(I limit giving advice, especially if no one has asked for it. If I were to choose to make an exception, I would offer the following encouragement to those I love–family, close friends, co-workers, neighbors–and to many others. A lifetime of observation suggests that, when we love and seek love, it is so very important to us, and sadly, when it fails, it hurts deeply leaving unforgettable scars. I’d spare you that, and I believe this is the prescription for doing so)
I recently wrote this to a friend:
“Do you know why we are friends today? I believe God arranged it, or at least, he arranged for us to meet and connect. Part of the plan was Dean becoming my exchange student, part was you and he becoming friends at Eastern, and part was you feeling free to ask to stay with me “for a short time.” A big part was what God has taught me about how to love “my neighbor as myself,” as well as a part related to reading “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures” at about the same time as you, Cuarhure, and Beom came walking down the street.” I call this a “divine appointment.”
Now before you jump to conclusions, I could have written this to any number of people. I tutor refugees and international students variously from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. I’ve studied a number of their countries and cultures and read books about their people and their stories. A lifetime of ministry as a pastor, counselor, peacemaker, radio broadcaster and community relations person, teacher, tutor, and lately taxi driver has opened the door to many “divine appointments,” and I treasure every one,…so many neighbors to love!
God’s love, our model, has several key parts. It is sacrificial; Jesus death for us as sinners is the perfect example of agape love. It is unconditional; we were sinners when Jesus paid the price for our sin because he loved us. It is unselfish; selfishness or self-centeredness is the opposite of love. Love is something we give; it is not something we demand. What makes love such a blessing is when another person chooses to love us freely. No one can force that; we can only do what we can to make ourselves worth loving. It’s not easy to make the adjustment from selfishness to unselfish love because we all want so desperately to be accepted, valued, and loved. I want the people who matter to me, like Hmong friend, to know they are loved like this, like Jesus loves, even though I hunger to be loved like everyone else. I’ve learned, however, that the more I try to make someone care, the less likely they will; I may even drive them away (Yes, I have done that!). The following explains how I regard each relationship:
“I love you. That’s a God thing. I have also come to like you; that’s me coming to know and appreciate you as you are. To be honest, you made a good impression the first time I met you, and most every day since then, I have found myself enjoying you more. Today the loving and the liking are all mixed together.”
“I have hoped I would be a good and encouraging example. I know you hate being lectured, so I have always avoided the temptation to lecture (although I’m not much for lecturing anyway). I’ve been sad that you haven’t cared more for Lady; I kind of think God gave her to you to help you learn to love the not-always-loveable. Why? I think, in order to have an enduring relationship, you have to learn to love sacrificially, unconditionally, and unselfishly. The future of your relationship with your girl/guy/friend, if God’s will for you, is in learning this. Angry, desperate, even cruel attempts to force a person to love you and obey you won’t end well, whenever and however it ends. If you truly love him/her, you will try not to hurt her/him, however hurt you feel. If it becomes necessary, if you truly love him/her, you will let her/him go with God’s blessing. That’s love. That’s God’s love.”
Paul wrote in his famous love chapter:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
I’ve read and heard a lot of bunk, over the years, about what love is. I’ve found nothing better or clearer than this. I would encourage every true believer to memorize it. Notice in particular, “Love is patient, kind, not easily angered, does not dishonor others.” I’ve seen love survive despite anger, but not easily; I’m absolutely sure that they’d have both been happier without the anger. Notice “always protects”; I think that means from outside threats but also from threats close by. After all, who else can protect your loved ones from you?
Notice also, “keeps no record of wrongs.” That’s forgiveness; that’s Jesus’ 70 times 7 forgiveness. You see, you can’t do what I just suggested you should do. I can’t do it either, not consistently, not without fail. This takes more than “I’m sorry” or “I apologize,” though these may be accepted. Forgiveness requires the full progression of “I was wrong, I shouldn’t have done or said that, I’m sorry, Will you forgive me?” If you don’t already know, the change in tone of voice or a look in the eyes will tell you, if you didn’t already, almost at the very moment, will show you crossed a line. The quicker acknowledged, the better.
What if the other person sinned first or at the same time? If you sinned, you must confess and seek forgiveness, both from the person involved and from God. You’re not a prosecutor or judge. You must learn to let others know they’ve hurt you without accusing them, as such. Any two people will have two somewhat different sets of values; learning and navigating them takes time and patience. It’s better to share and discuss than argue. Any two people have their own ways of seeing and navigating life, starting with male and female, then with different family systems, different educations, unique life experiences, and their own unique personalities. A lot of conflict is merely the mixing of these differences, but many major blowouts are turning normal differences into angry arguments. By the way, however it may feel, everything is not personal!
A few years ago, I took I Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter, and expanded it. I paired the phrases that define and describe love with opposite behaviors. It might offer another way of thinking about this: https://jrogerw.com/2008/09/07/a-lifetime-quest-the-love-challenge-of-i-corinthians-13/. I also wrote this: https://jrogerw.com/2008/08/03/the-redemptive-power-of-love/, which expands on some of what I’ve written here. My Table Talk Blog (https://jrogerw.com/) has a number of posts on love, resolving conflict, and other Christian ideas. I know most people don’t do a lot of reading or necessarily enjoy reading, but I’m humbly proud of much of what I’ve written and posted here. When I was young and first heard the story of Solomon, whom God promised to give anything, who chose wisdom, I prayed for wisdom, and I have continued to pray and thank him for hearing my prayer.
Too many Christians focus on what God doesn’t want, sin, and too little on what he clearly says he does want (in Matthew 22:36-40):
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It is terribly disappointing to see Christians, who should know better, treat their brothers and sisters, their spouses and children, or others much worse than their actual neighbors, when his commands to love include everyone, even our enemies. Obviously God’s love is not speaking nice but insincere words to the jerk across the hall or becoming buddies with the crazy lady across the street. It’s looking beyond their faults, their sins, and perhaps their unkindness to the broken heart and needy soul within. It most likely means praying for them to meet Jesus and find the redemption he offers and being available to show them his love, once we figure out what that means in the particular situation.
This isn’t a lecture; this is an encouragement. Take your time with it. I tried to keep it fairly short. Pray for God to help you understand his wisdom and his will, whether this is it or not. Share this with your girl/guy/friend or not, now or later or never. Actions are better than words, much of the time. If you want to ask me questions, discuss or disagree, or never mention this, that’s up to you. You know I’m available to talk (I also respond to comments below).
I am praying for the best for you, and I trust God to give it. By now you know I’m not into super serious religiosity; I don’t think God is either (After all, he designed breasts and penises; he must laugh at how we almost worship them!). I am into living by the Great Commandment. You’re precious to me, reader (“and I look forward to the day you name your Hmong son, Roger”. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!).
**Wouldn’t it be awesome if a generation of Sudanese, Afghani, Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Brazilian, South Korean, Honduran, Colombian, German, Spanish, or French boys were named Roger? Unlikely but amazing! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!
Dedication: In a way, it seems a shame to follow humor with sadness, but I’d like to add a dedication to this post. Malissa was a friend who exemplified much of what I’ve described here. She and the love of her life (and vice versa), Jake, were originally passengers and then friends who stayed at my home between apartments, last year. They weathered many storms and struggles but managed to stay both in love and together, until her sudden death a few weeks ago. Not even the wisest counsel can prevent tragedy and the heartache and loss it brings. I pray memories strengthen Jake through the lonely path of grief, with God’s help, and the knowledge of a heavenly reunion to come kindles renewed hope. Till then, Malissa, rest in the loving peace of our heavenly father.