Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Love Can Hurt

What is love, properly given? How do you describe it? It gives without expectation of return, yes, to one whom we choose to love. But what if the love is not received in the manner that it is given? Can our love be given in truth, but not be able to be received in that truth? Can we love someone more than they are capable of receiving, and can that love be perceived so negatively, that it is better not to have been given? Can a love be “smothering”?

What if, in love, you gave a 10-year old a new car? He wouldn’t have the ability to use it or perceive its benefits. What if you gave a 10-year old $100,000? He wouldn’t have the maturity to spend it wisely. What if you offered all the wisdom of God to one not so wise? He wouldn’t be able to understand it and, indeed, may misunderstand it --- or even resent it.

I think sometimes our love must be offered as in a book; it can be read by some and received and appreciated, but by others read and received gratefully as a gift, but not understood. And for still others, put on a shelf --- perhaps never to be read. And still we must offer it, this, our action of love. Perhaps in another way our love must be as a faucet, water flowing as needed. The flow being received my be chosen to be less than that offered --- only the receiver can determine what water is needed, and when refreshment turns to a flooded disaster. And yet, for those giving the love, it is still offered full force.

But what if the one receiving our love is like the 10-year old, and lacks the wisdom or maturity to receive it --- they don’t know how to shut off the faucet, or they don’t perceive our offer as a book, but as a lecture? What then of our love?

Then our love can hurt the receiver. And when the receiver feels hurt, despite our intentions, they may hurt us in return, by rejecting our love. Love can hurt all involved. This thing called love, given with the best of intentions, can destroy friendships, can destroy marriages, can destroy families. It can even destroy civilizations, because this thing called love, perceived as a hurt, can turn to hate.

Sometimes our love must be offered as the caring of the father who runs alongside the child’s bike, as he rides for the first time without training wheels. He may trust us and want us nearby; or he may reject us: “I don’t need your help; I can do this myself.” But we’ll be there if they fall. And if they do, if we really loved them, then we wouldn’t say the words: “I warned you” or “I told you to be careful,” we’d just hug them, wipe their tears, and bandage their wounds. Love offered like that can be a joy to the giver and the receiver, or it can hurt both. And it’s hard to offer that love, knowing it may not be accepted in the manner as it is offered. Sometimes love can only be accepted with a certain level of maturity on the part of the receiver. And despite the magnitude of our love, despite our willingness to teach, despite our wanting the best of our beloved, sometimes in love we must let them learn on their own, and even be hurt. And that is a most difficult love to bear for the one who loves, to love with the knowledge and restraint that:

We cannot live our beloved’s life for them. We cannot protect them from all harm. We cannot MAKE them go to heaven.

And so we must watch our children fall off the bike --- or not go to church anymore, or not baptize our grandchildren. And we must watch as some of our friends may think that the only option for them in life is to play the roulette wheel, and we want to scream in our wisdom, and in our love: “Don’t do something so foolish. The odds are totally against you.” And they may reply: “You just don’t want me to win. Then I’ll be as rich (and as happy?) as you.” (No matter how much we love someone, we cannot live their life for them, nor protect them from mistakes --- or sin.)

Those were as the words of Adam and Eve, as they bet on the fruit in the Garden of Eden, and God stood by, in love, and watched them do it. It was a love that hurt the giver and receiver, but still it was offered. Adam and Eve had to live their lives, and risk their mistakes. God wouldn’t force them to accept His love. He still doesn’t force us today.

And we cannot force others to accept our love either, no matter in what form we may try to give it. Adam and Eve --- the whole human race --- continued to make mistakes, but also over time realized more and more that God still loved them. Gradually, especially after they saw the example of His love for His only Son, they came to realize that He would always be there to catch them if they fell. They grew in faith, in this one who loves them so much. And this love that God has, this Father has, for us we must try and imitate in our love for our children and our neighbors. And if we are always there with it, perhaps they will grow in faith in us also. We can’t make them accept our love; sometimes they are just not ready ---- yet.

This growing in faith, and in love, of God is sometimes a hard thing. Oh, it is a wonderful thing for the receiver, the one who grows in knowing, loving and serving God. It is what he was made for, and so naturally it brings him great joy, growing ever closer to his Creator, his Savior, his Father. But sometimes even as he grows closer to God, he grows farther from his neighbor who doesn’t grow along with him. He advances from the simple things, like addition and subtraction, to the more complex things like algebra, calculus, and multi-dimensional functions, and he better sees the beauty of all that God has created. But talking of these things to the one still doing addition and subtraction is most difficult, and sometimes frustrating. It must be done with deep caution, and love, for the one receiving the actions of our love. We cannot live someone else’s life for them; they must grow in maturity and wisdom --- if they ever will --- through their own initiative, with grace they receive. It is one thing to teach and instruct a 10-year old, and force him to hear and obey ---- in our maturity it is our responsibility to protect him and teach him how to learn. It is an entirely different thing, however, to use the same approach with an adult. Unfortunately, sometimes we cannot prevent ourselves from acting in the same manner to both --- including our friends, family, or our spouses.

It is a rare spouse or friend who totally trusts us --- as we might trust God. Studies say that most people only have one or two “true” friends in their life; what are the odds that it is you? And so our love of others must, if we truly love them, proceed with a degree of caution. It must not be demanding, as we would demand of a 10-year old. It is one thing to say: “I plan to buy a red car because I read studies which state it won’t fade as often and it is seen better by other drivers.” It is another thing to say to a fiend: “You should buy a red car because you never seem to wash yours and red will stay brighter, and besides you are a rotten driver and the red will keep you out of accidents.” Both statements may make the same point to our friend, but both may not be perceived in the same way or get the same intended result. One may hurt, and generate hurtful comments in return, despite our intention.

This thing called love, true, giving and not counting the cost love, is a most difficult thing. You want to do it for the ones you choose to love; you want to do everything to make them feel loved, to be happy, to be safe --- now and for all eternity. (And sometimes you wish, but don’t demand, that you feel, in return, something of their acknowledgement of your love.) But often what we want most must be tempered by the recognition of their freedom, their talents, and their differences. And so we must restrain our enthusiasm sometimes, and this is a hard thing, for someone we love. We must restrain our enthusiasm for this good we wish for them --- indeed would love to force on them.

I don’t know how God does it, for us, who are so lacking in understanding, receiving, and returning His love. He loves us so much; how can He restrain Himself from just dragging us into heaven? How can we restrain ourselves from trying to do the same for our beloved ones?

We can truly love only when we learn that He first loved us --- and that He loved us as we are. And when we can fully accept His love on those terms, we can more easily give love to others in the same way. And perhaps more importantly, we grow to understand that sometimes love can hurt, hurt virtually everyone involved. Yet still we must love, as He does, and still we must restrain our love, as He does. It is what real love does.

And that is a hard thing, even for God.


  1. Wow, that is no small thought on a very intimate subject. Jesus calls us to 'Love your neighbor', three words that encompass everything we are here for. Many deep and thought provoking imageries in your post. Thanks. k

  2. Thanks for trying to understand where I was coming from, kam. Of course you probably guessed that the trigger for my thoughts was a rejection of something I spoke to a friend. When I saw their hurt and rejection, and vehemence, I could see where they were at and how they could misconstrue my intentions. How I wish I could have perceived their thoughts before I spoke mine. I could have been gentler in my expressions, as I gave examples in this post.
    Love sometimes is a hard thing.