I Am Afraid to Love   10 comments

After reading “Tattoos,” Kimberly and I drove an hour to visit a friend of hers at Smith Mountain Lake, and we continued talking about unconditional love.  Why is it so hard for me to extend grace to those who show no remorse for the bad things they do?   Why do I so naturally feel grace for the victim and balk at gracing the aggressor?  Why am I afraid to love?  What am I afraid of?  Why does it make me feel so vulnerable?

As I talk this out with Kimberly, I suddenly realize the source of my fear.  From the time I was in diapers I learned that transgressors can only win back a good standing by feeling very sorry for what they have done.  To offer grace to those who are unrepentant is simply enabling their bad behavior.   Instead, show your unhappiness and disappointment, give them the cold shoulder that they deserve so they will be motivated to change.  When they change, embrace them fully.  Giving grace to those who are hurtful is a sure way of giving them a green light to hurt again.

During the school year, I supervise student workers at Lynchburg College library.  I was amazed at how my boss Belinda could be friendly to someone she was about to correct, asking them with genuine interest about their studies or family matters.  This was not my style at all.  I was sure that being friendly when someone was late to work or cut corners would simply encourage their irresponsibility.  But the students listened to Belinda.  If anything, her friendliness made them more inclined to do what she asked.  She was for them, even if she had to let them go, and they sensed this.  I could see her way of relating was better than mine, but it directly contradicted decades of thought patterns and emotional systems I had grown into.

I was sure that if someone disrespected or mistreated me and I was kind in return, they would continue their behavior, and I would slowly, inevitably grow more resentful and angry.  I only saw two choices: I could be friendly and let things slide or I could be unfriendly and challenge them.  I could not imagine squeezing care and confrontation into the same interaction or relationship.

I think one major problem is that I tend to evaluate behavior as right or wrong, and then try to enforce the right.  It sure makes things appear simple and straightforward.  However,  I realize that conflicts with Kimberly are really personal and relational issues, and if I try to make it about who is right and who is wrong, we get lost in defensiveness and the argument simply escalates.  When we try to approach a problem with sharing and understanding instead, we resolve the conflict and both grow from the interchange.  I can support her feelings and experience without abandoning my own if I do not insist that there is only one right perspective.

If I suffer because of another person’s behavior, I can either determine that they are wrong and must change or I can see it as a relational problem that needs to be addressed.  “You lied and that is wrong.  Don’t do it again.”  Or, “When you lied it hurt me.  What was going on with you that you felt the need to lie?”  I find grace is lost in the shuffle for me with the first approach, and grace is a very natural part of the second approach (though I have an uncanny ability to inject dis-grace into any situation, even with a tone of voice).  When I assign blame and push for change, I turn the situation into a showdown and we square off.  A boxer may have tensions with his manager, even irreconcilable conflicts, but the manager is always in his corner, he is not the opponent in the ring.



Posted June 23, 2011 by janathangrace in Uncategorized

10 responses to “I Am Afraid to Love

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  1. Good read Janathan. Often in my work I have to separate “the issue” from “the person”. We do not hire bad people, just regular people who occasionally do “bad things” or make “bad choices”.

    I remember several bad choices in my life, and I had to suffer the consequences. Sometimes one bad choice leads to another…and so on.

    However, that does not make one a bad person… it just makes one an idiot!

    I recall with fondness Jack Layman in front of the Gym casually asking me “Greg, do you think you are ready to be off social restriction?” I knew the answer was a big NO, but I said “sure I am.” Bad choice #23456a

    lol Love ya buddy,

  2. Thanks for reading and responding, Greg. If I had made more “bad” decisions earlier in life, I may have been more open to grace instead of continuing to try to win my worth with goodness.

  3. I agree that people are not all plusses nor all minuses…just as I have plusses and minuses riddled throughout my thinking and choices and story. I think what I am becoming more and more frustrated and disappointed with is that those who think in the plus/minus fashion are legalistic AND those who think in the Christian culture defined love/grace and forgiveness seem to be forgetting truth/accountability/trust etc.

    • Elisabeth, thanks for reading and commenting. I think I understand the former group you mention, I’m not sure I understand the last clearly. Do you mean there is a Christian culture that suggests unbiblical behavior has no downside or that it has a downside, but is the business of no one but the person themselves, or what exactly?

      • Sorry …it is hard to communicate because it seems so right…how can love and grace and forgiveness be wrong? Within the Christian culture that I have been around (and I have been around it a long time) it seems that they define (or the reality of what is preached is lived out) that the pendulum has swung the other way from legalism. Legalism is a big no no….love/grace and forgiveness are the words and life to live. Unfortunately it means that truth/accountability and trust somehow lost in there… Responses when asked about a situation will be that if you seek to speak up about something then you are not forgiving…or it is not your place since you are a sinner too…or if you have forgiven then you will trust the person with an open heart… or love is without conditions therefore you are not loving or that the issue (of unrighteousness) will be handled by the ultimate judge and cannot be handled by us now…etc. I don’t know if that makes sense but it feels just as “wrong” as legalism…

  4. When I was a freshman in h.s. I was having issues with a kid across the hall (boarding school). He would always make fun of me and my last name. I decided that I was not going to let anyone make fun of me at this new school so I was always trying to “get him back.” Of course I would get caught and disciplined. Then one day my hall monitor named Kent told me to basically ignore the other kid when he was trying to provoke me. I took that advice and in a few weeks we became friends. In fact, David became my closest friend during h.s.

    I recall that event in my life (and I’ve used that advice often) because I think that there are a lot of ways to love. Especially when dealing with people doing wrong. I have seen parents give the look and the behavior changes and at other times it doesn’t. I have seen others follow the “kind” or “friend” line and have great success and great failure.

    I wonder, does God use all these “responses” at different times and with different people?

    I find loving people very difficult. By people I mean individuals, groups are a little easier. Maybe because it is so hard and “risky.” I much rather stay in my own world and not reach out. The problem with that is I know I am missing out on a lot. Life can get lonely at times.

    I think most people don’t love others at least not the way we should. Our nature traps us in the very things you wrote about in your blog. There are exceptions. Thank God that there are. The greatest exception being Christ.

    I am very thankful that Christ loves me the way I should love those around me and not the way that I love them.

  5. @Elisabeth–I guess I would have to be involved with the particular interaction to understand clearly the dynamics. I think you are right that many folks misunderstand grace and love to mean we should overlook someone’s poor behavior. Certainly love sometimes responds in that way, but I think love always does what is best for the other person and for the relationship. If i really care about someone, and I think they are making a choice that is going to hurt them, and I feel my involvement would be beneficial, I would think love motivates me to get involved. On the other hand, I know that I have often tried to correct others in a way that is not loving (not trying to understand their perspective, experience, feelings, being critical, conveying without words that I think I am better, etc.). People usually react negatively to that input, either doing right out of shame (which is an unhealthy turn) or justifying their behavior. I really thought I was acting in love, but I was not.

    • I don’t think you have to know a specific situation but just generally not some slight offense or personality difference but rather gross unrighteousness like child abuse or sex trafficking etc. When someone wants to speak up, there is an immediate hue and cry amongst the Christians that the victim should forgive and offer grace…and what that means is that silence should be held… Where is the place of truth and accountability in the love/grace swing of the pendulum? Is there no one to stand for righteousness except for Jesus at the judgement seat…there is no present hope…only a future hope? Forgiveness and grace as defined by the Christian culture seems weak and impotent just as much as legalism seems brutal and inflexible. Those who don’t follow Christ seem more able to say this (ie abuse/genocide) is wrong and should be stopped and those involved should be held accountable.

  6. @Mike–thanks for your words and sharing. I really believe that when God created us, he understood what would damage us or benefit us and in love gave us guidelines to help us avoid the harm and embrace the blessing. That leads me to believe that the goal is not to reach perfect conformity to law, but to reach my full potential personally and relationally, so the guidelines are a means, not an end (and only one of many “means of grace”). I think motivation is far more significant than behavior. I agree with you that God can use anything, even bad things, in our lives to our benefit, but I think that right behavior is not necessarily a sign of someone’s spiritual health. If that is true, how we motivate someone is more important than what behavior we motivate them to do. If we use fear or shame to motivate them, I think the resulting good behavior may be a worse choice than bad behavior for several reasons. What do you think?

  7. Good post! here’s an article that you might find interesting to read on the grace/legalism debate. be sure to read the comments. http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2011/06/21/an-open-letter-to-mr-grace-loving-antinomian/comment-page-1/?comments#comments

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