Last week I led a Celebration of Love service at the senior community where I serve as a chaplain. The following reflection is based on the readings of The Good Samaritan, 1 Corinthians 13, and an excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit.

Eight months ago, a made a firm commitment to become more loving. This had something to do with my overreaction at seeing a piece of permanent artwork on the forearm of my daughter. I did not adhere to the sage advice of a gentle soul among you who pulled out her Bible and pointed to the lines in the Book of James, “Be slow to speak, slow to anger.”

In full disclosure, my vow to be more loving wasn’t entirely selfless. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about a quote by Polish nun Maria Faustina Kowalska who said, “Great love can change small things into great ones, and it is only love which lends value to our actions. And the purer our love becomes, the less there will be within us for the flames of suffering to feed upon, and the suffering will cease to be suffering for us; it will be a delight.” 

Her words were reminiscent of another quote by Lebanese-American writer Kahlil Gibran that had been lodged in my subconscious about 25 years ago when I read his book, The Prophet. He wrote, “You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief, But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.”

I don’t think either author meant that we can completely shed or learn to enjoy our physical and mental suffering, but both passages spoke of a kind of interior freedom I greatly desired. And I knew it was possible having witnessed it in a few people in my life. It’s not that their lives were without pain. No, they had endured great tragedy. And yet their steps were light. They were untroubled by the smaller things of life, joyful, generous, calm.

So I embarked on my journey to be more loving, aspiring for a kind of interior freedom that they modeled.

Growing in Love

In the first six weeks I made little progress because I was too fixated on the great chasm between where I was and where I wanted to be. I was keenly aware every time I fell short of love, and all the self-criticism seemed to sabotage any movement forward. So I enlisted the help of a spiritual guide: a former theology professor and a life-long friend. I knew that I could benefit not only from his 93 years of lived experience – much as I benefit from your wisdom – but also from his deep knowledge of scripture and spiritual classics. 

To help me grow in love, he gently challenged me with suggestions prompted by the Spirit. Among them were these:

Get out of your head. Move into your heart.

Don’t try to convince people of your beliefs or opinion. Just love them.

Imitate good people.

Meditate on scripture.

Pray for those who have hurt you.

Do loving acts without being noticed. 

The most difficult suggestion was this: Leave behind your baggage. Trust God who is Love.

You Are a Beloved Daughter

Trust God who is Love. It is so simple and yet so profound. Our sessions began with God’s mercy and ended with God’s mercy, because knowing God’s mercy and love is the foundation for being loving. It is God’s gift of love that gives us the strength, the courage, and the vulnerability to do the loving thing. All of the other suggestions were more like efforts in cognitive reframing without the belief that I was loved by God.

In his book Things Hidden, Richard Rohr writes: 

To allow yourself to be God’s beloved is to be God’s beloved. To allow yourself to be chosen is to be chosen. To allow yourself to be blessed is to be blessed. It is so hard to accept being accepted, especially from God. It takes a certain kind of humility to surrender to it, and even more to persist in believing it…. God’s love is constant and irrevocable; our part is to be open to it and let it transform us. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us more than God already does; and there is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us less…The only difference is between those who allow that and those who don’t. One just enjoys it and draws ever-new life from that realization.

Rohr, who served as a chaplain in the Albuquerque jails for more than a decade, remarked in another essay how different the lives of some of the prisoners he had worked with might have been if they had heard the words spoken to Jesus at his baptism: “You are a beloved son. In you I am well pleased.” Indeed, what kind of world would we live in if every human being was born into that kind of affirmation, absent of so many of the self-doubts and insecurities that pollute our inner landscapes.

The Good Samaritan and God’s Beloved

I interpret the story of the Good Samaritan in keeping with what Rohr writes. I believe that every character in this scene is God’s beloved: the robbers, the man attacked by the robbers, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan. Perhaps they all demonstrate the different stages of accepting the love of God. Rohr would say that the robbers and the Samaritan are both God’s beloved, but the Samaritan has claimed the title of God’s beloved, allowing more room in his heart to live out the two greatest commandments: to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. 

Even though the story was written two millennia ago it sheds light on the human experience. The baggage that burdened the robbers and the priest and the Levite may not be so different from the kind of weight that becomes a barrier to love in people’s lives today: namely, the sense of being cheated—by death, illness, or another trauma or difficulty—the pain of experiencing what feels like the unfairness of life and wanting it to be different.

The last time I heard this story read aloud I considered carefully what it was saying about trusting God who is love. While I absolutely believe there is a place for grief, and equally for advocacy, I wondered what would happen if I lived my life less like a math problem, constantly measuring what is fair, and more like love story, recognizing and reciprocating God’s ongoing pursuit of me as his beloved, which would free me to be as loving as possible with myself and with everyone in my life. What would the end result look like if love took precedence to equity, even justice? If I tried as much as humanly possible to follow the counsel of Spanish mystic John of the Cross, who said, “Where there is no love, pour love and there will be love.” And if I made 1 John 4:16 my mantra: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them.”

Love Is a Verb

Most of us here can attest to the transformative power of love in our lives. Kindness can recalibrate a soul, rewire the brain, and soften the chambers of the heart in a way that no other intervention can. Kindness can literally save us, as it did for the man on his way to Jericho. It may be subtle in our ordinary routines, but kindness saves us nonetheless every day. It restores our hope in the world, helps us to see goodness, truth, and beauty in our blind spots. And even as a person is no longer present in our daily lives, the love that they showed to us stays with us long after they have gone to rest and continues to transform us. The impact never expires.

Love need not be fancy. It does not require dramatic action or sophisticated rhetoric. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians gives us as helpful a blueprint as any for love. It is gentle, patient, persevering. It errs on the side of compassion and attempts to see the good in people despite their words and behaviors. Love is a verb much more than it is a feeling, as so many of you have taught me. And often less is more. Francis of Osuna said, “The greater our love the fewer words we use … for genuine love does not know how to cast about for roundabout, complex argumentation. But becomes silent and achieves great things.”

Love awakens us. It enlivens us just as did for the Velveteen Rabbit in Margery William’s children’s tale. We become real in a way that we become a new self—perhaps the self that is closer to the design that our Creator crafted in perfect love. And although this process of becoming alive fulfills our heart’s desire in a way that few human experiences can—in ways that even poets struggle to capture with words—it is not without pain, or at least the risk of pain, as the Skin Horse explained to the rabbit.

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that God does not fill the empty space of a loss. Rather, God leaves it unfilled to preserve the authentic relationship. But perhaps we could say that God holds us securely as we gaze into the emptiness so that we can better access the tenderness of the love that we knew with a resilient spirit. Or maybe we could say the Spirit opens our hearts to new friendships that gift us with moments of joy even as those relationships don’t replace our prior loves—that God’s grace exists in these small births and fresh dew amidst the dryness of the hour. God’s love emboldens us to play with the inherent anxiety of giving ourselves fully to another, reaping the rewards of a love that didn’t hold back, keeping that love alive in us and celebrating it even if it endures in a different form.

Beloved Is Where We Begin

I don’t believe many of us can let go of the baggage of fear and insecurity with one release of the grip. Nor do I believe you can let God love you in a simple articulation or clean effort. As with any organic relationship, any connection imbued with meaning and beauty, it evolves over time, and demands a kind of repeated trust – a saying yes over and over and over again in love. 

I am nevertheless consoled by my guide’s words that the desire to be loving means that a person is making progress, even if the final destination is barely visible on the horizon. I believe this to be true because in the months following my pivot of the heart, I began to inch, ever so slightly, toward the interior freedom I desired.

In closing I would like to share a poem by Jan Richardson called “Beloved Is Where We Begin”:

If you would enter

Into the wilderness,

Do not begin without a blessing.

Do not leave without hearing

Who you are:


Named by the One

Who has traveled this path before you.

Do not go without letting it echo

In your ears,

And if you find it is hard

To let it into your heart,

Do not despair.

That is what this journey is for.

I cannot promise that blessing

Will free you from danger, from fear

From hunger or thirst

or the scorching of the sun

or of the fall of the night.

But I can tell you

That on this path

There will be help.

I can tell you

That on the way

There will be rest.

I can tell you that you will know

The strange graces that come to our aid

Only on a road such as this,

That fly to meet us bearing

Comfort and strength,

That come alongside us

For no other cause

Than to lean themselves

Towards our ear

And with their curious insistence

Whisper our name:




Image by Ricardo Almeida. 2.0 Creative Commons License

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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5 Responses
  1. Michael

    Wisdom from the older amongst us, wisdom from the younger. Therese has been growing in wisdom and grace for as long as I have known her, which is a long time. Thank you, Therese.

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