I had someone question me recently about someone in my life. Someone I love. This person had issues with some things that the person had done in their life. Things about that person’s character they thought were wrong. They evidently thought if I heard enough “evidence” I would completely wipe that person out of my life, ostracize them, and make them dead to me. I heard them out…until it made me tired – but it made little difference. I knew some of what they said to be true, didn’t believe other things, but overall was just floored by their hate. They, of course, denied hate – but it oozed out of every word. Their words didn’t change my mind, except to show me I didn’t have the energy for a relationship with this “reporter” right now. But I still love the imperfect person they were reporting on.
It’s not the first time this has happened. I seem to get these questions all the time. I hope that unless there is a major shift in our world’s thinking, I always do. I hope I love differently. Because I look around at what others call love and it seems like a pale imitation of what I believe the word to be. Not that I always do it perfectly…..in fact, I would call myself quite inadequate; but, nevertheless I keep trying.
Look at me and I hope you see me loving a lot of imperfect people. “Sinful” people. People who don’t always get it right. Sometimes people who don’t even try to get it right. Some who try and try, but always seem to fall short. People with lots and lots of flaws. People who hurt other people, either intentionally or unintentionally. People who don’t believe as I do and don’t live as I think they should. People who screw up again and again and again. Gross people. Distasteful people. People who are rusty on the outside but shiny on the inside. People who are shiny on the outside but are rusty on the inside. People like you. People like me.
I find that we usually weigh the grossness of what others do as worse than anything that we would ever do. Using our own moral compass, which may or may not be in good working order. We look at others and it seems to show us they are dead south, while we are headed north to heaven. We don’t consider that maybe we’re using faulty equipment or are confused about our destination. That we’re looking from the eyes of our own experience, our own goals, our own beliefs, our own strengths. That we’re thinking people are all they are ever going to be. That God is done with them. That his priorities for change in their lives match ours. We are arrogant – and using others to avoid looking in the mirror.
The behavior of others is not my responsibility. I shouldn’t even be trying to locate it with my compass. unless it is to help me find my way. Their behavior is not highly contagious unless I choose to engage in risky behavior that makes me vulnerable to “catching the germs”. I know people want us to be sinners by association, but I just don’t ascribe to that theory. Yes, I do agree you have to be careful of the company you keep, so you don’t adopt their negative patterns, …but I’ll work on figuring out when and where I am vulnerable. I don’t care if you judge me for how it looks on the outside. My responsibility is to keep a close and open connection with God. He shows me when people are throwing me off course, draining me and where to go for refreshment. It’s not always where people think. Sometimes it means I avoid certain folks who call themselves Christian. Sometimes it’s time to find a well and drink.
We are people of free will. Our behavior is our behavior, their behavior is theirs. You can blame others, you can describe their grossness in detail, but you never make yourself more pristine when you do that. Oh, you may look better to the throngs of unthinking people around you, who agree with everything you say because it is the most expedient choice, because they also are off base, because they don’t live mindfully, or because they are just not paying attention to you and agreeing with everything by rote. But you’re just deluding yourself when you listen to them. God knows the truth. Deep down, you do, too. You, and you only, are responsible for your behavior. For your choices. For your sin. I never am. Well, unless I do encourage and entice you to it – but once again that is my issue and has nothing to do with your choice.
If I spend a lot of time focusing on the things that people are doing wrong, I often fail to encourage the things they are doing right. I am not encouraging positive change. And I believe people can change. I also believe there are reasons for what we do, all the time. Sometimes people just don’t know any better. Sometimes they aren’t self aware. Sometimes they have adopted bad patterns and habits. Sometimes they are overwhelmed to the point of being out of their minds and do stupid things.
Love is not a feeling. Love is a commitment. A vow, of sorts. A word of ongoing action. My definition always goes back to I Corinthians 13. I use it as a checklist to make sure I am really loving people and not just describing how people make me feel. I don’t think I am very good at it, but yet I make it a goal.
If I am loving someone, I am patient with them, kind to them, not envious of them, and not boastful about how much better I am than them. I am not too proud to be real with them, not doing things that dishonor them, not thinking just of me (and my wants and needs). I am not getting angry at them easily and I am not keeping lists of their wrongs and bringing them up over and over and over again. I don’t get excited when I see them do evil. If I love them I always, always, always protect them, trust them, hope for them, and hang in there for them, even (especially) when it’s far easier to give up on them.
I don’t usually stay in relationships without purpose or when people don’t treat me well. This is not a rule for me, but a guideline – for example, they may actively disrespect me, but I willingly stay for a season to see if I can help them learn something about respecting others. Overall, though, I don’t enable bad behavior. Sometimes you have to acknowledge it’s bad behavior and you are not the best person to help them “get it”. Sometimes there are the folks I must choose to walk away from and love from afar. Sometimes that means I have to put extra energy in praying for that person and waiting and watching for God to change them. But still sometimes I am meant to stand alongside them. Regardless of what others think.
My goal is that when I leave this world I will have learned to love well. I hope I please God with my progress. I hope I don’t have much regard for what others think of me (because too often I find that I do).
Love is not a warm and fuzzy feeling. In fact, if you only love those for whom you have warm and fuzzy feelings, there is not much power in it. If the people in your life only love the perfect sunshine-y you, and you only love them when you are around the perfect sunshine-y them, see it as it is. That’s called conditional love. It’s a weak love.
I am after agape love. The kind that loves people “even though”. The love that is there even when we are gross, making bad decisions, falling short of the mark, and getting the gossips talking. Loving when they don’t necessarily love us back the same way. I hope I continually am learning to actively love others through it all. And loving myself that way. Because that’s how God loves – and the kind of love he wants us to demonstrate when he tells us to love him first, and then to love others as ourselves. Let’s work on increasing that in our lives. It’s a beautiful thing. Even when the blind folk tell us it’s not.