What’s love got to do with it?
These days we’re hearing a lot from the news outlets about the horrors of racism played out in the worst ways – before our very eyes. And while I hate the fact that innocent men (and women) have died at the hands of bigots, I am grateful that I personally am having conversations with my friends of color – black, brown and tan – about issues that we have never EVER talked about.
I was just on Instagram and I saw more than five Christian leaders / pastors that I Follow, post quotes about Love. It’s an obvious and common theme right now, whether you are Christian or not. I saw friends of mine who posted quotes from Jesus in the Bible when he said that there are two main commandments we need to pin to the top of our Life Goal Checklist: 1. Love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and 2. Love our neighbor as ourselves.
All this talk about love brings me back to my opening question: What does Love have to do with any of this? Does our society even know what love means anymore? Our media is saturated with television shows that depict love as some fairy tale chance meeting with a soul mate that ends happily. Or, conversely, a one-night stand that was a little more meaningful than the other ones. People throw the word ‘love’ around in obvious error when they say that they ‘love’ ice cream and they ‘love’ their boyfriend or girlfriend. We don’t need a college degree to see that our messaging on Love has undermined the value of the word and the intent.
I do not purport to have the answer to our world’s epic issue with love. I do not purport to have arrived at the place where I love people as whole heartedly as I should. In fact, I think it’s my concern over the state of my heart that constantly drives me to this topic in my personal study and in repentant prayer. I know that I don’t love well. I’ve often pondered what factors I can blame for my deficiency. Is it Nature or Nurture?
If our ability to love well comes from Nature, are there people who are just wired to be more loving than others? I guess there might be, but Jesus doesn’t give those of us born without the “love & compassion gene” a Get Out Of Jail Free card. We still must perform at the level of those saints who think up ways to bless others as naturally as many of us think of ways to spend our bonus checks on new clothes.
And if the ability to love well is a result of our upbringing (Nurture), then I can see how my parents’ vitriolic relationship set me up to fail in this area. But what about the people who were shown very little love in their lives and yet use that deficit as a driver to create a more loving world around them? What about the victim of abuse who makes it their life’s goal to save as many people out of the Hell they lived through and bring healing to their hearts? I guess we can throw the Nurture excuse out.
In sitting down to put these thoughts to digital paper, I contemplated times that I felt really and truly loved and what it was that made me feel that way. I suppose that answer will be different for everyone who reads this, but I’ll share my list with you and then attempt to connect the dots to our current events.
I felt loved when…
- I was ‘known’. I remember when my husband was courting me (does anyone even use that word anymore? #antique), he made it a point to know everything about me. For example, on my birthday, he knew that I would be up at 5:30 AM reading my Bible, so he went to my favorite coffee shop (in another state!) and made them open early so that he could buy my favorite doughnut and coffee and be standing on my doorstep when I came downstairs. He called my phone and told me that he left my birthday gift on the front step. I came down and there he was coffee and doughnut shop bag in hand. But even more than knowing my daily habits and what I liked to eat, he learned ME. He would read my mind and tell me what I was thinking even when I didn’t want to talk about it. He finishes my sentences and helps me in ways that only someone who really knows what I want and need can do.
- I was ‘accepted’. I really struggle with perfectionism and I hate messing up. I have an aversion to making mistakes and to letting anyone down (although I have come a long way). So, when I do make a mistake, hurt someone thoughtlessly, or out-and-out act poorly, it’s devastating to me. I go to God to ask forgiveness and then to the person I have hurt, but deep in my heart, it’s hard to believe that I will truly be forgiven, let alone loved for the flawed person that I am. The closer we get to people, the more view we have into their weaknesses and sinful nature. It always blesses me in the deepest place of my soul when someone loves me despite the terrible and stupid things I often think, do or say. When people who are the closest to me have loved me in spite of my failures with eyes wide open, I have felt safe and truly loved.
- I was ‘defended’. I will never forget a time when my husband found out that someone was spreading rumors about me. He went out of his way to find out where this guy was going to be, showed up and gave him a piece of his mind. He told the person that they needed to get their facts straight, grow up and confront me personally if they had an issue with my choices. I felt so defended in that moment. While I usually like to fight my own battles, in that instance having John get my back was so reassuring. We all need to know that we have people in our corner, people who will defend us if things get out of hand and who will never expose our vulnerabilities.
Here is how I am applying what I know about my feelings of being ‘loved’ with the conversations that have been filling the airwaves about loving and valuing our neighbors who have a skin color that is darker than ‘cream colored’. I looked at my list of the ways I feel loved and then asked myself some tough questions.
First, have I gotten close enough to my tan, brown and black friends to ask the important questions and have the important conversations that inform me about who they truly are? I don’t know how I missed this, but I did. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. If I had delved beneath the surface – even if I went at it the wrong way – I would have gotten to know the pain and invalidation that my friends live under every day. Maybe I would have spoken up sooner and used my voice to focus a light on the trauma and ungodly injustice.
I couldn’t finish one of their sentences about how they felt regarding the race issue. I thought that we were making progress and that things were better than they are because I didn’t ask the right questions. When you love someone, you get to know them. When you love someone, knowing how they tick becomes your mission. And relating to them in the way that speaks the language of their heart comes naturally. This is hard to write and admit, but I must not have loved my friends in the deep way that I thought I did. My love was superficial and for that I am ashamed. But I will not stay in this place. I have been given a chance to change and use my voice to show ‘love’.
Secondly, have I used my life to show my friends and those around me who are of color that they are accepted for who they are? I am not sure. I feel like I appreciate the differences in all of my friends and acquaintances, but if these tough conversations have never happened organically, then can I really say that I have made them feel completely ‘accepted’? I don’t think I can. I understand that the door swings both ways, and that sometimes people hold back their true selves based on their assumption of how they will be received. I get it. But maybe if I had pursued the hearts of my friends with more intensity, they would have cracked the door open. I don’t know…
Lastly, have I defended my friends and acquaintances who felt persecuted and attacked for their skin color? This is the hardest one to admit…but I know I have not. In fact, I have been silent on the matter, which is worse than being overtly wrong. I have often felt that many cries of racism were racism in reverse. For example, when I was in high-school, I went to an all-girls boarding school. 90%+ of the students were some shade of white, most of whom were from very affluent families. I was not from an affluent family so I felt some shame and embarrassment in talking about my family or inviting anyone to my house for a weekend. Looking back, I cannot believe that I didn’t connect the dots on how the girls with tan, brown and black skin felt in a sea of marshmallow. At least I had my skin color to help me feel included even if I felt like an imposter. The African American girls formed a club called the Black Student Union and I vividly remember my white friends talking about how all they did in their club was bash us white girls. We couldn’t figure out why we had to pay for the sins of our grandparents and great-grandparents. ‘After all’, we thought, ‘we are totally accepting of different races and we are enlightened scholarly women. We don’t approve of racism and would openly say that.’ BUT…did we ever reach out and reach into the hearts and minds of our darker-skinned dorm mates, stay up all night hearing their stories and communicating our hearts? Nope. We just stood back and wagged our fingers at their dislike of us. ‘How could they judge us without even knowing us?’ D’uh! I look back now with regret and sorrow for the opportunities lost, but even more for the wounds inflicted by my indifference and reticence. My demeanor and lack of pursuit of their hearts may have driven nails of insecurity and rejection even farther into their psyche. Instead of turning the hammer over and using the backside to pull out nails I didn’t initiate, I drove them in further by my ignorant judgment.
Now when you hear people talking about how we need to ‘love’ our neighbors regardless of their skin color, I encourage us all to think about what makes US feel loved and then ask ourselves if we are showing that measure of love to those God has created with beautiful darker OR lighter skin.
The oldies song says it right, “What the world needs now is love sweet love. That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…”
In closing out my thoughts on this topic, I need to bring it back to the only remedy that I believe the world has for global injustice and hatred, and that is the love of God poured into our hearts. God is love. He doesn’t tap into love like we do. It is His nature. And when He comes into our hearts through faith, He gives us His nature and thereby the limitless ability to love beyond our natural capacity. I have experienced this miracle many times as God answered my cries to change my heart toward an enemy. I know that anger, hatred and bitterness in the heart is poison, yet I have often wanted to see someone punished and hurt for the pain they caused me or someone I love. And if God could change my angry self-righteous heart, He can infuse any of us with a love that transcends race, religion, culture or experience.
We just have to know that we need help to love right and then ask the Source to open our eyes and fill our hearts so that we can see people the way He sees them and love them as He loves them.
What about you?
- What side of the ‘color wheel’ do you fall on?
- Have you been the victim of racist words, actions or silence?
- Have you been one who was silent on the issues of racism?
- Have the recent events opened your eyes to the plight of people of color in your country? How about in your town or neighborhood?
- What is one thing (small or big) that you can do today to open up a conversation or reach out in authentic relationship to a person whose skin color is different than your own?
Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, our world needs You. We need You. We cannot love well in our own strength and mental ability. Our preconceived ideas, our heritage of values and hurts and our lack of understanding keep us siloed from those of different backgrounds, race and culture. We gravitate toward those who think like us, talk like us and look like us – whether we want to admit it or not. The only way we can truly love our neighbor is through the power of Your Holy Spirit working in our hearts and changing the thoughts and intents of our souls. Please Lord, cleanse us of our sins of omission and commission and create in us a new heart that beats like yours. Help us, God, to validate the beauty and craftsmanship of the varied cultures and colors You created. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen!