I’m not sure why, but I have been thinking so much recently about this post I saw on facebook. I saw it months ago, yet it has stuck with me and I keep rolling it around over and over. It said, “If we’re dating, I want to be your second priority. I want your first priority to be you, your ambitions, your life and your future, because my priority right now, is me and mine. Finding happiness and security alone, is crucial to finding it together.”
Hmm. I agree with the last sentence for the most part. No person is going to be able to complete you or make you happy. You’ve got to be able to be complete, fulfilled, and happy on your own two feet; you can’t rely on anyone else to prop you up to that point. They’ll fail you eventually. The rest of it, however, really bothers me. The more I think about it, the more it looks like thinly veiled selfishness. But I think this is considered a very modern, forward-thinking view of love and relationships right now. “We are individuals with our own aspirations and goals and lives and as long as it’s convenient, we’ll enjoy life in parallel. I would never think of asking you to compromise anything for my sake (sounds nice), because I would never compromise for you (aaand less nice).”
This is all very nice and modern-sounding but, let’s face it, not terribly practical if you’re looking for a lasting relationship. The “I’ll never ask you to compromise or put my needs above your own” thing breaks down as soon as I want to pursue my dream of becoming an artist by attending art school in Amsterdam but you want to continue building your non-profit in Boston. Some sort of compromise will have to be reached or it’s goodbye. But it seems people prefer this way of seeing love now. It allows them to continue living for themselves.
It is the opposite of Christian love.
In thinking about this facebook post, I started realizing just how counter-cultural and CRAZY the kind of love we’re called to, the kind of love we have, is. Agape love (the love of God) says, “I will love you first and always, before even myself.” It doesn’t require reciprocation, it doesn’t require equal treatment, it doesn’t require, in fact, anything. It gives and keeps giving even when unnoticed, taken for granted, or even abused. This crazy kind of love even surpasses our instinct of self-preservation. God didn’t give us any exceptions. He told us to forgive 70 times 7 times. He told us to love our enemies. To pray for those who use us. In other words, love even when it costs us, even when it hurts us. I have a tendency to gloss over these sections: sure, I can forgive people when they’re mean. When they hurt my feelings. No biggie. But…that’s not all he’s talking about. I mean, we’re supposed to love our enemies – those who are actively antagonistic, out to get us. And pray for those who use us. Our world, even most Christians, would tell us to give up on those people. Now, I’m not saying anyone should just stay in an abusive situation. But should we continue to love the abuser? Yes. In fact, if we want to be following our Lord, we MUST continue to love.
I didn’t realize until recently how foreign this type of self-sacrificing love has become. I was talking to my agnostic friend and asked him if, hypothetically, there was a God who created the universe, would he want to know Him, bearing in mind that really knowing Him requires giving yourself to Him? My friend grumbled. Why would you have to sacrifice yourself in order to know Him? Why would He require that? I was baffled: isn’t that how every relationship works? Then the lightbulb: that’s not how most people think every relationship works. To me a relationship, be it friendship, romance, or what have you, has absolutely no possibility of working without some compromise or self-sacrifice. We give up time that could have been spent on other pursuits, we give up what we want to do to do what they want to do, we give up freedom to be with other people to remain faithful to them, we give up habits that annoy them. None of these are forced, we do it because we love them. That’s what love is, to me, the choice to put someone else’s life, well-being, and happiness above your own. Is this hard? Certainly. Does it suck sometimes? Yup. Is it even scary now and then? Heck yeah. Is it worth it? Always.
Yet our world would call this foolish. To be honest, it seems foolish. It’s entirely counter-intuitive. How could loving someone who’s clearly in the wrong be a good thing? Won’t that just enable them to keep being in the wrong? And isn’t it self-destructive to continue loving someone who only hurts you? But I think this is where the world has a different definition of love that what I’m talking about here. By love I do not mean accept, condone, or embrace everything about a person (although that has become a popular definition these days). I do not mean emotionally attach yourself to them. I do not mean feel deep affection for them. By love I mean actively want the best for them and seek their good. I mean forgive sincerely. I mean be decent, kind, patient, and respectful with them. This love is not weakness. It is having the incredible strength to absorb hurt without breaking or becoming hurtful in your turn, to help shoulder someone else’s burden, to give beyond the limits of what seems possible. This kind of love is all the more powerful for its rarity. It requires more of us than we actually have the ability to give.
Good thing we have God. Good thing He ALWAYS loves us perfectly with this magnificent kind of love, pouring into us so we can pour into others. Good thing love is what He is, and He has endless reserves of it for us to draw on.