When we reflected on what our deepest desire was, we concluded that most people have a basic need to be loved and give love. In this chapter, we are going to look at how we can grow in love. We will focus on spiritual love. How we can find Jesus’ love is endless and would require volumes of books, but the first way we’ll explore is in nature.
How can we look at the splendor of a sunset and not feel the love of Jesus? The gift He gives freely. It reminds us of nature’s wonder, how Jesus is so much more that our problems, and how vast the world is. The awe-inspiring sunset reminds us there is someone so much larger than ourselves.
When spring comes and the new flowers and trees appear, it reminds me of the hope and rebirth Jesus provides for us. No matter how we have messed up, Jesus is there with a new beginning. When our dreams vanish, Jesus opens a door to a dream better than we could have imagined. It is so fitting that Easter comes in the spring. There’s always a resurrection after a dying within ourselves. In an earlier chapter, we reflected on our weaknesses and things we may need to work on. When we do that, death of false assumptions about others and ourselves needs to occur. But then there will be a resurrection of love for us and a better understanding of our brothers and sisters.
How can we miss seeing the love of Jesus when a dog wags his tail at us? He has no judgments. No agenda. He just has love and devotion to give. It reminds me of the light of Jesus. He is so glad when we come to Him. Just like the father in the prodigal son parable. The father didn’t even wait for his son to ask for forgiveness; he ran up, hugged and welcomed him home. Unlike the dog, Jesus does ask us a few things'”to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves. It all revolves around love'”the light of Jesus.
The other way we can find the love of Jesus is through others. The hug of a child. The forgiveness of a friend who we have hurt, the care a parent gives to a child. There are examples of love every day. If you’re like me, sometimes you don’t fully appreciate or understand that Jesus may be right in front of you. How often do we miss seeing His love? My ninety-six-year-old mother looks over my manuscripts for errors in grammar and sentence structure. She told me today that after awhile, it hurts her eyes and her arm. I let her know I didn’t want her to be hurt and it might be better if she didn’t help me.
She just smiled and said, “No, I want to edit this for you. As you get older you need to readjust regarding how to do things.”
What a loving gesture for her to do. Yes, Jesus is with her. She’s doing something for her daughter out of love.
Another place we find the light of Jesus is within us. This light was with us even before we were born. I believe the light was there when God first had the thought of creating us. This light existed before time and will even after time. The eternal light of Jesus is in us! That’s an amazing concept to even try and understand. No matter how hard thing become, or how alone or hurt we may feel, that same powerful light can help us through if we let it. That takes prayer and awareness.
I had an incredible experience one night as I prayed. I felt the light of the moon come straight through me and penetrate my entire being. I sensed the light of Jesus. No words can explain this experience, and I won’t even try to understand what it meant. It was just to be experienced. Sometimes when we pray, it helps to light a candle to remind us of the light of Jesus. That has helped me numerous times.
Another place we see the light of Jesus is when we experience pain or loss. At our lowest point, we can come to Jesus, and many times He will give us the strength to get through situations we never could have handled without Him. Have you ever wondered how you made it through a situation? The light of Jesus is how. Maybe without even knowing it, you let the light help you. It could have been just a quick prayer, “Jesus help me.” Or not even words. Maybe it was a sigh, realizing you couldn’t handle this on your own. The light can also bring others in to help you when you most need it. How could a person know just the right words to say at the right time? The light of Jesus is how.
We have explored how and where to find the love of Jesus. Now let’s reflect on how to grow in loving Jesus, ourselves and our brothers and sisters. The teenage years are referred to as a period of growing pains. Sometimes in order it grow, we have to go through a process of painful insight and questions. No one likes to experience pain, but only by going through this path we can fully experience the light.
There are times of pure joy with Jesus. We feel so close to Him and know He is with us. We want to share this joy with all we meet. This especially happens in the beginning of our relationship with Him. This is a glorious time and one to be cherished and remembered. At some point we realize following Jesus is harder than we thought. When I first started this journey, I was so on fire I would do anything for Jesus. Even go to the ends of the earth if he asked me. But then reality set in, and I found not only would I probably not go to the ends of the earth, at times I even found it hard to stick with my set times of praying. As much as I loved church, at times I wanted to stay in bed on Sunday. I loved being a lector, but sometimes I just wasn’t feeling “spiritual” that day. This was an eye opener for me.
I was hard on myself and wondered if I really loved Jesus at all! I think we all go through this. How much do we really love Jesus and want to follow him? These are hard questions but important ones to help us grow in faith. Jesus knows we are human. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. In fact, that would be impossible. That is why we need him. That is why we need prayer. And why we can’t live our faith by how we feel.
Have you heard the phrase, love isn’t a feeling, it’s a commitment? It’s the same with Jesus. If I only prayed when I felt like it, I would soon have a harder time trying to love my faith. If I tried to show the light of Jesus when I felt in the mood, the light within me would not often be seen by others. It is a path we take one step at a time. Sometimes our steps are strong and with much enthusiasm. Other times it feels like weights on our legs drag us down, and our cross is difficult, if not impossible, to carry. It is those times when I felt Jesus carry my cross for me as I continue the journey, until I am able to carry it once again.
There are times when we don’t feel the presence of Jesus at all. Some call this the dark night of the soul. This can be scary and can shake our faith to the core. We cry out, “Jesus where are you?” Mother Teresa experienced this for many years but kept showing the love and care of Jesus to the poorest of the poor. During this dark time, Jesus is beginning a process of new growth'”a new way of seeing Him or knowing Him. It is a time we ask what we really believe. It is then we have to go the heart of our faith and know that even though we might not feel Jesus near us, he is.
We might not feel the joy of Jesus, but the joy we experienced in the beginning of our journey is still there. We know it is there because we have felt it before. We know the hope Jesus gives. We know the eternal life He promises. We know how much He loves us and what He has done for us. We know we are His beloved children. We might not feel it, but we know it! That is how our faith becomes stronger. We have to go beyond our feelings and go straight to our soul and remember the very heart of our faith. Only then can we experience the awesome joy when we feel the presence of Jesus again. We need to remember those experiences so we can keep them in our heart when we go through the dark night of the soul.
I used to think I could help everyone. After all, I had the light of Jesus, right? I imagine you might be smiling with me as I write. Oh, the innocence of youth! We soon realize that the only person we can really change is ourselves. We can encourage, give suggestions if someone is open to listening, and show compassion and care, but then we have to allow the person to either accept or reject our love and leave the rest to God. Easy to say, but so hard to do. When a friend or family member is on a self-destructive path, we want to save them from pain. It is easy for us to want to control others and change their life for them.
Again, this is an opportunity to grow in the love of Jesus. We quickly learn we can do nothing on our own. Jesus gave us gifts to show His light. That is all we can do. We can’t put the hope and faith into someone. We can plant seeds for the person to accept this love from Jesus. We can show them the love of Jesus, but we can’t force anyone to accept Jesus or give their life to Him.
These are just a few thoughts on how to grow in following Jesus. Many books could be written about this topic. These thoughts just scratch the surface, but hopefully you begin to see that in order to grow, there are some truths we have to learn along the way. The only way to learn them is to go through them with Jesus. Yes, it’s not always an easy journey, but Jesus never told us it would be. In fact, He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” But He also said He would be with us always. We aren’t on this journey alone, and even in the darkest times, we have a subtle yet deep joy knowing we are His beloved children, weaknesses and all.
Think back on when you first experienced Jesus and wanted to have a relationship with Him. What was it like when you felt Jesus loved you? How can you experience the light of Jesus in nature today? How can you be more aware of Jesus in yourself and others?