My friend Kate recently posted a blog entitled “Plato ruins your friendships.” In it, she explores the ideas of relationships and how our idea of love is often no more than emotional or mental attraction to certain people or things. We “love” someone or something, so long as it gives us the satisfaction, pleasure or validation that we need. She writes: “To some I thought love was giving my skin or my time or my tears. But most of the time my ‘love’ had to do with the short term, selfish fear of being left, and not the long term betterment of the other.”
Love so often has nothing to do with what’s actually good for the other person, for their long-term spiritual and emotional well-being. We give love to get love. We give love so the other person will love us back and soothe our fractured sense of self. We love because it makes us feel good. Loving others gives us the approval or validation that we crave, so we give and we give a LOT.
The Greeks had three words for love: philos, eros and agape. The highest form of love–the kind of love that God is described as being and the kind of love that Christ demonstrated for us and also calls us to is not brotherly love (philos) nor erotic love (eros). It is agape love, a love that sacrifices self for the betterment of the other person. And not a superficial love, but a deep love that is oriented toward the spiritual and emotional well-being of the other person.
This has been my meditation and struggle for the past month. I’ve found my heart exposed as I’ve realized that so many of my friendships and relationships are defined mostly by mere mental or emotional attraction, rather than from a deep commitment to serve the other person. Of course, I often convince myself that I do indeed have these deep shining moments of pure, unselfish love, and maybe I do, but so often every motive and motion is somehow tainted by a shade of selfishness or narcissism.
The older I become, the more broken I realize I am. And the worse and worse it feels dragging someone into that abyss with me.
I recently saw the film Inception. The reason I loved this film so much was not necessarily the special effects, the cast (although I do love me some Joseph Gordon-Lovitt) or tight writing or direction by Christopher Nolan. The film struck a deep emotional chord with me, and I felt my own private themes of guilt and fear and pain being played out on the screen in front of me. It reminded me of how delicate and dangerous relationships can be, when we keep the painful and dark things about ourselves locked and hidden away.
I’ve been drawn to reading Galatians lately, mostly because I think I struggle a lot with the same types of things the Galatians did. They vacillated from one extreme of finding their identity in performance and perfection, then failing at that, swung to the opposite extreme of complete indulgence. They had a near-impossible time finding freedom from “acting in” and “acting out.”
Paul, seeing this play out so destructively in this church, writes: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:13-15).
The call to love is clear. But I found that last bit to be disturbing, as I have previously read that part and not paid it much attention. Bite and devour one another? Consumed by one another? It sounds violent, sick and twisted. Then I realized how if we truly live out love–not as sacrificial giving the way Christ calls us to–but as mere emotional and mental attraction, then other people become mere objects, there to suit my own needs and whims and moods. It is so easy to be consumed by another person, and to let them consume you. Because when it’s happening, it feels right and it feels good. But it’s not freedom from the law–it’s just another form of slavery.
I know the way of freedom to love well is in the path of Christ, of the Spirit. But the actual day to day of living this out is confusing, often painful and frustrating. And unfortunately, there’s no manual. Because relationships–both with God and with each other–aren’t techniques to be performed or concepts to master. Relationships are complicated mysteries that grow and develop and breathe through long-term commitment.
Paul skips the “how to” and instead lists the evidence of life that is lived free and by the Spirit, famously known as the “fruit of the Spirit.” He says, “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”
To those of you that I have hurt and unknowingly dragged into my own dark basement of demons and issues, I am sorry. I am sorry that I have been selfish in how I love and give and relate to you. I can’t promise that it won’t happen again–or even that it’s not happening right now–but I will say that I feel I’m slowly, but insistently being pulled further down this path of finding freedom from my old ways of viewing people and loving people. And being found in the better way, the way of Christ.
And though I do not deserve it, I hope you will be patient with me.
“Love is not simply giving; it is judicious giving and judicious withholding as well. It is judicious praising and judicious criticizing. It is judicious arguing, struggling, confronting, urging, pushing and pulling in addition to comforting. It is leadership. The word “judicious” means requiring judgment, and judgment requires more than instinct; it requires thoughtful and often painful decision-making.” – The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck
Addendum: In re-reading this, I am realizing that the great irony of writing this blog is that some of you will be too quick to forgive me, to take this matter too lightly. And to not truly grasp the gravity of the offense I have committed against you. Some of you will not even believe me that I have done this to you.
Trust me, I have.
So I urge you… do not be too quick to unwittingly absolve me, lest we rob Christ and His cross of the power and glory.
But yes, His grace is great. And good.