To Love is to Expose Yourself to Pain.
(Banner photo credit: Dark Winter Days by Inge Bovens)
“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”Romans 2:4
Why is it that if God’s kindness, patience and forbearance leads us to repentance from our sin to embrace Christ, we don’t assume the same posture and manner when dealing with others with whom we see falling? Whether it’s our own children, a friend who is wandering, or a relative who pains you with their bad choices leading to a ruined life, or for me as an elder, a congregant/parishioner who is straying from the gospel or at least a life centered upon Christ? Why would we think that anything other than grace and kindness and love and a posture of humility will do when dealing with others in these states of wandering from the truth?
The Risk of Pain and Hurt
I think it’s because grace and mercy toward others is risky. What is it we risk? Not controlling an outcome, or handling a situation correctly, fear of loss, fear of man, maybe reputation. When we’re gracious and kind and forbearing with the faults of others, we risk losing that person to what we fear they’re going after. Or we willingly take the pain they’re causing in ourselves without fighting back against them. Ultimately, we risk injury, because loving others hurts. We open and expose ourselves to pain. So another reason may be self-protection.
Graciousness doesn’t mean not saying hard things. It is in fact gracious to speak the truth, but to do so in love. The question is how do you say it? How do you engage the situation? Is it with the open hands of faith in God’s own mercy to You and having the same open hands of faith in God’s healing, regenerative power toward a falling sinner and being there for them even when disagreeing with their choices?
The risk is real in love. We make ourselves vulnerable to the pain of loss and hurt and betrayal. Which is interesting since this is exactly what Jesus did and experienced Himself.
He Emptied Himself in Love
This classic Philippians 2:4-11 passage of Christ emptying Himself in love for His enemies to make them children of God puts in action an actual, tangible real accomplishment for us and a demonstration what this kind of gracious, interactive love risks:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (ESV)Philippians 2:4–11
In short, to love is to be willing to empty yourself for others, precisely because that’s what Christ has done for You. And that’s painful. We don’t like pain. We don’t want to be hurt… again by others. We cover up, control, manipulate, and attempt the use of power to get results. It is the American way after all. As Luther put it, in at least a tangential sense, this is a Theology of Glory. “I want to see their life changed so I’m willing to make it happen.” The ends justify the means. In other words, we don’t want to wait on God in prayer and in His timing. We refuse to relinquish control.
The Theology of the Cross though is one of suffering for the sake of others, taking in yourself the pain you experience in the lives of others, whether it’s pain of their making or a pain inflicted upon them. It’s a road marked by weakness, brokenness and few are willing to travel down it because in this life, sometimes it not only gives you nothing, but gives you hurt. To love is to pour yourself out.
However, as also seen in the Philippians passage, the end result is glory. Christ’s glory as the end result is one of His exaltation to possess the name above every name, every knee bowing. Our glory is that we get to really and truly and finally share in that with Him for all eternity as adopted children of the King.
The Impossible Task of Real Love, Possible Only Through Weakness
So how do you move forward if loving like this sounds impossible for you? Well, an acknowledgement of the fact alone is a great start! The truth is this is not something you can just conjure up or accomplish on your own strength with any longevity, but only through the strengthening grace of the love of Christ poured into you. It’s through giving yourself to practices of the faith, or the means of grace (Word, sacraments, prayer): giving yourself to the Word, to prayer, to silence and solitude and meditation on His Word and works in history, fasting and feasting, resting well, creating rhythms of grace (Cosper) that bring you into the work that God by His Spirit is already doing in the world.
This kind of love I’m speaking of isn’t born in a vacuum. Our pastor has done a series of blogs here and a lecture series here that get at the vital importance of these practices in the life of believers. I can’t stress the importance of pursuing them in your life, because to be filled by Christ to overflowing is to be ready and willing and able to pour yourself out for others, even when that is really risky to do and may yield no immediate results.
The way of the cross is foolishness and weakness to the world, but weakness is God’s way of working resurrection life into the world. Let’s take up our cross and follow Him, in His resurrection strength, not our own.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”1 Corinthians 1:26–31