After the joyful busyness of our wedding in May slipped into happy memories, Mike and I got down to some practical tasks as we attempted to combined households for the first time. Among them was one many newly married people undertake: we opened up a joint checking account. A bit mundane, perhaps, especially in comparison to the preceding weeks, but still exciting in its own private, utilitarian way. In the process of figuring out how we will manage our finances, I have had occasion to consider bank transfers, specifically how money that once belonged to one of us becomes officially ours when it gets deposited into that account. This is also true with the house that we live in. On May 25, 2019 and for the fifteen years prior, it was Mike’s house, but as of May 26, 2019, it was our house. [And, for the record, it is technically in the middle of our street… you’re welcome. :D].
I’ve been thinking about how relationships can work this way too.
Long before our wedding—in fact, in the first few weeks of knowing Mike—I came to love his family and friends. Now, it just so happens that they are fundamentally wonderful people. They are good, good folks who are really enjoyable to be around; I would spend time with them even if Mike weren’t in the picture. But the fact remains that my love for them is informed by his love for them.
Part of being in love with Mike involves stepping into his love for other people; I don’t see my love for his people as a separate entity from his:
Rather, I see it as mapping directly onto his:
He transfers his love to me, which explains how, over time, they become no longer just Mike’s people but our people.
I realize that you might be saying, “Sarah Jackson, this is all very obvious. As people spend time with their loved ones’ loved ones, they tend to take them on, as it were. All you’ve done is add a few Word doc-quality graphics to illustrate the point.” Granted. But I would add two things: 1.) I am a child of the 90s and will never stop marveling at the ability to apply a gradient to a basic geometric shape at the click of a button. 2.) I’ve recently begun to think that the transfer of love can be more complicated and profound than I originally thought.
I have a friend—we’ll call her Maggie—who has someone in her life—we’ll call her Kate—who is, by most standards, a bit of a mess. Without going into too many details, I will say that Kate’s series of personal struggles have landed her in legal trouble, have hindered her from having fulfilling romantic relationships, and have caused much angst and heartache to the few people who have stuck with her through it all, Maggie being chief among them. The entire time I’ve known Maggie, I have heard stories about Kate and have been impressed by Maggie’s continued love for Kate even as she attempts to navigate the relationship so it is healthier for herself. While Maggie has distanced herself somewhat from Kate out of necessity, her love for her friend is undiminished.
A few months ago, I happened to think about Kate, whom I’ve never met, and realized, to my surprise, that I love her. This was quite a shock to me because, apart from the love I owe her as a human, there is no reason for me to love her. She has hurt my friend deeply and repeatedly. She has chosen paths in life that are destructive to herself and others. I do not think she is someone with whom I would like to spend any significant amount of time. And yet, there it undeniably was: a love for Kate.
The only possible explanation I can think of is that over time, Maggie transferred her love for Kate to me. Her love turned into my love. This wasn’t a conscious choice on either of our parts. I think it is just the nature of love.
In the Christian Bible, we read, “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This is one of the most popular verses in Christian circles and I’ve heard it over and over since I was a child. Most of my life, I understood it in one of two ways, one instructional and one phycological. First, I considered how humans are capable of love because we have God’s primary and preeminent model, most especially in the person of Jesus. In other words, “We love because God showed us how to love.” Any love we have is an imitation of God’s much bigger love:
The second interpretation that I’ve considered is that humans are capable of love because we feel loved. In other words, “We love because God’s love for us brings forth our created capacity to love.” My love is a response to God’s much bigger love:
I think these ideas get at some of the truth, but I’m also starting to see the verse in more spatial, even geographical, terms. If I love God, if I am in love with God, then I step into God’s love that already exists. In other words, “We love because we can choose to enter God’s infinite sphere of love.” My love is a location within God’s love:
The particular coordinates of that location depend on my environment, circumstances, and personality, but the main point is that I have a choice to dwell in God’s loving activity. While I can’t get away from God’s love for me, (Psalm 139 and the book of Jonah make that pretty clear!) I can (and sadly often do) choose to step away from the participatory action of God’s love. But like an eternal dance, God’s love is ongoing, and I can rejoin at any point.
This way of understanding 1 John 4:19 is helpful to me because I don’t feel like I have to muster up love from nothing or from deep within myself. Instead, I need only look for God’s love around me and join it, knowing that when I do, God’s love for people, for the world, for Godself, for me, for 90’s quality gradients, probably—all of it!—transfers to me.
Have a good week!