At one point in Jesus’ ministry, someone asked him what the most important rule to live by was. Jesus replied that there are two: First, love God with everything we’ve got, holding nothing back. Second, love others as much as ourselves. If we manage to do both of these things, we’re fulfilling the whole plan of God, from Abraham and Moses to the prophets.
As is usually the case with the teachings of Jesus, this lesson is at once extremely simple and deeply challenging. It’s easy to say that we should love God and other people, but how often do I fail to put this into practice! Each of these commands are the work of a lifetime.
How can I, with all my petty concerns and blindness, really learn how to love God? And how, with my selfishness and instinct for self-preservation, am I supposed to love others completely – looking out for their best interests just as much as I do my own? No doubt about it: This is a superhuman demand!
To make matters even trickier, these two imperatives often seem to be in competition. For example, maybe I’m inclined to spend much of my time seeking deeper friendship with God – through prayer, Bible reading, meditation, etc. – yet it’s easy to become withdrawn from other people. I can love God so much that I fail to make myself available to others. On the other hand, at times I can get so intent on making a difference and having a positive impact on those around me, that I lose sight of the underlying relationship with Christ that should be guiding me. I can put so much emphasis on doing that sometimes simply being with and listening to God falls by the wayside.
In reality, of course, there is no contradiction between loving God and loving others, between solitary, contemplative prayer and the kind of prayer that takes place in the midst of community-building and action for justice. Still, I often struggle. How do I connect the two, living into both of these paths of love, without losing my connection with either?
Have you experienced this tension in your own life? Which part of the Great Commandment comes more naturally for you? What would it look like to live more deeply in that life and power that allows us to love both God and neighbor, seamlessly reflecting back the love that we receive through Jesus Christ?