On my other blog, Finding Mr Huggie-Wuggie (yes that’s the name, and I happen to quite like that name actually – I don’t know why people tend to crack up when I physically say the name out loud to them!) I consider issues to do with relationships and marriage. I’ve now been seriously considering thoughts about marriage for a very long time, approximately twelve years, and I’ve been expressing some of my thoughts on this subject for the last two years on this blog. For all those twelve years I have struggled to understand how the Christian aspiration to unconditional love towards my husband fits in with the pragmatic consideration of my own interests. Some people might say that unconditional love is not only a Christian aspiration, or you don’t have to be religious to aspire towards this. This may well be true. However I am a Christian, which is why I consider the question from a Christian viewpoint, and the Bible specifically instructs us to interact with one another with this love, agape, which never fails. Check out 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter of love!
So recently, I’ve thought of a way to express this love towards my husband while also looking to my own interests in prayer. Now I’ve written it, it just seems so obvious – endeavour to show him unconditional love, even where he fails to meet my own legitimate needs, and then pray that God would work to meet my own needs. How simple is that?! At least it is quite easy in concept. To actually do it and to practise patience when my husband is possibly acting inconsiderately …that might be a lot harder!
And yet here is the thing. In the Bible, we are not called to demonstrate unconditional love towards our spouses only, but actually towards everyone. The thought of this almost gives me a headache.
This is because I honestly don’t know how this would work in practice. Is it as simple as taking this attitude explained above, expanding it from just being directed towards my husband, to direct it towards everyone else?
Is it acceptable to “divorce” people?
One aspect of marital unconditional love is the fact that for a Christian marriage, divorce is off-limits. So I know that whatever happens in my marriage, I am supposed to remain in that marriage, I am supposed to persevere, I am supposed to keep trusting that God will act to bring about excellent things, no matter how things currently look. And yet, even in a Christian marriage, there might be times when I quietly acknowledge to myself that I would not have married him, if I had known that he could ever behave like this… This is not a very positive thought, but I think that it is realistic. However, because I am already committed, and because divorce is not an option, I will stick with it.
So how far does this apply when it comes to Christian friendships (or fiendships – ha ha!)? Metaphorically speaking, I have “divorced” more Christian friends than I care to remember. In fact, I am possibly a little too trigger-happy about this. At the slightest thing that people do I am all too ready to say: “See ya!” I have personally experienced extreme frustration in church and with various Christians. So with these Christians should I just stick around, as I would do in marriage, taking all the rubbish that they can dole out? I already know that I am not going to do that. With my husband, he is one person, and I am one person. I know that my prayers can make a tangible difference where they are focused on the life of another person. However, when we are dealing with a whole churchful of people, then it can feel as if my prayers have to impact everyone. I know that the prayers of a single person can impact a whole church, even a whole nation, even the whole world. However, is this what I would choose for my life – to have to spend lots of my time praying that God would grab the hearts of people in your church, even while I have to endure interacting with hearts that are not truly submitted to God? No, that is definitely not what I would choose for myself – now or at any other time. If I have to pray for your church I would rather take myself firmly out of that situation so that at least you are not affecting me while I am praying for you.
Unconditional love and unresponsive friends
You know what? Deep down I can’t shake off the feeling that it must be wrong to permanently break off Christian friendships, or “divorce” people. However, I just cannot see how it would work in practice if I were to not do this. There are some times when I believe it is definitely right to abruptly cut things off if necessary. I am very careful when it comes to interacting with men as the other gender. Sometimes I am astonished that people feel comfortable casually throwing around completely empty insinuations. If someone were to make a casual insinuation against me – then that tends to be a good way of quickly ending a friendship with me. On the other hand, if I perceive a married man flirting with me, then I sincerely don’t need that kind of friendship – out he goes! In this case I would try to cut off any interaction with them whatsoever. When I say flirting, I don’t just mean being friendly. I mean looking at me in an inappropriate way or making suggestive comments. Hello?! I really do not want to be implicated in someone’s marriage breakdown – I am outta there!
And yet there are other times when things do not seem so clear cut. I am not a fan of one-sided friendships. That is, I expect my friends to reciprocate when I contact them or make other gestures of friendship. Sometimes I will try and try and try with a particular friend, and I will be met with zero response. After a while I will just get fed up and ditch them. Oh I forgot – they are busy. We’re all busy darling.
So what does unconditional love look like in this situation? Sincerely, I don’t know. As with prayers it boils down to a time thing. If I had all the time in the world, then yes I would happily dispense all manner of kindness everywhere without caring whether anyone responds to me. However I am a human being like everyone else, I have twenty four hours in my day like everyone else. If I’m spending lots of time on you and you are simply ignoring me, then that is time that I could be spending on someone who will appreciate it. And I also have particular needs from my friendships, just as I do from my marriage. It could be that I distinguish between deep friendships and more superficial interactions. I could then cultivate heavier expectations from my deep friendships than from lighter interactions, and invest greater time accordingly. To a certain extent I already do this. Still I am irked by the fact that some people do not respond at all.
Maybe this is what it is. I am a proactive person. I am proactive in every area of my life. I don’t just wait for things to happen. I think through things then I do them, I think through plans then I execute them, I reach out, I strive, I endeavour. This is a great way to live. Actually, I think that this is the only way to live. This is the same way I am proactive with my friendships. I am proactive in reaching out to my friends. I am also proactive in cutting off friendships when I get fed up. Perhaps this is what unconditional love would look like in these friendships: Where my proactivity has been ignored, then I could change to being reactive. That is, wait for these people to contact me. In this way, I do not have to cut them off altogether, but I also do not have to waste my time reaching out where I already know that they will not respond. I am not going to beat myself up about the people I have already ditched. If they decide that they want to resume friendship then they can always apologise and resume contact. This would require their recognising that their actions were the cause of the breakdown of the friendship in the first place. However, how could they not know? I am confident that each one of them will be perfectly aware that what they were doing was unacceptable. However, they would have carried on doing it for the same reason that anyone carries on doing anything – because in my outspoken commitment to Christ and Christlike character, they thought that I would take it indefinitely and they thought they would get away with it. Ironically many of these people will themselves be Christians, but surprise surprise, they have not exactly expressed the same commitment to Christ as I have and frankly the deficiencies in their commitment are so clear to be seen in their actions – and that is also why they do not consider themselves constrained by the same commitment to integrity as I would. In short it, it is as if they are saying “Tosin, you are the one who is sold out! We know that we are not that sold out – we have never claimed to be that sold out – so nothing stops us from treating you any way we like! And then, if challenged, all we have to say is: “I am not there with God yet!””
To which I eventually reply “Yeah whatever – see ya!” Then under my breath, “Jokers!” This is all metaphorically speaking of course, it is not like this is a real conversation. For true unconditional love, I have to stop allowing myself to reflect negatively on them, but rather think of them as God’s children, whom He loves deeply, no matter how much their actions might frustrate me, even where I eventually decide to go ahead and cut off the friendship.
Unconditional love and everyone in the world
I believe that unconditional love as expressed towards everyone means that no matter what anyone does, we should respond in kindness and consideration. However, I do not believe that that means that we should keep ourselves there so someone can keep mistreating us, under the name of Christian love. If someone consistently displays a certain unacceptable character failing, then the wisest thing to do might be to just take ourselves from that negativity. Ultimately unconditional love is expressed primarily in the way we think in our heart about other people, wishing the best for them, wanting to see great things happen in their lives, even if it is unwise to subject ourselves to their character failings.
Unconditional love and “Church Christians”
I have been to some churches where I am just not satisfied that these churches count as real churches by any true Biblical standards. How then am I to relate now towards the people I met then in those churches? What does unconditional love look like towards them? I think that the easiest thing might be to just treat these Christians the way I would treat anyone who was not a Christian at all. That is, I do not necessarily think of these people as being Christians at all. I will not cultivate any kind of Christian interaction with them as specified within the Bible. However, they are still full human beings, worthy of dignity, respect, honour and consideration just like everyone else in the world. God still requires me to show them the same unconditional love I would show anyone else. I just would not make myself vulnerable to them in any way, so this love will have to be applied and expressed from a very far distance.
Rose in hand image by Geoge Hodan at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net