If I say I love chocolate (which I do…INTENSLY!) that seems like a very extreme version of like. After all, I’m sure my reaction to my first taste was, “Hum, I like this stuff.” But, liking chocolate is not pining for it, dreaming about it, or finding every opportunity to indulge in it. That came later. Probably 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 (kinda funny since the only place he can think to hide it is in the freezer – “Oh, my…there it is!”). And, I might add, I have grown to delight in it in a manner likened to the Matthew 13:46 hidden treasure! That’s pure unadulterated love!
Relationships can be very different. You may be in a relationship with someone you have never liked. If you’re stuck there how do you get to the love part?
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 was probably obnoxious. But that didn’t give them license to beat me up, and then do everything in their power to get me in trouble when our parents returned home.
When I was younger, my mother forced my brother to play with me because I had no friends to play with. He and his friends would use me for their football, 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. One time, 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. 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.
It was pretty satisfying, even when my brother ran home to tell my mom, and his friend ran home crying. I knew it was not going to go well for me and I didn’t care.
As bad as all that was, what makes it worse is that I do not recall any happy moments to off-set our feelings toward each other. Soon after our mother died, I called my sister, she had been drinking at the time. She cried, saying over and over “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. Often, I can’t remember how long the gaps are 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 ever even liked each other. I always believed that too much pain had 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 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.
Here’s the part that caused me to think more deeply than I ever have 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 this? 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.
As Christians, we are taught that God loves us deeply. But, how often do we ponder just how much he likes us? I mean really, really likes us? And, if we are called to be Christ-like towards others, then it stands to reason that if we don’t like others, then we can’t possibly, truly, love them.
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. 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 it happened. 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 that bought the house from us still lived there, and welcomed us in. 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 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. More importantly, I felt it! And, I do believe that they really do love me as best they can. And maybe, just maybe, our mother loved us too – the best she could.
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.
As for me, I know that all that has happened in my life has had a profound impact on the person I am today: The good, the bad, and the ugly. But, if I allow God to work in and through those areas of brokenness, by his grace, good will prevail.
Now, as I pray for my brother, sister, and their families, I pray they will know God’s love and mercy, and that in some small way I can manifest that love. I once heard the expression concerning people we encounter, in particular people we don’t like, “You may be the only Christ that person meets.” That is a responsibility of all Christians; to be Christ to others; the Christ who loves deeply and unconditionally.