Love Wastefully – An Audacious Challenge

I’m irritated. 

At Kinko’s, the lady in front of me at the self-serve copier is taking too long.  I feel my neck and shoulders tighten as she fumbles with the controls, struggling to understand the instructions on the machine.  I recognize my irritation because these are the sensations I often feel when my schedule is interrupted.

Irritation comes in many shades.  A prime one for me is impatience, which is a subtle form of hoarding – I hoard time because I fear there isn’t enough.  I usually seek the most efficient use of time instead of the most enjoyable or connecting use of time. 

But I have come to find that my irritation need not be an obstacle to love, it can be a call to love, a chance to offer a small kindness.  My irritation is a signal that there is some sticking point in me that needs to be cleared.

I first heard the term “love wastefully” reading the work of Bishop John Shelby Spong.  The suggestion “to love” is common, but to love “wastefully” is compelling.  It implies that we are usually stingy with our love, assessing the proper measure, careful to avoid any spillage.  Spong’s challenge asks me to let kindness overflow my cup, a challenge that seems at once utterly impossible, whole necessary, and worthy of my highest effort.

The call to love so extravagantly feels daunting.  How can I give so much in a world filled with impossible circumstances and difficult people?  But my hesitation stems from the false premise that love is a limited resource I generate through personal effort, an emotional energy I manufacture within myself. 

My fear evaporates if I see love as coming from a source beyond me.  If I can view love as an immense river flowing through me, then I can tap it at any time without fear of being drained. In fact, when I dip my cup into the river and offer it to others, I increase the energy for all. We are not diminished, we are renewed.

Don’t be intimidated by the audacity of this challenge. You can’t drink a river all at once, only a cup at a time.  The challenge is not to love for eternity, but to love right now, showing care, concern and respect to whomever you encounter in each moment.  If I momentarily fall out of loving, through anger or inattention, it doesn’t matter, I have another chance in the next moment.  Don’t dismiss the power of such small moments, accumulating over time, filling a reservoir of good will and connection cup by cup.

Viewing love as a river that flows through us and between us is a useful image.  It shifts my focus from my small self to an expanded world.  When I take a stance of sincere openness and care toward others, they can feel it.  Humans have a social ability to read each other and sense the underlying intentions.  If we approach others with the aim of extending kindness and well wishes, our intentions can resonate in them and help them to love wastefully too.

Some may say that not everyone is deserving of a love so large.  What about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot?  Well, maybe we should start with the slow lady at the copier.  When she finally gets the machine to work, she turns to me and says, “I’m sorry I’m taking so long.”  I feel something moving in the space between us.

I wonder if she sensed my irritation looming behind her.  Have I caused her to feel bad for holding up the line?  I see that she is wearing a brace on her neck and another on her knee.  Whatever problems I am having today, she has me beat.  My irritation starts to fall away, draining from my shoulders down to my feet. 

I smile and say, “Don’t worry about it, take your time.  I’m in no rush.”  As I scan my body, I find that this is true.  I’m a little surprised at my words and at my sudden lack of irritation.  My impatience has dissolved, replaced by the wish to extend a small kindness to someone who needs it. She smiles back at me and I can see the relief on her face.  She feels the resonance of my honest intention.  What is love if not to give someone your time and attention?  It feels like we are both in the river and I don’t mind taking the time to get a little wet.

Photo by Santiago Lacarta on Unsplash

A version of this article first appeared at

2 Replies to “Love Wastefully – An Audacious Challenge”

  1. Thank you Steve.

    I am now in love with Loving Wastefully.

    Indeed, as I type I see this as an agape-type-of-love, the love that knows acts of love & kindness evoke acts of love & kindness in others.

    We mirror. We reflect. We become One in the moment, sometimes without knowing, but if we listen, our heart knows.

    Interestingly, I as I read I realised I was ‘mirroring’ your irritation but you had me gripped, so I read on.

    The ‘punchline’ that I carry away – what is love (or even life), if not to give someone your time and attention?

    1. Good point Susan, I think agape love is what I am pointing toward. The ‘punchline’ phrase you mention came to me at the very end of my last revision, almost didn’t make it into the post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *