Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Tough Get Loving

"Human affection is not poured forth vainly, even though it meet no return." -Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures"

The older I get, the more I come to understand how difficult it can be to really get close to someone else. There's a lot at stake: pride, emotions, faith. We're complicated. We're scared. We have issues and baggage and pasts. The truth of the matter is that we're all fragile, instinctively self-protecting creatures who, often despite ourselves, have an irrepressible need for love and relationships.

Otherwise, we'd all be floating around in our own little life-bubbles like some science fiction sitcom gone terribly wrong. Can't you just picture it? "Hi, Susie." "Oh, hi Fred!" "What's going on?" "Oh, nothing. Nothing can hurt me in this bubble!" "I know, isn't it great?!" "Okay, well, I'm gonna go float over here now for awhile." "Okay, see you later!" Cue the fake applause.

See, it doesn't work.

We're made for relationships. We're made to get involved, to get messy, to get our hands in up to our elbows in each other's muck and get deeply invested. When we don't, we're not living the fullest life God intends for us.

But the other, harder truth of the matter is that everyone you really love will, eventually, hurt you in some way. Everyone you really invest in will (probably unintentionally) do something to make you upset or angry or feel unloved or without value. Everyone you give your heart to, in any capacity, will disappoint you somehow. Parents, children, spouses, friends, family, church members, coworkers. It's just a part of being in the world.

As Christians, though, we're in the world, but not of the how does that translate into our relationships?

Over the last few months, many of my friends have come to me to talk, vent, and sometimes cry, hurt and frustrated with other people in their lives. They express their angst with phrases that have often echoed in my own mind and heart. Phrases like, How long do I have to keep waiting? Why aren't I good enough? How much more do I have to give? Is it even worth it? Will the reward ever be worth the risk?

Their experiences - as well as my own - have brought me into a deeper understanding of what love really is, and what God means when he instructs us on how to love. If you needed to describe God with one word, that word would be love. Sure, He's grace and mercy and forgiveness and peace and justice and comfort too, plus much more, but when it comes right down to it, all of that can be summed up in four little letters: l-o-v-e.

Love isn't just a mushy, poofy feeling that makes your stomach flutter or your heart swell. It's not just sweet words or nice compliments or pacification until that twitterpated feeling runs out and you need another dose. Love is a decision. It's devotion. Commitment. Sacrifice. Giving of yourself even when the other person isn't or can't or isn't quite there. Giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. Choosing to say yes to God, and choosing to say to the other person, "You're more important than I am." Giving whatever it is you have in yourself to give, and trusting God with the rest.

Why? Because that's what God does. Don't mistake it - God wants us to love Him just as He loves us. He desires our praise and devotion and adoration and worship, but He doesn't withhold His love from us if we don't give it. He doesn't stop loving us, stop giving of Himself, stop pouring out His blessings, when we're distant or cold or ignore Him - or even worse, when we say we don't believe at all. He never stops loving. He never asks if we're worth it. All the time, He's right there. The moment Jesus gave up His life on the cross was the ultimate demonstration of, "You are more important than I am."

In my own moments of questioning or angst or heartbreak, I've often cried out to God in frustration those same questions I wrote above. I'm scared. It's so risky. Is it really worth it? Over the past few months and years, God has taught me that loving someone is always worth it, because ultimately, that love is from Him. And no matter the outcome, it will bring the other person and me, as well, that much closer to God - the ultimate and only source of love in the first place. When your first source of affection is God's unconditional, unfailing love, the love you get from everyone else is just icing on the cake.

So what happens when, inevitably, your relationships get tough? Well, from what I can tell, when things get tough, the tough get loving.