Some years ago at a family reunion, we were asked to share the most important lesson life had taught us. Previously I might have needed time to mull this question over, but not this time. I answered without hesitation: Our happiness depends on how we love, not on how we are loved. A surprising observation from one who grew up hungering for approval. The journey to that answer was definitely, as the saying goes, “a God thing.”
A pivotal step on that journey grew out of an unremarkable incident. I’d been in a phone conversation with an elderly friend who was having difficulty hearing me. Instead of picking up the receiver, I’d moved closer to the speaker. When it was later pointed out to me that picking up the receiver would have been a more loving way to help her, I found myself bristling with self-defensiveness. After all, I was normally a very considerate person, and this seemed to me like nit picking. Emotionally I was feeling like a clenched fist. Then suddenly that “still, small voice” said very plainly, “And just who is this ‘me’ you are trying so hard to justify?” Immediately I knew that it wasn’t what God had created and that it wasn’t who I wanted to be. Grudging accommodation just wasn’t up to the standard of christly love that was natural to me as God’s child. So why would anything less be acceptable to me? In less time than it takes to tell it, that clenched up feeling evaporated. I was at peace, even joyous. I had just gained a precious nugget of wisdom: it didn’t matter what anyone else’s opinion of me might be because all that mattered was that I was learning to love. What a moment of truth! It was like being handed the key to my prison door!
That key was also, as I’ve learned, the key to happiness. Just think of it! There is something we are free to do any time, any place–something that will bring nothing but blessings. It takes no special training. It requires no funding. It depends on no one else’s permission. It’s what we were designed and created to do, and there is absolutely nothing that will bring us into a closer relationship with our Creator. That something, of course, is to love one another.
There’s no denying it feels good when others express love to us, but we may well be disappointed if we depend on it for our happiness. The good news is, however, that we can always exercise our God-given ability to love them. And that feels even better.