Love and Difference

I’ve been talking with a number of people recently about the nature of relationships and how we, in churches and in families and with our friends (or fellow cohort members!), navigate our differences. How do we talk about them? How do we express love when we not only disagree, but passionately and deeply disagree– when we feel anger toward those on the “other side” of issues (gun control, taxes, women in leadership, capital punishment, pacifist Christianity, etc.).  How do we react when we simply cannot comprehend that a follower of Jesus would stand on the “other side”? How well do I love these people? And how do I experience love from them?

These questions caused me to think about the past, times when I have struggled to love and be loved by people close to me who have not shared my views on important issues… times when I was surprised to find that those I thought were kindred spirits with whom I could find common ground and common passion, where actually not “on my side” at all when it came to some of things I cared deeply about. (even my choice of language here illustrates the sense of battle lines being drawn and sides being taken in a war… images that I do not believe are helpful or healthy when we’re talking about relationships within Christ’s Body, but they reveal the very real emotions we’re confronted with situations such as these)

When we meet someone, how long does it take for us to peg them? “Oh, she’s a flaming liberal with no morals! Oh, he’s a rigid, arrogant conservative! There’s an extrovert for ya! He’s so shy you never know what he’s thinking. She’s a loud mouth! He’s just a dumb jock. She’s an airhead. That one’s got an eating disorder of some kind, I know it. It’s obvious he hates himself or he wouldn’t do that!”  There are all kinds of labels out there; we make all kinds of judgments within seconds of seeing someone or meeting someone. How flexible are these boxes we’ve put people in? Do we allow for growth, for change, or even for misunderstanding (our boxes could be completely wrong!)?  We all know the suffocating feeling of having been “boxed” by someone and struggling to get out and let our genuine self shine through.

Why is it that we long for same-ness in others? And why do we find difference so threatening? Is it that love of truth eclipses love of people in our very weak, human hearts? Is it self-preservation that makes us want to flee from those who are different? I wish I understood my own attitudes and behaviors in this mess. I know I haven’t always loved well… my boxes have not always been flexible enough to let someone out to shine. I know I have drawn battle lines in self-preservation, rather than giving myself away in love.

Though I seek to be a woman of peace, I know I have enemies. Jesus’ call to me is clear, though. Love my enemies– turn the other cheek, walk with them, carry their load, welcome them in with hospitality. Love considers the other before the self, love is merciful and patient and kind and enduring. Jesus absorbed the violence of his enemies on the cross, and he calls us to bear our own cross as well, dying to self. Ugh. How miserably I fail at this when it comes to those with whom I’d rather argue the point! And I’ve known the alienation and loneliness of being labeled and boxed and un-loved. It’s terribly painful.

May our boxes be more flexible, God… and may we learn love.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. evenshine
    Oct 15, 2008 @ 16:45:46

    Well said. The tension inherent in living love while speaking truth is a difficult one. Pegs are easy but seldom are they correct, and your point about having flexible boxes is well taken. Cheers.

    Reply

  2. Tim
    Oct 26, 2008 @ 21:21:01

    Appreciate what you’ve written. I do see the self-preservation thing in my life and what I perceive in others. Combine that with pride, insecurities and not understanding but not necessarily applying how to love others in a Christ-like way then it starts to connect. “Ohhh, I have to love people the way Christ loved me as in completely. I thought I only had to love them until I found a flaw …”. I know no one has ever actually consciously thought this (I could be mistaken however, but would like to extend the benefit of the doubt to the rest of humanity) but if we could give captions to our behaviors and actions, I think some of my (and our) life would say this.

    One thing that you wrote that I hesitate in commenting about because it sounds so arrogant in print but what’s the point of discussion boards that seek honesty? So here it goes – Though I fail a million times at this and will a million more, I am trying to stop categorizing people by introverts and extroverts, etc. and unlearn even some of things that we’re learning in our classes Biblical. Unlearn is the wrong word but maybe practice restraint if the label I put on a person is going to create a barrier that will limit the kindness/love that I would show.
    That may not make sense and it’s hard to put it in words. And you can never really not know something that you know … right? But I’ve noticed that it helps me in being a better brother to those I’ve written of as “constantly critical so here we go again” or “here comes the long talker … with bad breath”. Better to try to be surprised again – makes me slightly more gracious.
    Well extroverted, judgmental, blogging lady, I am going to practice this.

    Reply

  3. Mike
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 00:27:16

    Over the past nearly two weeks, I’ve read this post several times and been touched by it, and differently, every time.

    Perhaps because I count you among my dearest friends, and we agree so much of the time, but live our agreements so differently (like maybe when it comes to politics…), I see myself in your post, perhaps more than you meant for me to, more than I’m even really there.

    I’ve even tried to comment several times. But I’ve never been able to clearly and lucidly express what it is I want to say.

    But reading again, tonight, and reading Tim’s comment, too, I decided to try again. Because of the word flaw in Tim’s comment. We are all flawed. And if we only loved until we encountered each other’s flaws, it would be a lonely empty world, indeed.

    I love what you’re saying here about “flexible boxes.” To a certain extent, we need to box each other, to generalize for present interaction and future reference from past experience. Our minds, after all, are locked in to heuristic frames of reference, and we make comparisons and generalizations all the time. Like traveling to large cities: I’ve been to New York and Chicago and Cleveland and San Francisco and Denver several times, and I lived in Columbus for three years, so if I ever go to LA or Miami, I’ll have some idea how to “be” in those places. They’re similar, but not the same, so I have to be flexible enough to accommodate the differences. Maybe it’s the same with the long-talkers, loud-mouths, and liberals.

    I need those labels to have any idea how to interact (and to overcome my own inherent introversion to the point where meaningful interaction is possible), but, as you point out, I need also to be flexible enough in applying those labels that the label (or the box) doesn’t become that person for me.

    And I am careful of that—extremely careful; perhaps too careful at times. I feel as though it’s a flaw (or a “flaw”) in me that I try not to express any expectation for or of anyone.

    My question for you, then, and for your other readers is this: Can such flexibility be taken too far? Is it possible to say, too much, in any type of relationship, “I want to know you for who you are, and I will treat you with love and respect, no matter what labels you choose to wear or I find useful for understanding you”?

    Reply

  4. evenshine
    Oct 27, 2008 @ 10:43:41

    “Is it possible to say, too much, in any type of relationship, “I want to know you for who you are, and I will treat you with love and respect, no matter what labels you choose to wear or I find useful for understanding you”?”
    I’m not sure what ‘too much’ would look like. Love is that balance between embracing a person for who they are, while “sharpening” them as well. No one is completely disconnected, but no one can ever be completely connected with another individual. You make that point in your 6th paragraph- we need labels to order reality, but to depend on them can lead to error.
    Blessings.

    Reply

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