Love: Vertical

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Last week we examined how love is universal and has countless forms of expression. I think we over appraise our grasp of love, yet even so, we all grasp something of it. A common critique of modern people is that we are shallow. The gravitational pull of love brings us together until we bump into our unbelief. This is where we become scared of letting another person into our life. So we stop love’s progression until we can establish trust. So how do we go deeper?

Depth requires maturity. There are no casual deep relationships. To go deeper into anything (hobby, a sport, or a relationship) is a spiritual process. We must spend time, gain insight, and prepare ourselves to participate. We must be “in the game” or we are not loving or going deeper.

The only difference between a stranger and a lover or best friend is familiarity. Sex is easier than laundry. Vertical love is sometimes easier than horizontal. It’s true, we can’t take on the drama of everyone’s life so we must be selective. We’re skeptical because it seems the horizontal is where all the obligations exist, but once we grow our capacity to love, obligations disappear.  This is because love compels us and duty obligates us. The difference is depth.

To go deeper (gain maturity) takes an investment of time. However, time is not enough to deepen a relationship . It requires we let go, or surrender control and some just won’t do this. Depth is a risk of exposure, thus vertical love is impossible for our false self. We must take on aspects of another person’s life (good and bad) and they take on ours. We must divest ourselves of our self protection and allow another’s divestment to be that protection. Phillipians 2:6-7 depicts God “self-emptying” (kenosis) to become human. This is a clue to finding love. Vertical love is not possible without horizontal love. 

Vertical love is when we understand that doing for another will cost us, and we do it anyway. We know vertical love isn’t obligatory because we will do it even if it isn’t reciprocated. Relationships that are negotiated are not based in love. Sadly, many marriages are anything but love stories because they have become self protective exchanges rather than self emptying love.

Vertical love works with no safety net. In deadfall, the only intervention is the love of another who self empties in order to prevent our smacking the bottom. Yep, its risky. Yep, we will get hurt. Sadly, hurt people cut off their own experience of love by holding back, or covering their bases. It’s understandable, because this is among life’s greatest pains. Waiting for love is a trap that keeps people isolated. It’s not until we discover circular love that reinvesting in vertical love becomes tenable again. Until we grow in love, we will drop others and be dropped but that’s actually OK once we see the bigger picture.

There is a design to love. Our diversity, our unique experiences, and suffering function as positive and negative space. Your strength is made for my weakness. My sight is for your blindspot. Our abundance is for another’s lack. Now we can see the architecture of love and how interdependence changes everything. We are each responsible to self empty into the world right where we are (1 Cor 7:20). We are each made whole by making others whole (1 Cor 12:24-25). The goal is unity and diversity through and by love.

If we face each day in cynicism, judgement and hatred, then otherness disease has replaced interdependent love. Hell is the experience of isolation from love. Only by falling into vertical love, via kenosis, can we really grasp the shape of God, because he/she is the shape of love (1 John 4:8).

Self emptying is the path to gaining everything. Hiding, pretending and protecting is how we lose even what we think we have (Matt 13:12). At first the mutual emptying of vertical love seems like a back and forth motion. It’s not. It’s actually a flow. It’s a dynamism that comes to us and through us but is not us. We will explore that next week.