How to love- when the feeling isn't there

how to love your neighbor as yourself (when the feeling isn't there)

“But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion.  It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; the state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.” – C.S. Lewis

The quote above is from C.S. Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity. (affiliate link) The command from Jesus, to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31) is clear, leaving no room for argument.  It’s a basic tenant of Christianity.  Even people outside the faith know about this rule…and yes, they’re watching, to see how we do (or do not) follow through on it.   It sounds simple, but what does it really mean to love your neighbor as yourself?

Truthfully, I don’t always feel loving towards myself.  So in the times when I don’t feel like I love myself, does that let me off the hook for loving my neighbor?  Sorry, but no.

I get just as, if not more, irritated with my own shortcomings as I do anyone else’s.   I’m not always proud of my behavior or thoughts.  But then I read this,

“…our love for ourselves does not mean that we like ourselves.  It means that we wish our own good.” – C.S. Lewis

Yes, that rings true.  I can’t deny my own inclination to wish for my own good.  In that regard, I do love myself- all the time.  That same idea can be applied to how I love my kids.  Of course I get annoyed with them, occasionally, but I’ve never wished for anything but their own good.  Loving my kids in this way comes as naturally as loving myself does.   What about everyone else?  That’s the part that doesn’t always come naturally.

What I have felt ashamed of is my ability to love my neighbor, even when I try, because the feelings aren’t always there.  The first thing I’ll point out, is that Jesus already loved perfectly, and because I am in Him, forgiven, His perfection covers my inability to love perfectly.  There’s no room for shame.  (Romans 8:1)  But because I love God, and want to bring Him glory, I do want to love my neighbor well.  How do I do that when the feelings aren’t there?

Once again, C.S. Lewis helped me out here,

“The rule for all of us is simple.  Do not waste your time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor, act as if you did.  As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.  When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

This, I can do, not by myself, but with the help of the Holy Spirit in me.  My part is to just begin, to behave as if I wish for the good of all people.  If the feeling isn’t there yet, that’s fine.  I’ll trust the Holy Spirit to change my heart. 

"And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." Ezekiel 36:27