Sometimes we pride ourselves on avoiding confrontation, we feel a surge of gratification over living in peace with everyone, but it makes me wonder how we are defining peace—how we are defining love.
I think most of us have been in a relationship with someone, and even though we did not see a future, we stayed in that relationship so we would not hurt his/her feelings. I dated a guy off and on through junior high and high school, thinking I would develop deeper feelings for him and prolonging the relationship for the sake of his feelings. But, as many people who do this learn, being honest does more ultimate good than sparing feelings ever does.
I grew up thinking confrontation was a bad thing. My parents divorced when I was five, and for a time everyone pretended everything was okay, but nothing was okay. I rarely saw the arguments, only quiet, lonely grief and civil interactions by day. It did not make sense to me, but I carried that pattern into my teenage and adult life. I brushed off unpleasantness in relationships—I would pretend like everything was okay—like nothing happened.
But when you constantly pretend like everything is okay, when it isn’t, an unsettling sort of bitterness slowly wraps itself around your life. Living in bitterness and unease is not living in peace with others; it is living under the pretense of peace. Love is not a timid child to be coaxed into the open. Love boldly acts for the good of others, and for the good of self, even when it hurts.
I just started Søren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love. He addresses some insightful and challenging things about love, one of which delves into “love your neighbor as yourself.” We often think of this as dying to self and loving those around you more than yourself. Kierkegaard, however, says this: loving your neighbor as yourself “does not seek to teach a man not to love himself but in fact rather teaches him proper self-love.” When we are not being honest with others, when we’re not loving others, it is an indication we are not loving ourselves; we are not accepting God’s love.
God-love meant death on behalf of people who despised Him. It also meant risking amiability for love’s sake. The disciples found themselves in relational tension because of love. Jesus often rebuked the disciples because he was more concerned about God-love than their fleeting feelings. For instance, when Jesus predicts His death, He is anything but amiable in His response to Peter. Jesus’ response is uncompromised by sweetness and, I would imagine, hard for Peter to hear. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” If Jesus had said that to me, I would have looked for an isolated corner in which to bawl. Love says hard things we don’t want to hear, but must hear.
My pastor explains it this way, “Unconditional love does not mean a blanket acceptance of all behavior. Love is unconditional, but intolerant of the enemy of love.” Accepting all actions and behaviors yields a relationship built upon eggshells, which is contrary to the nature of God-love, and an enemy of God-love. Congeniality seeks an atmosphere of safety and agreeability—of avoidance.
Avoidance is dangerous because whatever we avoid hides itself in our hearts and patiently gnaws on our capacity to love; never brings healing; never brings understanding. God-love is bold and vivacious. It acts when it hurts, and when disagreement is inevitable but necessary. God-love does not call us to timidity, to human kindness, which retreats into detached friendliness, or to fragile, falling apart relationships. It endured the cross, defeated death and saved us all.