What is Love Anyway? (4/5)
In this brief series, I’ve said that love finds its root in a Person, not merely a feeling. Through faith in this Person, Jesus, we are free to focus less on ourselves and to love others without seeking our own way -- our desired outcome from loving someone. This kind of love can seem dangerous, reckless even. It's also true, I admit, that outcome-based love is dangerous, but the danger is doubled; our love may always be rejected, but in the case of outcome-based love, we also run the risk of having our expectations dashed.
I believe this is the point where many of us often give up (or actually give in). We give up on love that is so reckless, so messy, so (frankly) unsatisfying because we have a hard time dying to our own ego. We inherently desire to have our love seek our way, meet our needs, and end in our planned results.
It is our slavery to our own ego that often keeps us from the freedom of loving like God does. The Good News is even while we we in our self-focus and self-motivated love, Jesus loved us selflessly. He doesn’t say, “I did it, now you go do the same.” Actually, he says something more akin to, “I did it because you couldn't. Now you’re free to die to your ego and love.”
Faith in the finished work of Jesus begins with dying to the neverending project of self. Because our greatest joys and good are found not in managing our egos but rather submitting them to the love of God, Jesus will spare no extent to help you come to the end of yourself. Because it is at the end of our rope (death to our ego if you will), where we find life -- new life in Christ. God is loyal in pursuing our best, even if we don’t realize it or agree.
God shows us that love is loyal. Loyal in ways that we may even bristle against. Loyal not in the sense of always affirming every thing about us, but loyal in showing allegiance to our greatest good.
And this is where, I believe, we humans get tripped up on love.
We often think that love is best expressed by not disagreeing with people but by supporting them in beliefs that don’t contribute to their greatest good. But that isn’t the example of love, the Creator of love gives us.
For example, when a loved one struggles with addiction that is tearing a family apart and destroying the addict, we may think that love looks like supporting that person or even showing loyalty by not challenging them to care for themself in a deeper way. Well, we may not really think that, but we often behave that way in these situations. When this scenario is played out, we often refer to this not as love, but as enabling. The solution? Something we now call “tough love.” We call it tough love because in our loyalty to the person’s greatest good, all parties experience difficulty. It’s tough.
It sounds simplistic, but would we consider it love to watch a drowning person die when we hold a life preserver?
Here’s the point. Love is tough. To love selflessly, without expectation, while remaining loyal to their greatest good is a great challenge. It is actually easier to “love” people without condition and without an allegiance to their greatest good. But I would contend that isn’t the purpose of love at all.
To love is to walk a tightrope, balancing the line of pursuing another’s best without coercing them into what you think is best for them when you don’t agree. Demanding, forcing, or shaming someone to change is not an expression of love. Nevertheless, avoiding challenging or difficult disagreements in pursuing what is best for another out of fear of offending them isn’t loving either. In both situations, whether by demand or out fear, we are seeking our own way.
Love is both loyal to the person’s greatest good AND doesn’t seek its own way. If there is a tension between these two things, say for example your friend disagrees that a certain belief or behavior isn’t consistent with their greatest good, how do we love them?
Let’s say your response to this scenario is to lean toward seeking your own way. This could look like talking even more with this friend, explaining (over and over) why and how they are wrong in their belief or behavior. While discussion can be beneficial and it is loving to point out where you think a friend is drifting from their best, it’s not always received as love.
How about if you respond by distancing yourself from your friend because they don’t agree with you on this belief or behavior issue? That would appear very loving either, and it isn’t a loyal expression of love.
All this is to say, loving is risky and tough. To love means pursuing someone else’s best, even if they don’t agree. Remaining present with them, even if you would find it easier and more self-serving to walk away.
Thankfully, we can look to God and see an incredible demonstration of this type of love acted out for our good and pleasure. In our final blog of this series, we will look at how God’s one way love is both loyal and doesn’t forcibly seek its own way.