In a world of ‘love’, some Christians fear the sacrifice of holiness in the name of peace. So, to avoid riding the pendulum into realms of compromise and Kumbaya, they ride it the opposite direction into stoic, emotionless piety.
It looks strong, but this kind of faith is a reaction to fear.
Love according to the world means blurring lines of morality and ignoring grievous sins, claiming exclusive faith – faith in Jesus Christ alone – is judgmental. Love, to the world, means no absolutes.
In my early days of apologetic training I was zealous to stand against this false kind of love. Though my intentions were good and I was readily able to defend and argue my positions with Scripture and logic (never caught with my pants down theologically), I misunderstood what biblical love was. Paul describes God’s love in 1 Corinthians 13, a well known passage often read at weddings:
Though my motives were good, my reaction against ‘worldly love’ made me averse to some forms of love in general – hardly a biblical approach.
The love of God is an incredible paradox. It reaches for the outcast while he is still in his sins, but will not accept the sin itself. It loves the person as he is; but also calls him to a standard of holiness. The love of Jesus lifted the prostitute from the dirt while saying, “Go, and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11). As I’ve grown out of my zealot stage, my passion for righteousness and justice hasn’t changed – but my approach has. I’ve learned that understanding love is essential, not only to the message of Jesus Christ, but to everyday life.
She Could Not Stop for Love
Washing machine thumping, water running, dishwasher swishing, music playing, I checked off the items on my legal pad. “Flowers watered… laundry done, homework finished, bathroom cleaned…”
“Hey babe, something interesting…” Mr. M leaned in the doorway. “Scott was telling me the other day that his insurance policy will only cover 20% of his girlfriend’s maternity costs when she has his baby, so she’s staying in the welfare system because it’s free to her there.”
He continued on, something about insurance, welfare, and the economy. I nodded and continued checking off my list. “Mmhm, yeah honey, that’s cool.”
He wasn’t talking anymore – just staring at me. I looked up. “What?”
“Does what I say mean anything to you?”
I set down the legal pad. “Well, of course it does, I was just busy – ”
“Babe, you’re always busy.”
He’s right: I am. I’m always busy. I’ll often hear Rudyard Kipling in my ear: “Fill every unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.” You see, clean bathrooms, washed towels, finished dishes, living flowers, and completed homework are my priorities. I am a wife and a good steward of our belongings, I’ve often justified to myself. I will not have dusty TVs and moldy dishes and him asking for boxers because I didn’t do the laundry. He should be grateful I’m doing ALL THIS, not complaining when I don’t have time to listen to little stories!
But which speaks louder of my devotion to my husband: clean towels, or my kind response? Which speaks louder to my boss: being brashly right about that faulty report, or a gentle exposure of its flaws in the after-action meeting? Which speaks louder to my friends: a coffee mug on their birthday, or my willingness to listen to their lives?
Type A women are almost always busy, and a lot of us are happiest that way. I work best under pressure and with a plethora of things to get done. Don’t you love sitting down with your list at the end of the day, just to see how much was accomplished? (And yes, I sometimes add things to the list after I’ve done them, just so I can cross them off!)
But what I’ve missed, and what I still miss, is that on the to-do list is something which should be at the very top. It should be higher than that end-of-fiscal-year report and the cupcakes for the bridal shower and wrapping the onesie for my new nephew.
Everything we do as Type A women (and Type B women, because you do a lot too!) is worthless if we aren’t doing it in love. I can do laundry all day, type up proposals, wash dishes, plant flowers, give gifts and even write this blog, but if I am doing it out of obligation and my own glory, it means nothing.
When I am smashing dishes around in the sink but ignoring my husband’s earnest attempt to share his life with me, it is hard for him to see my dishwashing as sacrificial. I’m just a banging cymbal. And think if the roles were reversed: my husband is fixing a computer in his office and I come in to tell him about my new work assignment. He doesn’t listen to a word of it so he can ‘fix the computer for us’. In that moment, I won’t care about ‘our’ computer. If he cared about ‘us’ he’d listen to the other half of ‘us’ who was talking to him!
More Than An Interruption
Love should be a part of what we do every day – not an interruption of our daily routine. Why?
- Love is patient. We can take being interrupted because if love is on the to-do list, this is an OPPORTUNITY to check it off!
- Love is kind. We can speak gently, even in the face of derision, because God is our Defender. Knowing He will justify us (if we need it) enables us to show kindness when we are too upset or tired to do so.
- Love is not proud. We can take healthy pride in our accomplishments without making our accomplishments our obsession.
- Love does not dishonor others. Read: love listens. Love takes time for people. It puts people at the top of ‘to-do’ rather than flowers and budget amendments and matched socks. By deferring to people first, God will see to it that we have time to tend to our stewardship responsibilities as well.
- Love is not self-seeking. Oh, how hard this is. Truth be told, when I put my to-do list ahead of Mr. M, it’s because that is what I want. I want a clean house. I want to be a mini Martha Stewart. I want my to-do list checked off. Good things done for selfish reasons become worthless things.
- Love is not easily angered. We can keep our tempers (here is where I chant, “Yes we can, yes we can” like the Little Engine That Could) because God is our Justice. If we are right to be angry, we can rest assured that God will deal with our offender (Rom. 12:19) after we have confronted them and failed to gain a peaceful conclusion.
- Love keeps no record of wrongs. We can keep our grudges to a minimum when we remember just how much God has forgiven us, or, if your spouse is the offender, how much he has forgiven you. You can be sure we’ve all offended our husbands (of whom I am the foremost). Keeping perspective helps us show love despite the actions of the other – just like Jesus.
I have to focus for a little bit on the next descriptor:
- Love rejoices with the truth.
Here’s where my get ‘er done, justice-oriented heart wants to dance. Love stands firm. Love upholds what is good, righteous, pure, and holy. Love is as uncompromising as it is kind; as unpolluted as it is humble. The love of God accepts all who choose Him and His standard: Jesus Christ. That message is exclusive and many people hate it – but Jesus said they would (John 15:18). When the world hates us for a true message delivered with kindness, it’s not because we got the ‘love’ wrong. It’s because it’s not the kind of ‘love’ they want.
- Love protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. When we look from the to-do list to the people around us, we get frustrated with how their needs interrupt our day. But what if their needs are our day? Love protects the hurting, trusts when it is hurt, hopes when disappointed, and perseveres in spite of it all. Love is hard. But aren’t we strong women? Hard things are what we go for.
Now, having said all of this, I want to clarify: this series about reconciling strength and love does not negate the messages of holiness, purity, and modesty contained within this blog. While I do struggle with compassion at times, I am not a hardhearted person. In order for me to address the issues that I write about, I have to have thick skin. I have to be tough in order to tolerate being called a hypocrite, liar, fool, idiot, religious bigot, slut-hater and all manner of crude descriptors which have been issued to me because of what I believe (regardless of how false they are). It is hard to have compassion on those who hate me, but as I have grown closer to the Lord and gained a better understanding of His love for me, I’ve been more equipped to love those who hurt and demean me. My values, and my message, remain unmoved.
But love is not just on our to-do list. Our to-do list should be written on Love.
Type A girl here. I already have my list written for tonight: wash the bathroom, vacuum, pack for a business trip, grab my books now that classes have started again.
And ask about Mr. M’s day. Meet him at the door with a kiss. Speak sweetly, kindly, and gently to him, because love is more than a clean house, a good job, and dinner on the table. Even when you’re Type A.