The Practice of Love
I rehearse situations in my mind (maybe everyone does this), but in 2016 I noticed that, often, what I rehearsed was the worst possible scenario. I would rehearse how everything could go wrong and how I would respond when it did. Of course, this means that I was anticipating negativity, and my mind would often jump to that without a proper assessment of the situation.
One of my favourite prayers to say was, “Lord, keep me from madness”. And some days I’d say it once. Other days, I’d repeat it under my breath, in my mind, maybe 50 times. Madness included everything, to me: overwhelming feelings of anger or want or sadness. Then, I modified it to: “Lord, keep me from madness, and make me perfect in love.”
I didn’t really know what I was asking for when I added that last part. But I had figured it wasn’t enough to be kept from madness; I needed more.
That year, God taught me how to forgive. Forgive people who had wronged me over the years and forgive myself. After a while, I thought I had it on lockdown. Nope. I learnt that forgiveness and love require practice. In the same way I used to rehearse anxiety and worry and anger, I had/have to rehearse love, peace, calmness, and assurance.
This practice covers everything from meditating on scripture that talks about me in the ideal state of love, that reminds me of the attitude of mind that Christ has, to actually practicing actions that seem counter-intuitive. And it can be the hardest thing—like not screaming at other drivers in Lagos traffic!
A few months into doing this, I started washing plates. At the time, I shared a 3-bed apartment with 2 others, so, I mean, all the plates. Whenever I walked into the kitchen, I had to wash the plates. It didn’t matter who had used them, it didn’t matter what I went to do in the kitchen, and it didn’t matter if the housekeeper was coming to clean that day. I had to wash the plates and not say a thing about it.
It was the strangest compulsion but I was learning how to do the right thing, no matter what anyone else had done. I was also learning not to mention the fact that I’d done the right thing.
Practicing love has meant more than washing plates though. It has meant taking no offence or getting rid of it ASAP. It has meant forgiving and loving even while I’m being wronged (beyond dirty plates in the sink).
When I had reason to be angry about something, I would still kick into anger instinctively, but something else began to follow. I found myself praying for the people involved every time I thought about them. Instead of anger at the situation, I found God steering me to give it up to him by praying for those involved, even about things not related to the issue. Often, it felt (and can still feel) crazy.
With practice, I’ve seen how God distracts me from instinctive responses and emotions, through things like extended time in prayer and praise, only to see it keep me calm and in peace through things that come up later, that would ordinarily have driven me to anxiety or anger.
Yet, sometimes, I get so comfortable with this lesson that I forget. Because I think I have it pat down, I actually forget to act on it until He jars me out of whatever negative loop I’ve caught myself in. My emotions and actions are all a result of practice.
Everyday, I have to choose what to practice—love or negative emotions, the Christ life or ‘justified anger’ (you know justified anger is so attractive). Each time, the outcome reminds me that Christ is the truth, no matter how hard the love walk is. Christ is the truth. The difference will not be in how people act towards me; the difference is in how God works and loves through me.