Dear Friends in Christ,
There is an unexamined notion that many of us may have which is that there are some people that were given loving hearts while others (like ourselves) weren’t; and also, that love is supposed to just be there in our heart naturally, of its own accord. Underneath, however, we remain secretly ashamed that we are so lacking in love. St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain once said: “For love to grow, you must give it. But he who does not give even the little love he has is like one who tightly holds a handful of seed and does not sow it. Such was the wicked and slothful servant who hid the talent (Cf. Mt. 25:25). You will receive as much love as you offer. If you do not give love, you will not receive love.”
Actually, love isn’t something that we “have” at all. (We’re referring to spiritual love, Christ-like love; not cheap, worldly love.) Truly, the very nature of love is that it is in giving it away that it grows. And the love that returns is no longer simply our own but is wondrously mixed with Christ’s love. That’s why people gravitate toward those who give love, because they experience Christ in them.
How does one acquire a loving heart? We can look into our own heart and admit the lack of warmth, the inertia and the insensitivity. What’s needed is to “work the heart,” as St. Paisios aptly puts it, indicating that it takes effort on our part. We take whatever amount of love is in our heart and fan it, blow on it, so as to generate a greater flame. The more we “work” the muscles of our heart, the more we accustom ourselves to the effort required, which then becomes easier over time. It’s like by building up muscles of the body we can then effortlessly lift something heavy. But it takes maintenance! When we are negligent in working the muscles, in nurturing love, our poor heart grows cold and then it again takes more effort to lift it up in prayer for others.
There was the recent situation of the severe hurricane and mass flooding. We can hear it as a news item, and even say a quick “Lord, have mercy,” and still remain insensitive in our heart. How different when we stop to prayerfully consider what their difficulties and evacuation would mean, especially for those already bearing their share of suffering: those facing operations in the hospital, those not mentally able to care for themselves, those who are elderly, those about to give birth, those who are poor and without means to relocate themselves... By empathizing with them we stir up a godly concern which gives birth to love in the heart, and this gives wings to our prayer for them.
Someone might counter that this doesn’t really offer any practical assistance for those so many miles away, but this is not true. Our prayer does help! Prayer is love. It has value, and it helps to lift the suffering of the world. It creates in our own heart a place where the Lord is pleased to dwell. We feel it. When we make the effort to warm our heart out of concern for another’s suffering, we feel a synergy with Christ’s all-encompassing love. He puts His own love in our heart, but not without our own mighty effort. That is why there is something sacred about love. It’s a sacrifice, a voluntary offering, which fragrances the world as with incense. When we love our neighbor as our self, when we place the pain of our neighbor (whether far or close at hand) into the core of our heart, then Christ Who is perfect love comes in the midst.
It’s the effort we make, in conjunction with the grace of Christ, that gives birth to love in the heart. If we grow lax in working those muscles, our hearts cool unnoticeably. When we “show” love—meaning, we do a self-less kindness for another—we increase the amount of love not only in our heart but also in the common cup of the world. Maybe our efforts are small, but Christ mingles our little love with His own. He desires that little bit of our own love to be mixed into His own.
With abundant blessings,
Abbess Michaila and sisters