If I say I love ice cream – which I do – INTENSELY! – it seems very extreme. After all, I’m sure my reaction to my first taste was, “Hum, I like this stuff.” But “liking” ice cream is not pining for it, dreaming about it, or finding every opportunity to indulge in it. That came later – but not much later.
If I just liked it, I wouldn’t ask my husband to hide it from me and then search for it when he’s not here. Which is kinda funny since the only place he can hide it is in the freezer – “Oh, my…there it is!” And, I might add, I grew to delight in the search like it was some kind of hidden treasure. (Matthew 13:46)
Keep in mind that pining, dreaming, and lusting after “things” makes God VERY unhappy. Now we’re getting into the weeds here because we throw the word “love” around so indiscriminately it has lost its true meaning and significance. If I can love ice cream more than my neighbor what does that say about me in light of 1 Corinthians 13:13? Love trumps it all!? Everything. Nothing in all of scripture is more important. People are willing to die for love of God and others (John 15:13), not things.
Loving people can be very difficult. Ice cream is more comforting and doesn’t get on your last nerve. You may be in a relationship with someone you have never liked. Like, I don’t know…that obnoxious cousin Eddie?! How do you get to the love part if you’re stuck there?
I have been reflecting on that question in light of my own relationships. In particular, my family of origin – more specifically, my relationship with my brother and sister. A little background would be helpful here: My sister is eight years older than me, and my brother is two years older. So, you know what that makes me – that’s right – the “baby.”
Being the baby of the family never really afforded me any special perks. Even so, my siblings treated me like I needed a constant reminder that I was NOT special. When we were left alone, they relentlessly tormented and bullied me. To be fair, I probably was obnoxious. But that didn’t give them license to beat me up and do everything in their power to get me in trouble with our parents.
When I was younger, my mother forced my brother to play with me because I had no girlfriends to play with. He and his friends would throw things at me and try to dismember me with a Frisbee. That damn thing hurt, but I never let them see me cry! Sometimes they would just chase me around the yard until I gave up and went inside, only to return the next day for more.
My sister would initiate fun activities for her and my brother and intentionally exclude me. Once, I was so angry with my brother’s unrelenting teasing that I put my fist through the glass of a door he slammed shut on me. Of course, that hurt too, but no tears from this tough kid!
I’m not sure what my parent’s reasoning was the Christmas they gave my brother and me one sled – to share. That ended badly when his friends chased me down the hill on theirs, trying to intimidate me into leaving. I swung mine around just in time to knock out the two front teeth of one of them. YES! It was pretty satisfying, even when my brother ran home to tell my mom, and his friend ran home crying. I knew it would not go well for me, but I didn’t care.
As bad as all that was, what makes it worse is that I do not recall any happy moments to offset our feelings toward each other. Soon after our mother died, I called my sister. She had been drinking at the time and cried, repeatedly saying, “Mom loved you best”! – I was so surprised to hear her say that. My recollection was that our mother never loved anyone.
After our father died, we rarely saw each other. I can’t remember how long the gaps have been between our conversations. If I had to guess, I would say that I speak to them about three times a year. The times we do talk or see each other, we say, “I love you.” Truth be told, we would have been hard-pressed to say we even liked each other. I always believed that too much pain divided us, and lack of forgiveness left open wounds.
Then, recently, I read and reread the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis (37:1-50:21). Poor Joseph didn’t have just two siblings to deal with; he had eleven! And most of them hated him because he really was their father’s favorite. They hated him so much they plotted together to kill him. If not for his one brother, Judah, they would have succeeded. But instead, he convinced them to sell Joseph into slavery.
Here’s the part that caused me to think more deeply than ever about my relationship with my brother and sister. Before Joseph was raised to a position of power, he suffered as a slave in Egypt. Years passed before he saw his brothers again. When he did, he wept for love of them. What kind of love is that? It was the time of the seven-year famine, and he controlled the grain bins. His brothers used to laugh at him because he dreamed of greatness. Their fate was now in his hands. Revenge would have been so sweet right then.
How often, when I tell my sister or brother that I love them, do I consider what those words really mean in the context of my Christian faith? What I should believe about love I have failed to live because it’s too demanding, so I give it lip service – as shallow as “loving” ice cream. Because we are supposed to love everyone, even our enemies, we settle for spewing empty words that sound like love in an effort to rid ourselves of guilt. That’s cheap love.
Then, recently, (compelled, I’m sure, by You-Know-Who), my husband and I drove to the house I grew up in and knocked on the door. The lady who bought the house from us years ago still lived there and welcomed us. As I walked through the house, everything looked different. What surprised me was that my past experiences of that time in my life no longer seemed to have a claim on me. They did not dredge up the anger I had felt for so long.
Later, we went to my brothers to visit, and then to my sisters. Again, the experience was different. When we left, and I said, “I love you” to them, I meant it. But, more importantly, I felt it! And I do believe that they love me as best they can. We are all teetering on three-legged stools – wobbling around with missing parts because of the brokenness in our lives.
I can tell you that my heart has changed, but will that translate into my being a more loving sister? Will I call more often, visit more often, pray for them, and think of them lovingly? Will I actually like them? Will they like me?
After Joseph was reunited with his brothers, he gave and gave and gave to them without asking for anything in return…and…as far as we know…he never got so much as a “thank you” or “gee, we’re sorry about that whole pit incident and selling you off to slavery.” After their father died, Joseph’s brothers feared he was hiding anger that would explode into revenge. To their surprise, he was not angry or vengeful. He did tell them, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good….” (Genesis 50:20). God used that experience, just as he uses ours, to turn our pain and hurt into compassion and mercy for others if we allow him to.
As for me, I know that all that has happened in my life has profoundly impacted the person I am today: The good, the bad, and the ugly. If I allow God to work in and through those areas of brokenness, by his grace, love will prevail.
I once heard the expression concerning people we encounter, particularly people we don’t like, “You may be the only Christ that person meets.” It is the responsibility of all Christians; to be Christ to others; to love deeply and unconditionally. We are called to sit in the darkness with those who suffer things we may never know about. To “share your ice cream, Linda. I know you’re hiding it in the freezer!”