I hope you are doing something for yourself this season to recharge your spirit. This year normal holiday festivities are changed. They may be virtual or non-existent, but our need for community and connection remains strong.
Even if you are single, divorced, or living out a “new normal” during this time, remember, you are not alone. There are others who need your smile, your friendly hello, and to see them, really see them. The clerk who checks out your fast food, the homeless person on the street, the tired bus driver, or a harried custodian at the mall who is working harder than ever to keep things sanitized for us all. Smile, say hello, wish them a good holiday and perhaps even do something a little more for those who Mother Teresa called, “Jesus in his distressing disguises.”
Today Question: I thought instead of answering a new question, I’d continue the discussion we started last week when one of my readers asked a question whether you can or “should” love the unlovable.
Answer: If we are to become like Jesus, then we must love the unlovable. Click To Tweet
But this kind of love is not a romantic, feeling-oriented kind of love. It’s an agape action-oriented kind of love. This kind of love does what is best for the loved one, regardless of how they treat you.
Agape love is not transactionally based. It’s not the kind of love that says, “I love you because you love me.” It’s also not humanly within us. Agape love is God’s love through us that says, “I love you and therefore, I will act in your best interest, even when it costs me. It’s the laying down your life kind of love and the love your enemy kind of love that Jesus speaks of. (1 John 3-16-18, Matthew 5:44).
The million-dollar question becomes, “what is in the best interests of the other person, especially if he or she has harmed you?” And that’s not always clear or easily discerned. For example, with the population we discuss most on this blog, a destructive or abusive spouse may believe it’s most loving not to implement negative consequences such as separation, divorce, or jail time, for abusive behaviors. Yet as Henry Cloud wrote in his book Necessary Endings, “Jail does some people good.”
And we may also experience false guilt or be told by others we’re not loving someone when we do what we believe is best. Even children feel “unloved” when we take away their IPAD or force them to do homework when they’d rather play. Yet we know as mothers we are trying to act in our child’s best interest whether or not he or she agrees with us.
With adult relationships, including our adult children, spouses, and adult parents who are destructive to themselves or others, it may be more loving to let them go. Jesus did this with the rich young ruler and with Judas, even though Scripture says he loved them. (Mark 10:17-27).
The Biblical story of the prodigal son is where a father loved his son but let him go. (Luke 15:11-32). Letting go may do more to foster a person’s “wake up moment” (which is their good), than trying to convince them to change. It also stops them from having any more opportunities to harm you (which is not only good for you, it’s also good for them).
When you have a hard time letting go, what you’re feeling is not love in the truest Biblical sense. Rather it’s a strong feeling resulting from an unhealthy attachment (as one person mentioned) or perhaps even a trauma bond. This difficulty detaching may also come from misplaced guilt about your role in someone else’s life. When you get caught in that quagmire, the best route is for you to get some help for yourself to detach and figure out your own internal resistance to letting go.
As Christians, we’ve often been taught that forgiveness always means reconciliation and that grace always means canceling out negative consequences. But that teaching is not only false, it can be unloving. We’ve also been wrongly taught that somehow we can hold a relationship together if we just love enough, are strong enough in the Lord, try hard enough, and forgive enough.
But truth says we are not in charge of another person’s life, thoughts, emotions, or actions. A good relationship, especially one that is a long term such as marriage must be maintained and repaired by two people investing in the things that create a safe and trusting connection. When sin breaks that apart, (which happens), forgiveness can be granted. But without repairs, forgiveness does not automatically heal broken trust and safety, especially when the sin has been repeated again and again (Matthew 18:15). The Bible reminds us that love rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6) and love walks in the truth (2 John 1:6).
To collude with someone else’s misapplication of Scripture or internal lies is not to love them well. It only enables them to stay deceived and Jesus says truth is what sets us free (John 8:32).
Friends, how have you learned to detach from enabling, yet stay loving rather than bitter and resentful towards someone who has harmed you?
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