A random thought popped up this morning when I saw this picture.
It’s not difficult to think of examples of the hatefulness in which we all engage, at least to some degree. Our humor is rooted in making somebody the butt of jokes, until recently we made fun of people’s ethnicity, race, personality traits, intelligence, and everything else with very few boundaries, blaming the people who were the butt of jokes for being too sensitive rather than looking in the mirror to see our own insensitivity.
It’s easy to hate on things and people on social media — and many of us blame our aggression on the platform, but letters served the same function since they were invented, it just took longer to get the sick burn. I’m positive there are hieroglyphs on some long-forgotten wall that says, “How do you kill a Mesopotamian? Put spikes on their woven reed shoulder pads! lol”.
What’s interesting to me is not only the ease with which we hurl insults, but how good we can get at letting them roll off our backs; but more, how uncomfortable almost everyone I know gets when someone says something genuinely loving or kind to them, myself included. I can take it when someone tells me what a jerk I am. I know how to deal with someone who disagrees strongly, and though I do have a few things I get worked up about, most things I don’t take personally. I’m super good at zingers and snappy comebacks.
But let someone love me in an unguarded way…and I’m lost.
I remember the first time Lauren gave me a deeply loving look. It was early in our relationship, maybe a month or two in. It was a look that I’d never seen before, that I saw for the first time from her. It’s the look that says, “I know you — all of you — and I love you”.
It made me so immediately and unavoidably uncomfortable that I probably looked away. I remember feeling embarrassed for not only the depth of my discomfort, but also shame for the fact that this love that I’d hoped and prayed for affected me in a way so counter to what I’d expected. I remember it so clearly that I can feel it again in my stomach right now, nearly 19 years later.
I remember her eyes, wide open and vulnerable in a way she seldom is with anyone, and I could see her in a way I’d never experienced in my life. I admired her for her toughness, but I never anticipated how tough her tenderness could be.
If she’d said something sarcastic in the moment I think I would have felt better, but to experience such a pure love offered from someone in that way was one of the most difficult things I’ve encountered. To this day she gives me this look, and I’ve learned to love it and to love the discomfort it still brings.
But it’s true — tenderness is tough.
I find love so much more difficult to accept without embarrassment than hate. I see this in so many people: criticize them and they’re ready to go; love them and they are utterly disarmed.
Hate is easy; love is hard.
A Disarming Love
Like most people, I spend a fair amount of time disgusted with myself; both for things I can’t control and things that I think I should be able to control but either choose not to or find impossible (like my mouth). When we spend so much time being hyper-critical of ourselves because we compare our worst to the best of what we see in others, the idea that we’re worthy of love seems a foreign concept.
It’s not hard to understand why we’re hyper-critical of ourselves when we live in a culture that promotes this exacting unrealistic metric to be used in all circumstances, and I participate fully if I’m not in a good frame of mind: “I waited 5 minutes longer than I expected, this whole operation sucks!”; “I can’t believe that person used this word instead of that word, their whole argument is crap now, despite that the rest makes some reasonable assertions!”; “I can’t believe I asked where my present is when I was 5 years old and saw someone walk through the door with a bag of them for other people, I’m so stupid.”.
We hear from our culture that we’re rugged individuals who shouldn’t need anyone, shouldn’t want anyone, shouldn’t want anything from anyone that we can’t somehow provide for ourselves. When someone offers us something for free, anything we don’t feel we earned in some way, it makes us suspicious and uncomfortable.
But Lauren looked at me.
For the first time, I felt like someone saw me.
And for the first time, I knew this for the lie it is.
When someone tells us what we secretly long to hear, that they love us for who we are and not what we can do for them, it breaks the fourth wall of the American myth that we can do it all, all by ourselves.
So maybe it’s no wonder that the American Christic Cult, our culture’s popular idolatry, teaches that its god is constantly angry with us and wants us to know — with love — how much we suck and deserve whatever bad things come our way, and that any good things we get are a sign of that idol’s favor. When our nation’s Cult lifts up greed, and individual achievements, and fulfillment of our most selfish desires as the ultimate virtues; and when the god of our culture is cruel and passive aggressive, we learn the lesson that love is out of place in our core identity because the very nature of love is unselfish and leads us out of selfish desire into communal identity.
When someone loves us in a way that reveals to us the deepest nature of love itself, it makes us uncomfortable and squirmy (that’s a technical term…).
When we’ve learned that being disgusted with ourselves and ashamed of ourselves is the norm and we’ve spent our entire lives growing accustomed to that, is it any wonder that our culture deals so poorly with any kind of love that looks healthy?
Is it any wonder that a deep human love makes me uncomfortable?
It should come as no surprise that we cannot abide the truth of God, that love is unconditional, without creating in our own image an idol who hates what we hate because that is our frame of reference.
Love is so disarming because we have no recourse but to reject it when all we’ve learned is shame.
Just look what we do to the people who tell us about the possibility of Love that has no borders. We publicly execute them saying, “Let that be a lesson to the rest of you”.
The love that heals is the love that dispels the myths of our shame, our independence, and that our goal is to get what we want when we want it.
The love that heals is the love that is unconditional, teaching us that our value is not something earned by what we can do or possess, but it’s intrinsic in who we are because we are one people.
The difference between the Christian Church and the American Christic Cult is that in the Christian Church, repentance is not a word that inspires shame, but hope. Our confession of sins (the nasty things we do) and our Sin (the brokenness of our will that causes the nasty things we do) isn’t to shame us into being better; rather, confession is our way of approaching God with an honesty that opens us up to the possibility of God’s love.
God forgives us in our repentance, not because we change God’s wrath into love, but because in this state of honesty in relationship we’re able to see that God loves us, even when we were dead in Sin — even when we can’t believe that love could be true for us. In the honesty of our confession we can participate in that love because love is only experienced in the context of openness, and by confessing, we learn to be open to the presence of God because we exist in this renewed truth that though we are not perfect we are worthy of love because God declares it to be so.
God’s forgiveness isn’t a healing of God’s broken, hurting, angry, shamed heart. God’s forgiveness is the healing of our broken, hurting, angry, shamed hearts because Sin isn’t God’s problem, it’s ours. Even while we were enemies, Paul writes, Christ died for the ungodly.
There’s that fourth wall again: to love and be loved we have to accept the notion that we are not complete in ourselves, but that in our deepest nature we are created for community. Our rugged individualism is a lie. We need each other. The love of God reveals this truth, and in response to this truth we seek to kill God over and over again by worshiping the false idols created by the culture who needs them.
We didn’t somehow say a magic prayer to enter into this love or make a decision for Jesus that made us worthy.
God made a decision for us, and we are bound to the foot of the cross and the empty tomb to deal with the reality of the love that will not fail.
I blink and want to turn away — every time — I see this open, unconditional, vulnerable love because it defies the “truth” I think I know about myself and dares to tell me the truth that only Love can tell.
What truth can Love tell you?
What are the myths to which you cling that Love would dispel?
Will we ever be able to look into the face of love and not blink?
I hope so, and I hope not.