I Love You But…

Let’s be honest, there is always going to be something we don’t like about our friends and family.  No one is perfect and we all have flaws, but what I’m interested in is how we love people despite their imperfections.  I know it must be possible because I’ve felt it; I’ve experienced genuine love from people who knew my flaws and failures. Sometimes it seems like this is a result of ignoring or overlooking these seemingly small issues and choosing to see only the good in people.  Other times it can be accomplished by choosing to see flaws as quirks or alternative life choices instead of deep moral failings.  That’s not what I’m talking about, though, because people can tell the difference.  People know when there’s a silent “but” at the end of your “I love you.”

I think a key component is realizing that you can’t really love someone if you are overlooking their flaws.  Turning a blind eye to something potentially harmful isn’t love and neither is harboring anger and judgement and simply avoiding the topic.  Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying to just modify your feelings, thoughts, beliefs etc. in order to make space for other people’s hangups.  This is where the difficulty lies; as with most things, I think the key is hidden somewhere between the two extremes in some mythical middle ground.

While I wanted to discuss this in a more generic way without relating it back to LGBT stuff, I think it’s important to note that in many cases, the “agree to disagree” approach just isn’t sufficient.  When the topic is something external and relatively innocuous, this may work, but when talking about something as personal and emotion-laden as a person’s sexual or gender identity, a key aspect of who they are as a person which touches nearly every aspect of their past, present, and future, simply agreeing to disagree often times just won’t cut it.  I think they key to this conundrum might lie in our definition of love which my pastor always describes as “willing the other person’s good.”  If you are truly and honestly seeking the best that God has for your friend or family member, you should be able to convey your disagreement in a way that doesn’t make them feel attacked, ashamed, rejected, or insufficient.  You should be able to make it clear that this minor point of contention is nothing when compared with the overwhelming affection you feel towards them.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this has been a tough piece to write, primarily because the questions it asks are at the heart of the conflict that has raged within me for the last few years: the place where my desire to love like Jesus meets my futile attempts at living as a righteous child of God.  Matthew 5 concludes with the impossible directive to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” and that is a command I have tried to take very seriously in my life despite the fact that I’ve never been anywhere near achieving it.  However, I think it is also important to note what is said just before this, a reminder that “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” That’s God’s way of showing His love for us: no matter how badly we’re failing at living up to His standards, He set a flaming orb in the sky to give us heat, and life and light and He causes droplets of moisture to condense in the air and fall down on us to our delight and dismay. Wherever we are on that continuum from perverse to perfect, we all experience the same rain and the same sun.

I’m Not the Same Person

A thought occurred to me the other day that, as I’m slowly growing and maturing, I essentially become a new person every decade or so.  I imagine this is true of most people and I began to ponder the theological implications of this.  When I first accepted Christ, I was around four years old and I did it because my mom wanted me to.  I don’t remember much about the situation and what I do remember, may not be completely accurate, but I seem to recall my mom asking me if I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart and I could tell by the way she asked that my answer should be yes.  Then she asked me to repeat after her and I did and she was happy.  Not long after that, I was baptized  and I pretty clearly remember that my primary motivation for that was the fact that the baptism was in a pool and I was promised I could go swimming afterwards.  Now, I’m not saying this to slight my mom or her methods of discipling me, that’s a topic for another post.  The reason I bring this up is to show the mindset I was in at the time; I was a child and therefore my understanding of God and what it means to follow him were limited.

Years later, towards the end of my time in high school, I realized just how ignorant I was when I first gave my life to Christ and decided to re-dedicate myself to Him.  This time, I wasn’t baptized, but I did go forward during a youth event and pray with my youth pastor and, for a time, I felt that I had become a mature Christian.  It’s only recently that I’ve become aware of just how little I knew back then and this has lead me to wonder if, as Christians, we should somehow formally re-dedicate our lives and possibly be re-baptized as we grow into these new people with new understanding.  At least for me, it feels like the promises I made at four to follow Christ don’t mean much, they were a misguided attempt and being a obedient.  My re-dedication in my teen years was more authentic, but still lacking much of the maturity and wisdom I now poses.  It almost feels like I need to check in with God and say, “Even though I am now able to perceive more of what following you means and how difficult it can be, now that I know it’s not going to solve all my problems and may at times create more, I’m still in this.”

How Best to Love

I find it interesting that for almost every argument in all of Christendom, someone has argued the point that love is the most important thing, that God is love, or that, of faith, hope, and love, the greatest of these is love.  How can this same argument be used for both sides of every disagreement?  I think what it comes down to is we often fundamentally disagree on how best to love those around us.

The definition of love that my pastor likes to use is “to will the good of another” which, while simple and beautiful, leaves a lot of gray area regarding how we ought to act towards one another.  In many instances, it’s self explanatory, don’t murder, steal from, or otherwise harm other people.  In short, treat others as you would like to be treated.  However, what happens when things become a little less clear and how I want to be treated is different from how you want to be treated?  What happens when we act in what we think is someone’s best interest, but in reality, we’re causing more harm than good?

For example, what if I found out a friend was having a difficult time in her relationship with her husband and I decided to bring this up to my prayer group.  I could see that as trying to help and being concerned for my friend’s well being, meanwhile, she could feel hurt and betrayed that I broke her trust.  As another example, many Christians vote against same sex marriage based on their belief that such a relationship would be sinful and therefore decrease a person’s likelihood of entering Heaven.   They do this (or at least claim to do this) out of love, but gay couples hoping to marry see it as rejection of their deepest selves, a dismissal of their rights, or plain hatred.  When we claim to be doing something out of love, we need to honestly examine our motives and be sure what we’re arguing for is the truth and not an unexamined belief.

Now, that’s not to say that we can’t question someone’s actions and confront them out of love.  I definitely believe there is a time and a place to broach the subject of sin in someone’s life, just make sure you don’t have a log in your own eye first.  Also, make sure you and the other person are on the same page.  People aren’t going to want to change their behavior if you haven’t first convinced them that it’s unhealthy/unbiblical and that distinction might not be as clear to them as it is to you.

Familial Support

I’m always inspired by the stories of young gay people who come out to their Christian parents and find that, though they may be resistant at the beginning, their parents love them enough to see them through the difficult journey of figuring out how their faith and sexuality fit together.  I sometimes find myself wishing that my mom’s reaction had been more in that vein, that she had told me she would stand by me no matter what.  That if it came to choosing between me and her faith, that she would choose me.  At the same time, it’s a tough spot to be in.  I do believe that God should take the highest place in our lives and I believe I would always want her to put God’s desires above her own or my own like a modern day Abraham and Isaac, but I do wish that it was little bit of a harder decision than it seems.  I wish that part of her wanted to choose me even if that wasn’t her final decision.  I imagine that’s probably a selfish desire; we shouldn’t ever want to be more important than God in another person’s life, but at the same time, it would be a nice feeling.

I was reminded of this topic after listening to a podcast interview with Matt Jones where he talks about his parents’ reaction when he told them he was gay.  At first, they were very upset by it and took him to a counseling to help fix him, but I was moved to tears when he describes how, after a particularly intense session, his dad went back to the counselor and said, “If I were gay, and I heard you say those things that you told my son, I would go home and put a gun to my head and that would be on you.”  To me, that’s conveys such a strong desire to protect and I wish that I felt that from my parents sometimes.  Maybe it’s because I waited so long to tell them and was fully an adult by then and not a child needing comfort.  Maybe it’s because I didn’t cry or really show much emotion beyond some nerves.  Whatever the case, I wish my mom’s primary concern at that moment hadn’t been for my eternal soul, but for her hurting fearful son sitting in front of her, even if it was just for that one night.

I do want to be clear about something, though.  My parents are wonderful people.  They love me and they did an awesome job raising me.  They instilled me with a healthy sense of self worth and regularly made sacrifices to give me the best life they could.  They raised me in the church and modeled a life of strong faith in Christ.  In fact, I believe the reason that I am who I am today, the reason I’m (relatively) well adjusted while so many other gay people growing up in Christian homes commit suicide or end up on the streets, is because of the strength and love my parents showed me.  They weren’t perfect, but I love my parents with all my heart and couldn’t have asked for more.

Be Not Far From Me, My God

My sophomore year of college, I took a class called Psychology of Religion.  It was one of my favorite classes and it caused me to really evaluate some parts of my faith that I never had before.  I remember one day in particular, we were discussing worship music and that feeling you get when you really press in and praise God.  My professor told us about a study that showed that the type of brain activity that happens when worshiping God is similar to what it would be at a concert; it’s believed to be caused by the energy of the music and the excitement of the crowd which, to me, made it seem like that feeling was somehow false or dishonest.  If I could have the same reaction by just getting into live music, then maybe that feeling wasn’t God’s presence or the Holy Spirit like I had always thought.  This didn’t really make me doubt my faith, but it did cause me to stop worshiping in the way had been accustomed to.  At first, I thought that I just needed to stop making it about me and the feeling I got and just praise Him, but I began to realize I couldn’t really separate the two; when I tried, I just became bland singing with no emotion behind it.  Then I tried for a more solemn earnest worship experience where I considered the words and tried to sing them as a prayer.  This helped me feel closer to God in some ways, but the lack of energy made me feel like there was no one on the other end of my prayers.  I tried to worship God and talk to Him, but without letting my emotions get in the way so that I could prove it was really Him and not a trick of my brain chemistry, but nothing comes through.  So now, I’m left to wonder, does God’s silence, the lack of any type of touch or sense of Him, mean he doesn’t exist or do I need to let go and allow Him to communicate with me through my own thoughts and emotions and, if so, how do I know that I’m any different from someone experiencing some form of psychosis?  How do I know when a thought of feeling is God or just something in my human brain.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when people attribute things (ideas, circumstances, opinions, etc.) with no foundation.  I’ve tried really hard never to do that, but it’s possible that I may need to trust in Him, pray, and do my best to discern what’s really from God.