I am learning, learning, learning about love. Everyday. All the time. Not just romantic love, because, HELLOOO– Terrifying. But real love. All kinds of love. What it is. What it’s not. What feels like love. What decidedly does NOT feel like love. I even have a Pinterest board called, “Love or Something Like It” that I’ve been working on for a while now. 389 pins. But who’s counting? I know the name seems a little vague, but here’s the thing– We think OF COURSE we know what love is. But do we really? I don’t always know that I do. But I do know I want to get better at it. All of it. (So it’s almost like Pinterest is EDUCATIONAL. Smiling. I am totally smiling at this thought.)
And so recently, while I was ruminating about love, I unintentionally had identical conversations with two different people who land on two totally different paradigms of what is a very messy issue~
A friend and I are chatting casually about God, church, relationships and such. She talks about being raised in a deeply religious home, with extremely zealous parents, particularly her father. She refers to him as the type of guy who would stand on street corners downtown, handing out Christian literature and telling people Jesus loves them. (I know. Cringe worthy) But she went on to say that her dad is THE kindest person she knows. Super loving, super friendly. And then somehow, segues into telling me that her brother is gay.
“Ohhhh man. In such a religious family, how the heck did that go over? How did your parents handle that?” I asked in total wonder. (Sadly preparing for the worst.)
“They were actually okay about it. I mean, it was hard, but it’s their son. They love him and support him. What could they do about it? We’re all close. It’s fine. I mean, we love him.”
Another close friend and I are chatting. She is lamenting that she has not heard from her son, who also happens to be gay. She can’t understand why he doesn’t come to visit. Rarely calls. Doesn’t seem to make time for her. She misses him. She has, however, made it repeatedly clear that she does not accept that he is gay. Does not approve of his lifestyle. Cannot condone it. Refuses to try to understand. To try and…adjust. And no, he is not welcome to bring his partner when he visits. She will not have “that” in her home. ‘He needs to respect her beliefs and her wishes.’ And so there she sits. Alone. And sad. But by God, sticking to her principles. And while I try to empathize with the seeming complexity of the issue, I’m so struck by the fact that she could make different choices that would lead to better outcomes– and yet how she would rather draw a hard-line, regardless of the cost and loss it has led to.
I get that this can be complicated. And messy. And gray. And I also get that very many of you will absolutely land squarely on one side or the other, with no doubt in your mind and actually tell me that it’s clearly black and white for you. I can’t answer tough theological questions about it. I can’t even say anything all that profound about it. And it’s totally within the realm of the way I think to actually hold a few opposing thoughts about the whole thing. But I can tell you this: I know which one feels like love. And which one doesn’t.
Conversation #1 felt like love to me. It felt like Jesus-love to me, because I’m quite sure it was sacrificial love; As though this mom and dad had a love so big, and so wide, and so deep, they were able to lay down their “rights” as parents, their need for religion to reign, so that love could reign instead. It saved their family, but it also may have saved their son. I walked away feeling grateful. Grateful for generous love. Grateful for love that accepts, forgives, overlooks, embraces. For love that leads to life.
Conversation #2 was hard. It was frustrating. Stiff. Stubborn. It was sad. I couldn’t help but think about the years that are being wasted while they both miss out on so much because of my friend’s daily conscious choice to not love her son unconditionally. It has felt hopeless to try to expand her thinking in any way~
I get that you have your beliefs. I get that it makes you uncomfortable. But what I don’t get is your inability to set all of that aside for the sake of love. For the sake of your son. For the sake of wholeness in your family. And really, for your own sake. I know you– and I want to believe that you possess bigger love than that in the deepest places of your heart. After all, you love ME– and damn if I couldn’t give you a thousand reasons why I’m not entirely worthy of love either.
The lack of love here has led to death– the death of relationships, of family, of connection. And it’s being grieved daily. By both parties.
I think what makes me most sad is that my friend thinks she’s loving Jesus in her convictions. And so that’s why I try so very hard not to judge her. She.Thinks.She’s Loving.Jesus. By refusing to accept her son and his lifestyle. And it reminds me of all the times I thought I was loving Jesus by judging and correcting and refusing to accept. And I grieve that now. That misperception of love. That disullisionment.
I certainly could never claim to know exactly what Jesus is thinking. But everywhere I look in the Bible, love comes first. Always. Love above everything else. Because love leads to life. And if we’re still ever asking the question, “What would Jesus do?”, I can’t help but think it seems pretty clear. Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” And when it comes to love, all I know is, I want to do better.
If this is an issue you wrestle with and you’d like to read more, please read about one couple’s heartrending journey with their son over at Rage Against the Minivan.