Based on the thoughts I surfaced in a recent post (and elsewhere) regarding what I see as God’s call to Unconditional Love, I’ve had several folks ask me questions along the lines of “Does that mean I have to love the person who [abused or hurt or seeks to control] me?”
Let’s answer this one carefully.
Love them? Yes.
Have a relationship with them? Well, that question requires a nuanced answer…
To begin with, let’s make one thing clear: Love and Relationship are not the same thing. We can choose to love another, even if the relationship we have with them is nonexistent (or nearly so). Loving another means building a bridge between another and you, opening a door to a better future, a better relationship. But just because that bridge exists does not mean you have to cross it, or that they will cross it, and you certainly should not cross it all the way to the other side!
Relationship is a two-way street. A relationship will exist in some form – after all, relationship is part of the very fabric of our existence. So, you do have relationships with others, all others. However, the extent and quality of that relationship is attenuated by the limitations we bring to the table. Love makes it possible to have a better quality and more balanced relationship with another, but only if they are willing and able to return that love. Love enables you to get to the midpoint of the bridge, but it is up to the other as to whether they’ll meet you halfway, or not.
We have all had relationships that were toxic or abusive in one way or another, whether it was a dysfunctional parent, a bully in school, a bad marriage, an abusive co-worker or boss, or something else: the list of possibilities is endless. It is not reasonable to blindly head back into such toxic relationships just because the word “Love” has been brandished as some sort of universal salve that will heal all past hurts and pave the future path in gold. …It’s not going to happen! If anything, returning to such a relationship, especially when one or the other party is not fully committed to reconciliation and healing, means that things will probably be even worse than they were before, as anyone familiar with domestic abuse will tell you. And, even when both parties are fully committed, and remain so, achieving health in such relationships is not easy, nor quick, nor certain.
Two Biblical stories spring to mind as relevant to this train of thought.
The first is the story of Judas and Jesus on the night of the last supper in John 13.
In this narrative of the Last Supper, Jesus calls upon his disciples to love and minister to each other, especially in times if crisis. It is a story we know well – but the disciples didn’t know it, yet. What the disciples knew was that Jesus had just washed all of their feet (including Judas), and told them that if they truly love him they must follow his example by ministering to one another, as he had. He then foretold his imminent betrayal by one of their own. Finally, Judas accepted an offering of bread and vanished into the night on some errand unknown to any but Jesus. It was Jesus who washed Judas’ feet and put that morsel into his hands. Christ’s love and acceptance never left Judas, and it was Christ’s choice to continue to love him. Whether the relationship was to continue, and what form it would take, was up to Judas. Judas made the choice to no longer be one of the twelve; and he soon made another choice, to forever deny himself the possibility of healing and restoration, or of a continued relationship with Christ, by ending his life.
Suicide is a topic I will address in a future post – but for now – please – if you feel like there’s no way out of the darkness you are in, know that there are many, many people, including (I am absolutely certain) several individuals you know well, who have been exactly where you are at, and want to help you. You can begin by talking to a school counselor, talk to a pastor in a nearby church, or contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline. Don’t give up!
Now, to continue, I should also note that the disciples had no part in Jesus’ decision. Jesus did not command them to love each other until after Judas left. In other words, Christ’s love followed Judas out the door, but Judas’ relationship with the other disciples was ended, and they were not called to do something that would have been beyond their ability.
A second is the story of David and King Saul in the book of 1 Samuel in the Hebrew Bible. David refused to kill Saul when he had the chance, even though Saul was constantly seeking to kill him. Saul was family by virtue of David’s marriage to Michal, Saul’s daughter; and David was also best friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan. However, because Saul would not relent in his pursuit of David, David and his men had to stay on the run to avoid being killed by Saul and his men. David honored and respected Saul and his family, but realized that this did not mean that he and Saul would ever be reconciled, and even told Saul this. The relationship was limited because of Saul’s own limitations, despite the love and respect that David professed for him.
Love and Relationship are not the same.
Yes, we are called to Love Unconditionally, but recognize that “The Other” may be unable to return that love in a healthy and caring way. It is how they express the love they profess for you that determines the extent and nature of the relationship you and they can have.
Love is the bridge that allows a relationship to form and deepen, it is not the relationship itself.
And an end note: if you are in an abusive relationship, or a victim of Domestic Violence, there are numerous resources out there that can and will help you. You can begin with the following websites:
The FaithTrust Institute, http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org
The National Domestic Violence Hotline, http://www.thehotline.org
The Domestic Abuse Hotline for Men and Women, http://www.dahmw.org.
Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)