Updated: Jan 3
by Kathi Gatlin
I find it interesting how we understand what we read based in the lens we use to understand the world. I have always read this particular verse based in my own understanding of needing to fit the “right” behavior, doing what is “right.”
In the past, I have understood my obedience to Jesus’ commandments as a condition for God’s love. Being loved meant behaving correctly. This isn’t really unconditional love, is it? Unconditional means being loved has nothing to do with behavior. So what could Jesus be saying here if obedience isn’t a condition to being loved?
The very last verse of this section states the only commandment necessary. We are to love each other deeply, just like Jesus has loved us. That is it! So basically, as we love one another, we will be loved. The gift, the longing we all have to love and be loved is met in our loving one another. That is very simple but not really all that easy.
We all desire to love and be loved. Throughout society the lack of compassion and the lack of experiencing the giving and receiving flow of love is evident. Currently, we are experiencing greater divisiveness in the public sphere. So much so, relationships that once close, both with family and friends, are becoming divided and tense.
So, how do we walk this out? Embracing our own inner journey of discovering who we are is a first step. This starts in giving up our understanding of our inner core as evil. It actually goes back to before Genesis 3 and allows for an understanding of ourselves as created in the image of God, the Imago Dei. Instead of defining our goodness or badness based in the Fall, we can embrace our identity defined by our original blessing - God stating humankind as very good.
As we begin to understand ourselves as very good and worthy of love, we can know God as the One who loves us more intimately than we experientially have understood. The more we know about ourselves, the more we know about God. The more we know about God, the more we know about ourselves. Seeing ourselves as beloved creates the space for having compassion for those around us because we don’t need to try to be something more than we are.
When we understand ourselves as beloved, we can start to believe the best about everyone around us. This understanding of being beloved has to be experienced, well beyond rationally believing it as truth. We are invited to experientially know this truth of our identity deep down into our bones, as our essence of existence. Having this understanding changes everything because we can become secure in who we are without having to prove we are who we think we should be.
From this space of being beloved, we can see that of God in those around us. We can desire the highest good for another without trying to understand their behaviors or seeing their goodness. We can believe the best of one another, regardless.
Often times, people have pushed back on an understanding of God’s view of us as beloved. The phrase I usually hear is “what about God’s judgment.” It seems that many see love and judgment on a continuum. They understand that we should find ourselves someplace in the middle of that line. Not too much love and not too much judgment. But how does an understanding of love take away the need for justice. True love is the basis of justice and compassion.
To understand ourselves and those around us as beloved takes more than a rational understanding of God’s love. We have to experience it as truth, knowing it with our whole selves. Contemplative prayer is a means of understanding God and our own belovedness as a reality. We can take our minds, our rational understanding, down into our hearts and experience the God of love. It requires us to not judge our minds or our emotions as bad but as a place to be met by the God who loves us intimately and wholly.
This requires vulnerability, courageous vulnerability. Through the quietness of contemplative prayer we are invited to experience an inner stillness that allows us to notice our judgments based in fear and pride. As we notice what goes on inside ourselves, the healing of our inner divisions becomes possible. Our ability to live as beloved and whole. is as simple as becoming aware of when we aren’t and allowing God to meet us there, bringing a healing touch to our fears and doubts. The healing touch of Love helps us to live as who we truly are instead of who we think we should be. This requires stillness, awareness, vulnerability, and discernment in community. And part of that community is allowing ourselves to be that kind of space, not only for ourselves, but for those around us. We will do this very imperfectly and only one step at a time.
If this is a journey you are interested in, take a look at the Being Boldly Loved and Loving Boldly study series on the Boldly Loved website. This series is for small groups and is available for both online and in-person sessions. Email us if you are interested in joining an upcoming group.
Kathi Gatlin founded Boldly Loved and co-founded the Companioning Center to bring together her two greatest passions: spiritual formation and teaching. Her greatest joy is walking alongside others, individually and in groups, in their own spiritual journey, sharing ways of understanding God anew through contemplative prayer and teaching, and to see them grow in the depth of their own understanding of who God is and who they are in relationship with God. Kathi is a certified spiritual director, writer, spiritual formation group facilitator, retreat speaker, leadership mentor, and adjunct professor at George Fox University. For more information about Kathi, check out Boldly Loved.