I was speaking with a life long friend over the phone yesterday. We were both so deeply grieved in our conversation over the state of the world that it was overwhelming to even choose a topic to discuss. We each took turns, venting our frustrations, our hurts, our pains and griefs, feeling massive relief to get the burdens off our chest. We don’t see eye to eye on everything, but we made space for each other to speak freely. The one thing we found as a similar thread to all that bothered us was the lack of importance on protecting relationships over the need to push our narratives on one anther. It seems to me that we are more concerned about pushing our narratives, ‘waking’ those around us rather than making space for each other and loving each other well.
Our thoughts, our opinions and our ideologies are taking precedent over the person. God called us to love him and love our neighbour. Our world is no longer the tight knit communities and villages it used to be, making the definition of neighbour broader and harder to define. We are a global community, connecting with people across the world through social media and news from other cities and countries. Suddenly our ‘neighbour’ feels like the whole world. When a ‘neighbour’ is hurt in another country we become more concerned about what it looks like to love them properly, instead of loving the people we physically interact with.
Our views are now global views instead of village views. We are more concerned about fixing the whole world and changing global societal narratives and global cultures, over being concerned about the people who are physically closest to us, our neighbours. I’m not naive enough to think that this logic only applies to the very houses built next to me, I understand that ‘our neighbours’ is a bit of a broader term. However, the point still remains the same. When we look over our lives and remember our hurts and pains, they come from the people around us, family, co-workers, friends, once close but now only social media friends, church groups and physical neighbours. The very people we should be focusing on loving, the people who should be loving us in return.
We have become so focused on the larger narrative that we’ve forgotten how to love our neighbours. We do not fix the world by jumping to the world itself, we fix the world by first fixing ourselves. Once we work through our own brokenness we will then have the capacity to love others through their brokenness. I cannot learn to love people I don’t know if I do not learn how to love the people I do know.
Jesus talks about how in the end (I do not identify as a Revelations Bible thumper) how the love of many will grow cold, Matthew 24:12 – though 1-14 is worth reading. I’ve always interpreted this verse as our love towards God will grow cold, but I think Jesus is referring to our love towards one another. I can see this happening already, we are more in love with our ideologies than each other, while still claiming to love God. The backlash I already feel coming in saying this is that the ideologies preached are for the purpose of better loving each other, but I would ask you, how are these narratives preventing you from loving those directly around you? Are you at odds with people around you because they believe something different than you?
We are forgetting how to put relationship first. We are forgetting how to love our neighbours. Our love is growing cold. Jesus said it plainly, when we do on to others we are loving him. When we feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, care for the sick and clothe the naked we are in fact loving God. Jesus is not physically walking the earth, he is not sitting in my living room, I cannot physically love him directly. He made it clear, when we love each other we are loving him, Matthew 25:34-40. Losing our ability to put relationship first is losing our ability to love God through the care-taking of each other. When we stand before Christ at the end of our lives he will only ask us one thing, how well did you love. I don’t see him asking how well we loved people who weren’t in our lives, or how well did we loved the ideology that causes us to love one another, I see him asking specific names, how did you love ___________, so-and-so, or this person or that person, or were you more in love with the idea of how to love them.
We fix the world by fixing the things around us and loving the people around us, not creating a divide with those living around us while claiming to love the world at large, this only creates a larger division. We’ve created a backdoor solution to the loving our neighbour command by only surrounding ourselves with people we like and are easy to love. I’m guilty of this too. Think for a minute, who have you pushed out of your life because they were too difficult to love and then claimed that you love everyone in your life? Our curated communities of like-minded thinkers are not the neighbours Jesus is talking about.
The topic of ‘toxic people’ will now be the backlash to my just mentioned ideas. I agree that there are such things as toxic people, people who are physically harming us, emotionally harming us or verbally harming us. However, I see more and more that ‘toxic people’ are being defined as people who simply think differently than us, who live their lives differently. This is not toxicity, this is culture, this is brokenness, this is the nature of human nature. If you are being damaged (defined as having detrimental effect on – look up the definition of damage) in any way by another person, this is toxic, if you are being offended by another person, this is not toxic, this is division. I would ask, are you able to maintain relationship with people you do not agree with, because the relationship itself is more important than your ideologies? Can you get into a heated debate with this person and still laugh with them, calling them a friend afterwards, or do you un-friend them and remove them from your life, labeling them as a ‘toxic person’ because ‘you don’t need that kind of negatively in your life’, while still claiming to love those around you, narrowing your community to only like-minded thinkers?
People are really hard to love. It’s really hard to stay committed to a person because you value the relationship over what they are doing or saying. Loving each other is the hardest commandment God has asked us to keep. The ten commandments in and of themselves are relatively easy to keep, but maintaining love for each other can feel beyond impossible. I cannot love well without first allowing the love of God to reside in me, for him to love me first. To do this I have to allow God into my own brokenness and shame, feeling the discomfort of my darkness being revealed to Christ, ultimately allowing God to bring redemption to my brokenness.
Knowing what it is like to be loved by Christ through your own darkness allows you to make space for the brokenness and darkness of others. It give us the hope needed to push through the discomfort of relationship, knowing that God’s love and redemption for others is what is waiting on the other side. The only problem is we no longer like to feel uncomfortable, we don’t like conflict or debate, we don’t know how to sit with each other through discomfort. Holding the tension of discomfort is not fun, walking with someone through the valley of their brokenness is devastating. But we’ve learned that if someone is ruining our happiness or causing us discomfort we have the right to cut them out of our lives in the name of ‘toxic personalities’ and preservation of our own joy and happiness. This very belief is toxic to the command of loving our neighbours.
We need to learn to be uncomfortable. We need to learn again what it is to sit in the presence of someone else that disagrees with us and still be able to love them, putting relationship with them first. We need to again learn what it is to love our neighbours, without feeling the need to push our theologies. We need to learn selfless relationship where we can sit with someone and only ask questions, not tell, leaving the conversation without uttering a word of our own narrative. We need to learn again what it is to offer people grace over cultural beliefs that are void of grace. Grace is given because we desire others to have it, not because they deserve it. But how can we understand the gift it is to give someone else grace unless we ourselves have received it, knowing its impact? We must start loving others by first receiving the love of Christ, by feeling the discomfort of God drawing near to our brokenness and shame, offering us redemption and grace. Only by knowing this can we then understand what it is to draw near to someone else’s brokenness, desiring them to receive redemption and the gift of grace.
We love because he first loved us.
God used my marriage, the thing I wanted most in the whole world, to teach me how to sit in the discomfort of my own brokenness with him. He used it to teach me how to sit in the discomfort of someone else’s brokenness, learning how to offer grace as a gift, not as something that is deserved. Through that journey I have discovered that my capacity for the brokenness and darkness of others has expanded. I am no longer uncomfortable to hear of someone’s failures or darkness, wanting to extend to them the grace that I felt for myself and my marriage. Jesus is so much bigger then our fears, our ideologies, and our narratives. Perhaps Jesus is using the trials that we are facing today to teach us how to sit in discomfort. Perhaps he is using these times to shine the light on the areas of our own brokenness. The light is often shined on our own brokenness by what we are offended by in other people. It is not the darkness of someone else you are offended by, it is the avoidance of your own darkness that sets you on edge. We have to first face ourselves before we can face each other.