on loving your neighbor - and loving yourself

I've been thinking a lot about love these past few days. Love is so simple, yet sometimes feels like such a complicated thing.

About two and a half years ago or so, a meme went around, asking questions about Christianity, addressing negative stereotypes, but also asking what it is that we should be known for. I said, that in a word, it's this: Love. Based on 1 Corinthians 13, I argued that it wasn't "the frilly, fancy, red paper hearts, sappy valentine type of love" that we should be known for, but rather, "Real love. Tough love."

Love that is patient when it could be easily frustrated. Love that is kind when it could have chosen to be cruel. Love that isn't envious of the blessings of others even in the absence of blessing to itself. Love that is humble and quiet, not boastful and self-centered. Love that chooses to forget the wrongs done to it; love that refuses to stay angry, even though it has every right to be upset. Love that rejoices with everything that is good and true and right in the world, and weeps over that which is not. Love that protects fiercely, that trusts unyieldingly even when it doesn't understand, that hopes unswervingly against all odds, and that perseveres no matter what. Love that refuses to fail. Love that embraces grace, that extends it, that doesn't give up. Love that recognizes it can't be earned. Love that mourns sin and celebrates repentance. Love that is meek enough - gentle enough - to both hear and tell the truth. Love that hungers for righteousness. Love that extends mercy. Love that is pure in heart. Love that seeks peace, at great cost to itself. Love that will not shy away from persecution of any kind, because its purpose is greater than any temporary pain. Love that is... Love. (He is also known as Jesus.)

I believe that. I do.

And yet here I am, faced with a situation in which I have no idea how to practically, actively love.

The details don't really matter. The briefest summation is that I have a friend who had ceased, by personal choice, to be my friend - but who now wants to
re-establish that connection.

Justice says, "No way."

God says, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

But how do I do that?

It's taken me a long time to learn how to love myself. There's so much that God has healed in me - and so much more yet to heal. But I am learning to take care of myself. To choose friendships that are life-giving and not toxic. I am learning to guard my heart more carefully - to be open, but cautious. I am learning - sometimes sadly - to choose carefully whom I trust.

So what do I do? What do I do with this old friend who wants to be my friend again? History tells me that this is not a safe investment. Experience tells me that it is unwise.

But love tells me that rejecting him is not an option.

I have every right to be upset. To be cautious. To resist. To say no.

But love extends mercy. Holds unswervingly. Celebrates repentance. Embraces grace. Perseveres. Does not give up.

I want to. Oh, how I want to give up, to walk away, to say "NO! I am not risking again. I do not want to be hurt." But love will not let me say that. At least not to his face.

So how do I do it? How do I love my friend, but love myself too? How do I love him as I love myeslf? How do I protect him, show him the grace that God has given him, and stick with him as Jesus would, yet establish wise boundaries that will take care of me too?

Maybe it is simply by forgetting that it's possible I'll be hurt again. Maybe it's by knowing it is possible, but acting as if it weren't. (that whole "if someone asks you to walk a mile with them, then walk two" thing...) Or - maybe... maybe it's by gently and lovingly pointing out the truth: your actions (and lack thereof) have been hurtful, my friend. It is not okay that you left. I am glad you are back, but please - please, don't do that again....

I am not sure. I do not know what to do. But I am praying - oh, how I am praying! - that I will. For in spite of the hurt I have suffered by his absence, I do so love my friend.

Oh, Jesus. Please teach me how to love as You do. You so dearly loved Judas, despite what You knew was in his heart - You did not deny him Your friendship. Please give me the strength to love my friend that much.

Jemila wrote something yesterday that touched my heart so deeply as I've been praying about this. She said that it's possible to write "new endings to old story-lines." My friend and I have been down this road before, in different circumstances, but with the same basic plot. But maybe - maybe - this time will be different. I don't know. But walking away from this means loss. For both of us. There has already been loss. But maybe we can both learn and grow and become more like Jesus, if I stay. If I choose the way of love. A way that makes no sense in a world of justice, but makes so much sense in the world of mercy, which - He tells us - triumphs over justice anyway.


Ruth said...

Happy sometimes I think you and I are living in a parallel universe. Often you write about something that I too am thinking about or experiencing.

Your thoughts speak to my own situation where I have to let someone into my heart where I have hardened it. I was just thinking about it this morning and literally calling out to God to help me. It's so hard to love the way you are talking about because it requires selflessness. It requires us to let our wall of protection down. It requires us to love like it doesn't hurt.

Cathy H said...

In theophostic training they made a distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. I even looked up the slide...

Forgiveness has to do with releasing the debt whereas
Reconciliation has to do with restoring the relationship.

Forgiveness lies within the power of the one offended whereas
Reconciliation must be initiated by the offender.

Forgiveness requires no participation from the offender whereas
Reconciliation requires the offender to take full responsibility for their acts and then initiate reconciliation with a repentant and contrite heart.

In moving forward, realize your friend has responsibility for the work of reconciliation. You've already done the work of forgiveness. This one is on him.

Happy said...

Ruth - I'm glad this spoke to you! This is one of the things I love about blogging. I find God speaks to me through many of the posts I read, too! :) And it's so encouraging to know I'm not alone on the road I'm walking. Sometimes it feels that way - but there's nothing new under the sun, really, eh?

Cathy - thanks for the comparison; that was really thought-provoking for me. I'm still turning it over actually. I haven't looked up the reference yet, but I hear in my head Paul's voice in one of the Letters, saying "be reconciled to one another..." Which takes two. And that's where I'm running into trouble, I think.

Is it all forgiven and water under the bridge? Yes. I think. But if that were true, wouldn't I want to get back to where we were? I think, at least in his mind, he's taken steps *toward* reconciliation. So IS it still on him? Or is it on me to respond now? And is it okay to respond with "okay, but I don't trust you, so I have no idea what this looks like now?" Or is my caution and desire to just not get hurt anymore reason enough to draw a line? And if so, where do I draw it? I'm still sorting out the balance between loving selflessly and unconditionally and with risk, yet maintaining healthy boundaries...

and repeating to myself: this is about the journey, not the destination. :) i want this situation to draw me closet to Him - and it is.

thanks, friends.