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Strengthening ourFaith ~ Growing in Love
©2013 Bob and Judy Hughes, Love Focused Ministries,  All Rights Reserved
What it Means to be Love Focused
By Bob and Judy Hughes
We have all been taught by psychology that our present behavior is the result of our past upbringing and experiences. When we observe others doing weird things, we automatically think to ourselves: “Something must have happened in their childhood that makes them act that way.” On a conscious and unconscious level, the past certainly has an influence on how we act today. There is no question about that. Things like childhood traumas, childhood abuse, dysfunctional family dynamics, and parental divorce can and do affect people in many negative ways. But to think a person’s childhood somehow causes or explains everything a person does would be a mistake. Such thinking locks us into being a victim of our past with no hope for change, and also provides an excuse for people to justify and continue their unhealthy behavior. Our past influences our present behavior, but it doesn’t make us behave a certain way. Instead of asking “what happened in the past that is causing a person’s behavior?” there’s a better question to ask. 

Because all behavior is purposeful and designed to accomplish a goal, a better question to ask when we’re trying to understand behavior is: “What is the person’s goal in the future that the behavior is trying to achieve?” Behavior always has a purpose; it is always directed towards a goal. People do not do things randomly just to do things. If a person is carrying an umbrella, they have a reason for carrying it; they don’t want to get wet. If a person is walking into a restaurant, their goal is probably to get something to eat. If my goal is to know what time it is during the day, wearing a watch makes sense. If my goal is to earn money, going to work makes sense.
Proverbs 23:7 says: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” According to this verse, our goals, behaviors and emotions are the result of how we think. Thus, I will pursue whatever goal I think is most important and I will choose the behavior I think is best to achieve it. If I think having fun right now is the best thing to do, I will probably not study for finals, I’ll do something fun. But if I think the best thing to do is to get good grades so I can get into graduate school, then I’ll probably study. Again, my future goal determines my behavior, not childhood experiences, not my upbringing. 

Obviously, because the goals I choose to pursue in life determine who I am as a person and what I do with my life, the goals I choose are of the utmost importance. The very success or failure of my life is dependent on what goals I choose. In general, there are two distinctly different goals that a person can choose to pursue. One honors God and the other is all about us.

Without question, God has told Christians the most important goal to pursue is to “Love God and love others” (Matthew 22: 36-40) 1Corinthians 14:1 says “Let love be your highest goal.” God’s purpose in creating us is to love. No other goal is as important. To love is to be our top priority. We are to live a life of love. We are to focus our attention, purposes, motivations and decisions on this goal. To be “love-focused” is to live life with the goal of following God’s plan of loving God and loving others, and then trusting Him for the outcome (Matthew 22:36-40).
Because God’s love and grace for me is enough, I am free to love others out of a grateful heart. I love because I desire to love, not because I have to love. When my desire and purpose is to love, I can do that with God’s help. I have control over the direction of my heart and the actions I take to express my love. No matter what the situation is, no matter how I’m feeling, no matter what the outcome may be, I can choose behaviors that have love as their purpose. I can talk, listen, serve, encourage, sacrifice, be patient, etc., all for the purpose of expressing love. My success in attempting to love others is dependent on me, not on how other people choose to respond. With God’s help, I can grow in my ability to love others better.

Unfortunately, when I am not trusting God to be enough, and I am not focused on the goal of loving others, I will pursue more self-oriented goals like getting my own needs met and protecting myself from getting hurt. There are many ways we try to accomplish these two goals but they all require the same important element: I have to make sure things turn out the way I need them to. I have to get people to love, value, and respect me. I have to make sure people see me a certain way and treat me a certain way. I have to make sure people don’t reject me. To be safe and loved by the world, everything has to turn out just right. Getting the outcome to turn out my way becomes the most important goal and controlling people and things is my strategy to accomplish the goal. Instead of asking myself “How can I love others?” I’m asking myself “How can I get this situation to turn out my way”. When I live life for my own purposes by attempting to get things to turn out a certain way, I am “Outcome-Focused”.
Some examples of “Love-Focused” goals would be:

To love others as best I can
To be a good husband/wife
To be a good mom/dad
To be a good friend
To be a godly person
To do the right/best/moral thing
To speak the truth in love
To be patient/kind
To serve others
Some examples of “Outcome-Focused” goals would be:

`To get people to agree with you
To get a person to understand you
To get a person to change
To get your own way
To get people to like/love you
To prevent people from hurting/rejecting you
To get a person to do something
To get well
To do something perfect
To not make a mistake
When a person is “love-focused”, they are other-centered and free to love. When a person is outcome-focused, they are self-centered which prevents them from loving. To the degree I am thinking of myself, to that degree I am not free to think of others, which is a basic requirement in loving others.

In addition to blocking me from being free to love, being outcome-focused is unhealthy because I do not have control over the outcome. I need people and circumstances to do things my way in order for my goals to be met. I now become dependent on undependable things, which makes me insecure. When I’m insecure, I am now more likely to experience:

Anxiety if I’m not sure I’m going to reach the goal

Frustration/Anger if I’m prevented from reaching my goal

Depression if I lose hope in reaching my goal

The intensity of my emotional response (anxiety, anger, depression) is directly related to how much importance I am placing on reaching my “outcome-focused” goal. The more important my goal is, the stronger will be my emotional response. The less I need the outcome to turn out my way, the less intense my emotional response will be. When we understand these emotions, they can help us to be aware of when we are not trusting God.

I believe the most common self-centered goal we pursue is the goal of self-protection. When Adam hid behind the tree in the Garden of Eden, his goal was self-protection. Unfortunately, much of our own behavior has the same goal as Adam’s. To protect ourselves from emotional pain is natural and automatic. In the same way as a child quickly pulls their finger away from a hot stove, we seek relief from the pain when we are hurt by someone. Once we do get hurt, we often commit ourselves to making sure we don’t get hurt like that again. There are many ways we try to protect ourselves. Some people act shy; some are the “life of the party”. Some are perfectionists and some are workaholics. Some are people-pleasers and some are control freaks. No matter which strategy we use, when our self-protection becomes more important than loving others, it’s wrong. The challenge we all face is to not let self-protection become our primary goal. God’s plan is to love; usually our plan is to protect ourselves. When Christ was asked “Teacher what is the great commandment?” he didn’t say “Make sure you don’t get hurt”.

A helpful principle to remember is that when I NEED something, I tend to demand it. When I DESIRE something, I am free to simply request it. In general, it’s healthy to desire/request things, but unhealthy to need/demand things. When I desire something and don’t get it, I’m disappointed, but I can still act lovingly. But when I demand something, my self-centered needs will usually prevent me from being free to love. For example, if I need my kids to be well-mannered to make me look good as a parent, I will tend to demand that they use good manners and if they don’t, I will get angry. The more I need them to make me look good, the angrier I will get if they don’t make me look good. But if I only desire that they be well mannered because that’s best for them, I will be disappointed, and concerned for them, but not angry.
When I’m love-focused, I can accomplish my goal of acting lovingly even if the outcome doesn’t work out the way I want. When I act lovingly AND the outcome turns out the way I want it too, that’s a bonus that I can enjoy. It’s like ordering an ice cream sundae; if I get the sundae and it doesn’t have a cherry, I’m disappointed, but I can still enjoy it. If it comes with the cherry, it’s even better. Unfortunately many people demand the cherry and if they don’t get it, they get angry and take it out on others.

In summary:

When I’m “love-focused:

I accomplish God’s purpose for my life. God is honored.
I have control of my goal to love, not other people
I will have more healthy relationships
I am not pressured to love, but desire to love
I will experience more joy, peace, etc.

When I’m “outcome-focused”:

I will not accomplish God’s plan for my life
I am thinking of myself and not others
I am unable to love others
I am forced to control people and circumstances
I will experience anger, anxiety, and depression