Luke LezonComment

Loving People Through Pain

Luke LezonComment
Loving People Through Pain

The greatest measure of love is not in the way we love those who love us in return, but how we love those who make us victims of our own vulnerability.

Loving people is difficult. I’ve always found it rather unfortunate that an unnamed disciple asked Christ this dreaded question in Matthew 22:36, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” To which Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But what if my neighbor doesn’t mow their yard? What if their dog sucks? Must I love them when they root for my team’s most hated rival? But what if we went a step further into the wound and asked ourselves something even more scandalous, what if they’ve hurt me? Should I love them then?

I’d argue that this is the most difficult assignment God has given us, to love each other, one another, as we love ourselves. Why? You might ask. Because depth of love is deeply rooted in the degree of our own vulnerability. Marriage is hard, for no reason greater than the fact that you see everything. You’re at your most vulnerable with that person. Not just in the nakedness of our bodies, but in the nakedness of our souls. Our insecurities, quirks, and fears. There are no secrets, and if there are, that’s a whole new set of problems. The same is true of our friendships. My best friends aren’t always the ones that have known me the longest, but the ones who have known me the deepest.

There is something about the muck of the mess. Not the dried mud on the outside, but that damp middle that is difficult to trudge through if you have no other route to travel. That’s where I find the depth of Jesus’ love so fascinating, in the messy muck of the middle. Not in His fierce but loving rebuke of Peter, His running towards the prodigal, or His posture of humility towards those who didn’t realize Who He was, but in His lack of retaliation towards Judas.

It’s sobering to think about, but Jesus invited the guy that betrayed Him to His last meal on earth. We have to get over the idea of being emotionally unavailable and cutting off others. It doesn’t make us strong, it makes us bitter. We have to be careful with what we tell people, but we should be dangerous in how we love people.

What That Doesn’t Mean

When I say that we need to get over the idea of cutting off others, by no means am I suggesting that it is sinful to “cut others,” out of your life.

As an example, and I’d like to tread through this statement gracefully, if you are a survivor of abuse, emotionally, verbally, sexually, whatever the case may be, this is the furthest thing from suggesting that you keep giving abusers and serial-abusers second and seventy-second chances. On the contrary, leave now. Let them go. You can’t fix them. You are not their Savior, and here is the good news and freedom, you don’t have to be. Leave with your head held high.

This post isn’t about abuse. Those circumstances are so evil and manipulative that the thought of it makes my skin crawl and my blood boil. So let me just say it again, this isn’t about abuse. Period. This is for the common situation and common person who has been wronged, who finds it hard to love those who are the hardest to love, even though those are often the ones that need love the most. This post is inward-reflection for me and potentially, for you.

This about the cultural narrative that says love yourself, who cares about your neighbor? And really, if anything, this is about the health of all parties involved.

The loss of trust in someone whom we once confided in hurts in a way that few things can compare, but regardless of what has happened, I don’t find joy in cutting people off. But the more I peruse social networks, the more I realize that we celebrate the public crucifixion of people when we feel like they have wronged us.

Maybe it’s the rise of an individualistic, narcissistic culture rearing its ugly head when anyone gets in our way, but we seem more focused on who we should cut off at the first sign of “toxicity,” rather than extending grace to others, Matthew 5:7, James 4:6. We seem more focused on living our best life rather than living a blessed life of seeking peace over prosperity at the expense of people and laying our lives down for others, Matthew 5:9, John 15:13. We seem more focused on getting what’s ours rather than understanding that every good gift is given by God, and that getting what’s ours is best understood by giving others what God did not have to give to us through the humble servitude of His Son, Jesus, James 1:17, Ephesians 4:2.

Whenever I’ve felt betrayed by someone, I have two options. Retaliate in my anger or pause and find my Peace. Punch back harder than they punched me or pray for them, forgive them, extend peace to them, and walk away. It’s been said that unforgiveness is like drinking a bottle of poison and hoping the other person dies. I think there is a lot of truth in that.

Rather than finding enjoyment in cutting others off and harboring bitterness towards the person who wronged us, I hope that we are able to find true forgiveness for them in our heart for our own heart’s health. I pray we come to recognize that there are some people that we must simply love from a distance and though things may never be the same, don’t anchor yourself in a harbor of hate. Loving people well is an exhilarating and terrifying ride out to sea. You will run into storms that rain disappointment on your head and blow fear into your sails, but only through that vulnerability of lifting our anchor and sailing out into the unknown are we truly able to find the shores of freedom through the grace and love it took to stay through the storm in the first place.

My prayer for you and I is that we would, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave us,” Ephesians 4:32 (easier said than done, I know). And that we would sail out in the freedom and understanding that there will be storms along the way, but in Christ, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and conquered our hearts, Romans 8:37. We were not made to sit in the boat, but to get out in faith, and walk towards the God who called us to Him before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4.

What That Does Mean

Jesus invited Judas to the table even though He knew that he would betray Him. He let Judas walk with Him even though He knew he would betray Him. He washed Judas’ feet even though He knew he would betray Him. Given what Jesus knew, it’s unfathomable to note the way He treated Judas, but we have to keep this in mind - Jesus was kind, gracious, and loving towards Judas, but He still had a smaller circle of three within His already small circle of twelve.

Peter, James, and John got information that others didn’t. Jesus took these three to the top of the mountain to see the glory of the transfiguration. He didn’t invite everyone to see the transfiguration, but He did invite everyone to hear the Gospel message of life-giving hope, unending love, abounding grace, and piercing truth. We have to be careful what we tell to some people, but dangerous in our love for all people. Jesus wasn’t keeping lists of who to keep out, He was inviting people in. He still washed Judas’ feet. It’s hard to throw stones when you’re busy washing feet. Don’t let people steal your joy or stir your anger, keep loving people like Christ.

Jesus does ultimately tell Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly,” and sends him out in John 13:27. But do you notice the verbiage? Jesus is giving Judas the freedom to go and betray Him. It’s not harsh. I imagine Jesus tone was particularly somber here. There is no way to know of course, but I don’t think Jesus was thrilled that Judas had rejected Him and that He could now justify cutting him out of His life. This was a sad moment.

Throughout Jesus earthly ministry, His life was significantly more bent towards giving people every opportunity to come to Him and experience the love and grace of God, no matter what they had done, rather than the rejection of those that didn’t treat Him the way He deserved to be treated. My question is this, with the exception of specific situations mentioned at the beginning, why do we look for every opportunity to cut people out our lives rather than get to work with the needle of truth and thread of grace, that we might stitch people together rather than pull them apart?

Of course, one could look at Acts 13:50-52, and see how Paul and Barnabas were persecuted and driven out of a God-rejecting city, how they shook the dust off of their feet as they left for Iconium and were still filled with joy, and try to justify leaving people in our dust. But leaving persecution isn’t the same as cutting someone out of your life because they said something unflattering about you, hurt your feelings, or other petty miscellaneous reasons.

Paul and Barnabas knew that the fault was with their opposition, not themselves, but do you think that if those God-rejecting cities had sought reconciliation, Paul would have rejected them? Did he not get stoned at Lystra, only to find his strength again and return to Lystra and preach the Good News to the same city that stoned him and left him for dead? Do we think their joy was found in the cutting off of people? Or in the sovereign grace and goodness of God?

We will always be able to find examples in Scripture, and in life, where yes, we have to move on from people and love them from an appropriate distance. But the vast majority of the time, it’s about graciously coming together under the umbrella of God’s love for us, that we might share that same love for one another.

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. And in that moment of false affection and ultimate irony, we are given every reason to understand that an outward expression of love doesn’t indicate motivation, but God used the betrayal of Christ and His pain to bring us near and purchase our salvation. And thank God for that! Who knows where I’d be or where you’d be without it.

What It Means Practically

There is a twisted idea of forgiveness.

There are some who think that the advocacy of forgiveness is the same as the assertion that we must tolerate incessant rejection and persecution regardless of our own health, and that’s not it at all. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, some people must be loved from a distance.

Forgiveness doesn’t take the wound away, but it keeps the bitterness out of our hearts from robbing us of our strength. If you knock my coffee mug out of my hand and coffee spills all over me and my mug breaks on the floor, you can apologize and it will mean a great deal to me. I will forgive you and be able to move on, but I still have to change my shirt and pick up the pieces. Forgiveness gives us the strength to do just that, to pick up the pieces. Forgiveness heals the wound so that it scars. It doesn’t hurt anymore, but the mark is still there.

There will certainly be situations where we need to let ourselves walk free of others. To talk to them honestly, tell them how it made us feel, and move forward in forgiveness. Reconciliation may not be sought by the one who wronged us, but we can still forgive them and do our best to love them from a distance as we let them go their own way as we go ours.

Why are we determined to be so angry with people? It’s exhausting. Look at the political climate of America. I think God has more for you and more for me than that. I can think of very few people that I truly considered toxic, people that betrayed my trust to the point where I must break out the machete, but don’t get me wrong, they exist. However, if they wanted to talk about things, would I grab coffee with them? Absolutely. Have I forgiven them? Absolutely. Would it be a hard conversation? Absolutely. But people change, and if you don’t believe that, you don’t believe in the Gospel. Sin can’t out-stain the blood of Jesus Christ. Ever.

I guess when we boil this down, it could leave us at semantics. The idea of people being toxic seems extreme to me. In my opinion, to be labeled as toxic is the worst kind of charge. That any and everything a person touched is destroyed.

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but when Joseph saw them, he brought them into his home, fed them, and said, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,” Genesis 50:20. We’ve considered people to be toxic for much less. And our response has been significantly more harsh than Joseph’s. Is it possible that we could find the lessons in our fallouts with people and come to a point in our lives where we say, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good. The wound you gave me just exposed other places where I needed healing. Come, eat at my table.” Perhaps not, but maybe.

Wouldn’t it be unfortunate if our sin made us too toxic to be near to God? Oh, wait. That was what happened. But then Christ came to us and brought us near by His blood. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, Romans 5:8. You might even say, while we were still toxic, Christ came to us and loved us.

Some people are certainly in a place where they need more work than the next, I just like to believe that God can move in their life like He did in mine. If God could jump into my toxic mess and rescue me from my own toxicity, I believe He can do that with people who have wronged me as well.

My halo isn’t blinding anyone and I’m not trying to describe Heaven or a utopia. We will certainly have our fallouts and our three tiered relationships that I like to call - The Hello (be cordial, wave, say hello, and love from a distance), The Handshake (be friends and love in close proximity), and The Hug (be brothers and sisters, do life together, and love one another in the trenches). I’ve been so filled with rage towards people that the things I said or done has hurt the relationship beyond repair, or it could have. This isn’t a self-righteous post about what I’ve been doing and what you should do now. It’s about hope in the idea that we can start loving our neighbors, weave grace instead of disdain, and come together in our differences under our shared love for the same Jesus whose same grace reached all us and changed our lives.

Luke 6:32-36, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Your friend,

- Luke


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