Monday, July 30, 2012

Hard to Love

You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
Matthew 5:46

I've always liked Jesus' admonition to the self-righteous leaders who tried to discredit him by pointing out the low moral character of the company he kept. The high contrast between neighbors and enemies and the counter-intuitive nature of praying for some who persecutes you challenges us in a clear and meaningful way. However, because the contrast is so high, the challenge so great we often miss its implications on a day-to-day basis.

It's sometimes easier to think about loving a theoretical enemy than it is to think about loving a not-so-lovable coworker or one of your kid's friends who influences her ways you'd prefer she avoid.  Oftentimes we've got the 'love your enemies' part down; we just don't do so well with the 'love your sister-in-law who never listens' part. However, Jesus' point wasn't to love the extremely unloveable; it was to love, period. 

If you're with me so far, then next question is: what does it mean to love?  Again, this may be more challenging than it appears at first blush. Let's immediately eliminate the association of love with any action simply by qualifying that action as 'tough' love. While I agree that there are plenty of times when loving someone requires action that they might not appreciate in the moment, those times are exceptional. If you find yourself frequently employing "tough love", then you're likely not loving. You might want to check in with yourself on that one.

Next, let's get rid of the "do no harm" definitions of love.  Love is an active process, not a passive one and while one can actively avoid harming someone or something, those actions represent a minuscule  portion of the 'not-harming' that each of us does. Certainly we don't love everything that we don't harm.

So love is active and love is only infrequently 'tough'. What else is it? Here's the part that I find the most challenging if I follow into Jesus' statement to a logical conclusion. If to love means to love anyone, even the most unloveable, then love is unbiased. When you combine love being unbiased with love requiring more of us than to do no harm, then you get to the challenging part: at least, that is, if you're a finite being. 

You see, we tend to spend most our love on those close to us, our children, our partners, our friends and family.  Sure, we don't actively harm others we encounter on day-to-day basis; however, it's likely that we don't actively love them either.  There can be made arguments for the perpetual supply of love to those who love actively and in big ways, that those who love big and love often tend to have more love. However, in the end each of us is still finite. Hence the challenge: if love is an directed action (not just a feeling) and love is unbiased, then at some point you must love someone less in order to love someone more.

Although it did occur to me, I'm not talking about defining fine-grained quantitative metrics for love that can be measured so as to guarantee the equitable distribution of love. I'm just talking about sharing the wealth a bit. More and more, I see people who limit their love to their own: parents who spend all they have on their own children, but do nothing for other children; friends who go out of their way to support one another, but do little for anyone else; partners who develop a symbiosis that demands more and more of each other's time and attention. It's as though there were all these coexisting but rarely interacting bubbles of love floating in a void.

You stand in near the front of the line at the coffee shop and notice a friend near the back. You invite him to join you up front. 

You notice that the folks throwing the party didn't plan for as many guests as showed up and that before long, all the barbecue chicken and corn on the cob will be gone. So you take extra for your friends who haven't arrived. 

Each of these actions may be loving, but they're loving at the expense of others rather than at your own expense. 

What might you do instead? You could join your friend at the back of the line. You could offer your late arriving friends your portion of food or tell the host that you'd be glad to run to the store and purchase more.  It may seem a subtle distinction or that I'm nitpicking; however, I think the implications are significant and the actions those who want to love actively and unbiasedly.

Today, as you perform your miraculous acts of love, think about the tradeoffs inherent in each one. How does your love for one person impact your love for others? What might you do differently to help fill the void that surrounds your bubble.

Happy Monday,

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