Hold on tight a little longer / What don't kill ya makes you stronger / Get back up, 'cause it's a hard love / You can't change without a fallout / It's gonna hurt, but don't you slow down / Get back up, 'cause it's a hard love. / — NEEDTOBREATHEConfession: I don't love very well.
Oh yes, I can blog about love quite spectacularly. I can eloquently write about love, and can even speak quite freely about living a life of love. But alas, when it comes to the doing...
...I'm not very good at loving.
Such hypocrisy is really hard for me to swallow, because I honestly believe the things I blog and say. A life of holding grudges, harbouring hurts, and allowing bitterness to rule is not one you'll ever hear me endorse. I recognize clearly just how refining it is to allow the love of Christ flow through pain, and what freedom there is in forgiving those who hurt you. Turn the other cheek, bless those who curse you, pray for those who use you, freely you have been forgiven, freely forgive; you will be known by your love, etc. It all rings in my ears. I know it so well, I can recite it without even thinking. It's easy to do when everything is sailing along smoothly. Love comes so freely when everyone and everything is lovable. But as soon as life strikes:
A close friend lets you down and betrays your trust.
A family member says something they know will cut you deeply.
You are misunderstood by a loved one but they don't seem interested in trying to understand.
Children get so rowdy that it pushes your patience to breaking point.
Loneliness strikes when you are feeling down, and selfishness wants to take over.
The past keeps knocking and you begin to see the future through the eyes of fear.
Bitterness threatens to keep you from prayer.
Seeing people praised openly for their accomplishments when you were ignored for yours.
Confiding in someone vulnerably only to have them treat you differently afterwards.
As soon as anything difficult hits me, the love in my heart seems to evaporate into thin air. Suddenly that warm, encompassing feeling of God's presence leaves, and instead I feel frustrated, hurting, and shockingly spiteful. I don't want to love you anymore. You hurt me. I want to run a hundred miles from you and hide. Take my bruised heart and lock it away so that you can't touch it again. But only on the inside. On the outside, I pull out my mask and smile pleasantly. I say I forgive you. I let it go and go on like normal; wearing that face like armour—Aha, you will believe I am happy because I want you to believe it, but never will you get past my smile to my heart again.
Not long ago, in the midst of one of these charades I was quite busily performing, a friend texted me a quote out of the blue that I knew very well, which was both the best—and the last—thing I wanted to hear.
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” — C.S. LewisEesh. Vulnerability. Though I truly do want to be forgiving, and I earnestly desire to let things go, sometimes the ugly vulnerable truth is you hurt me, and I'm still hurting. We think for the most part that letting things go is our problem to deal with, and so we try to swallow it down without realizing that sometimes the path to true forgiveness and real Love is not pretty. You see, what we Christians have done is instead of taking the raw, messy, ugly road of God's Love, we opt for the clean, shiny, cover-it-up version of what we think love is.
This latter one, I am very good at. We tell ourselves that it is loving to let things go. To be peacekeepers and not rock the boat. We smile when we're dying on the inside, and listen quietly when our hearts are screaming at us. We hold back, we stuff our feelings down, we let ourselves be trampled on by our brothers and sisters in Christ, and they have no idea what they are doing to us. We sit down, shut up, and call it turning the other cheek. We tell ourselves not to be sensitive. We beat our souls into unoffendability, taking no thought for the fact that maybe God created us that way; you know: with feelings. We put on our brave Christian front and tell everyone we're "good", and by "we", I really mean "me". As tiresome as this version of love is, it's easier to do because it's safer. It holds people away from me. I can control the situation. I don't have to let people in.
But this kind of love is not love. It is pride. Pride to pretend that pretending to love is as good as loving. Pretending to be okay is as good as being okay. This is not love. It's more like holding poison in your mouth and trying not to swallow without spitting it out. It either has to get messy, or it won't end well.
Hear me right: this isn't to say that we just blab everything we feel whenever we feel like it to whoever will listen. You can't just freely express everything within you at the expense of others. True honesty is selfless, not selfish. And this also isn't to say that there aren't very legitimate times when forgiveness must be a choice over a feeling, and that letting something go without getting closure isn't exactly what God wants. Quite the opposite. However oftentimes I believe we forget one little verse in Scripture when it comes to dealing with conflict and loving well:
If your fellow believer sins against you, go and tell him in private what he did wrong. If he listens to you, you have helped that person to be your brother or sister again. — Matt. 18:15 NCVLove, God's love, does not ignore problems, it addresses them. We are called to go talk to those brothers and sisters who have wronged us, and be vulnerable. Just as God didn't turn a blind eye to our sin and pretend everything was okay, but entered into it, looked it fully in the eye and then dealt with it at the cross, so ought we handle our grievances with one another. This is loving well. Because often, loving well is loving ugly, and this is the kind of Love my flesh hates. You see, if I had my choice, my kind of love would be pretty safe. It wouldn't get ugly. If you hurt me, I'd just push it down, keep it wrapped up, maybe in a little box with a nice neat bow and smile politely at you next time I saw you (I'd probably pull it out in the meantime and stroke it and coddle it till it became a box of bitterness). But God's kind of Love... Ha, I've really got to laugh at it.
Because God's kind of love looked down at our mess and our sin, and my pride in my shiny self-image and entered into it. He didn't see my ugliness and say "dude, no way! I might get some of it on me." No, He took it on. He became that ugly on my behalf when He went and died an ugly messy death on that hideous cross. So now that He has done the ugliest thing for me, in order for Him to give me His beauty, I need to admit to my ugly. Which means I have to be honest. Which also means that in order for His perfect Love to have free reign in my life -
I need to show you my ugly too.
This is hard Love, and though I suck at it, God is teaching me that His Love is sooo much better than my love.
These past few months have had some of the most stretching, trying, heart-tearing, gut-wrenching conversations I've ever had where, instead of hiding my heart away and fake-loving, God challenged me to a hard, ugly love: exposing the scars of my soul to those who put the scars there and saying those bare-brave words, "you hurt me". Where I approached people with the truth and honesty of what my heart was really saying, even though it came out sounding ugly and awful. I let my heart be sensitive to painful words, and let myself feel them and bring them to God, open to the possible truth of them, though they left me feeling torn apart. Right now, if I'm honest, it's hard to see the good in it. My insides feel like they've been dismantled; a finished puzzle that has been broken apart into a thousand uncontrollable pieces. It's almost as though I'm losing control of me—in the best way—and letting God take control of what people know of me... that they might truly know why God is good, and see His goodness through the true and honest me—weaknesses, hurts and all.
The hardest thing is knowing this is not a lesson once learnt. Vulnerability is not my natural state, and it takes constant wisdom from God to know when, where, who and how I should brave it up, and do this tough love gig with people. It's the beginning of my undoing, and yet in the distance, I can also taste that it is the beginning of my renewing; this constant discovery of who God intended me to be. It comforts my heart to know that I don't walk this road alone. Christ Himself walked the road of hardest Love: up the hill of Calvary.
I am comforted by the fact that, though my flesh is incapable of this Love, Christ in me is.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. — Col 3:12-14We never think of perfection being messy, do we? Yet this is the way we are to love: with tender mercies, kindness, humility, longsuffering and bearing; all of this in truth and honesty. The humble are those who kneel, and if one kneels, there will be dirt. But Christ loves me in spite of my dirt, knowing that as I allow His Love to perfect me, I will see the dirt in others less and less, and at the same time be less and less afraid to speak the vulnerable truth with them.
Will I still have my hypocritical days? My word, yes! I'll still have plenty of times I wear my old signature smile and you won't see my soul shine truthfully in my eyes. Though I may be a hypocrite, Jesus loves me and died for my hypocrisy, and I love Him so much for it. Hard Love isn't easy, but by faith in Christ, it is doable. So I ask you, please bear with me as I learn slowly the art of hard-loving.
And I promise—with Christ's help—to bear with you too.
Innocence, your history of silence / Won't do you any good / Did you think it would? / Let your words be anything but empty / Why don't you tell them the truth? / Honestly I wanna see you be brave. / — Sara BareillesFurther Listening: Love is a Good Thing, Andrew Peterson