
This Excerpt is taken from the book ‘Give More Than You Take: Reflections on the daily living of the Faith’ by Kurien Kunnumpuram, SJ. For more information on the book: Click Me!