Hard love

Sometimes loving those closest to us is a joy - we all know what that feels like - but sometimes it is also a mess - hard, ugly, demanding and confusing. I know both of these truths - the joy and the mess - and the mess often pollutes my heart and soul. My AA friends call this "stinkin' thinkin'" - obsessing on self-pity and all the rest and remind me that sometimes no matter how much you love another, you just can't help them. After all, you're not God, right? That's what acceptance is all about. Reinhold Niebuhr put it like this - and I use it more than a few times each day:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next.Amen.

Norman Maclean, in his brilliant novella, A River Runs Through It (which was a family favorite) puts it like this on the tongue of the Reverend: Each one of us today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing help, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is with those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.

And a little sermonette using some of the insights of Frederick Buechner said: That phrase, “mind your own business,” normally said in annoyance or anger but, according to Buechner, a necessary mantra to preserve our health and make us more effective in loving others, has been on my mind this week. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

It seems that Paul is making a similar point in these verses in Philippians. He notes that we need to look to our own interests (mind to our own business) and also to the interests of others. He goes on to describe how we need to look to our own and others’ interests, offering Christ as the model. The words servant and humble are featured prominently in the verses that follow. We do not overpower others with force or for personal gain or glory, but give of ourselves willingly and obedient to God’s will.

Buechner’s final thought, flowing from the realization that he needed to mind his own business in order to help his daughter (who was plagued with anorexia), is that standing back and giving his daughter the freedom to make her own choices (to be well or to choose to die) is a metaphor for how God loves us. God, in his infinite power, holds back, in love, from overpowering us. This too is consistent with the picture in these verses in Philippians. The God of everything and everyone comes to serve, not command, and to pour out his life, not drown us with his power. So, mind your own business – make sure you are paying attention to your life, health and wholeness – and love your neighbor, whoever that may be, with humbleness and compassion, knowing that God is present and loves us in the best ways God can. (Anne Crawford, Frontline Devotions, July 2, 2005)

One of my favorite singer/songwriters, Bob Franke, put it so paradoxically right in his song, "Hard Love."

I remember growing up like it was only yesterday
Mom & Daddy tried their best to guide me on my way
But the hard times & the liquor drove the easy love away
And the only love I knew about was hard love
It was hard love, every hour of the day
When Christmas to my birthday was a million years away and the fear that came between them drove the tears into my play there was love in daddy's house, but it was hard love
And I recall the gentle courtesy you gave me as I tried to dissemble in politeness all the love I felt inside and for every song of laughter was another song that cried: This ain't no easy weekend, this is hard love
It was hard love, every step of the way hard to be so close to you, so hard to turn away and when all the stars and sentimental songs dissolved to day: there was nothing left to sing about but hard love

So I loved you for your courage, and your gentle sense of shame and I loved you for your laughter and your language and your name and I knew it was impossible, but I loved you just the same, though' the only love I gave to you was hard love, it was hard love, it was hard on you, I know when the only love I gave to you was love I couldn't show, you forgave the heart that loved you as your lover turned to go
Leaving nothing but the memory of hard love

So I'm standing in this phone booth with a dollar and a dime
Wondering what to say to you to ease your troubled mind
For the Lord's cross might redeem us, but our own just wastes our time and to tell the two apart is always hard, love so I'll tell you that I love you even though I'm far away and I'll tell you how you change me as I live from day to day, how you help me to accept myself and I won't forget to say love is never wasted, even when it's hard love yes, it's hard love, but it's love all the same, not the stuff of fantasy, but more than just a game and the only kind of miracle that's worthy of the name for the love that heals our lives is mostly hard love

(This isn't Bob but it's pretty good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0SniGCjdTc&feature=related)

And so it goes: mind my own business... looking towards humbleness and compassion... and accept that the rest is in God's hands: hard love.


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