Three Elements of Loving

Feb 17, 2022

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

Our Lord commanded us in Luke 10:27,  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  To love your neighbor as your self.  What does that mean?  What are the elements of loving my neighbor?

In simple, layman’s language, I think there are three elements to loving another person: benevolence, capacity, and constancy

  1. The first element of loving your neighbor is benevolence. This word benevolence comes from the Latin bene (meaning good) and velle (to wish).  Benevolence is wishing the good for your neighbor and being willing to make sacrifices to bring that good about for him or her. 
  2. But benevolence on its own is not enough. We must also have the capacity to love our neighbor.  The capacity to love presumes a certain level of human formation – for example the ability to set good limits and boundaries, being able to empathetic attune to the other and to enter safely into another person’s internal world.  Once invited in to the other’s internal world, the capacity to love includes being able to understand the other’s experience, and to resonate without fusing with the other person.  Capacity also involves practical things, like having enough time to spend with your neighbor.  Finally, the capacity to love our neighbor requires spiritual formation, including the development of virtues, the potential to be a channel of God’s grace to the person, and sensitivity and receptivity to divine touches of guidance in how to love our neighbor. 
  3. Finally, we need to have constancy. Constancy is persevering in love for the other person.  This takes dedication, commitment to the other person, even when it’s difficult or challenging, when our neighbor isn’t nice to us, and even when our neighbor also happens to be our enemy. 

As a Catholic psychologist, I focus a lot on the second element of loving our neighbor, capacity.  I argue that most people do not see others accurately.  At all.  The vision of their neighbor is reductionistic and very incomplete.

Whether we choose to love our neighbor depends heavily on how we see our neighbor.  How do we understand our neighbor?

And what do I mean by seeing others is a very reductionistic way?  Let me give you an example.  Let’s say you are driving down the freeway in the right lane, just above the speed limit, and a car cuts in front of you to rapidly exit downtown.  You’re forced to brake hard and swerve, and you are shaken up – you’ve gone into “fight or flight” mode and you are revved up.

In that situation, you might have an impulse to define the other driver (your neighbor) as “that jerk who cut me off.”  Your view of that person is reduced to one dimension – you perceive that person only as a jerk or loser who drives recklessly and is selfish.  There is no consideration of what kind of day that person is having, what his relational history is like, his distress over his oldest daughter getting into drug use, or that fact that his wife was just hospitalized with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, he is terrified of what life might be without her, and he’s trying to get to the hospital before visiting hours are over.  Now there’s a much more dimensional understanding of the man and his action. 

I argue that we can see our neighbor in anywhere from 0 dimensions to 6 dimensions – depending on how attuned we are and how disposed we are to love our neighbor – in short, how well developed we are in the areas of human formation and spiritual formation.  I get into these seven levels of understanding others in episode 72, titled “What Keeps You from Loving?  Is it Really Only Your Vices?  (Spoiler Alert:  No!)” of the Interior Integration for Catholics Podcast.  Check that episode out, it is 50 minutes long, and it’s all about the issues in our human formation that compromise our capacity to love our neighbor (and God, too!).  That episode is designed to help you evaluate how capable you are of loving others.

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

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