Community is something we all want. Really, I think it is something we need. I believe that God has created us to desire community with one another. We desperately need to be fully known and fully loved by others. However, community isn’t always easy. Sometimes relationships (such as friendships, romantic relationships, or just relationships with family) can often be a struggle. We butt heads, we get hurt, we hurt others. It can be a really messy thing. So how can we learn to participate in relationships in such a way that we don’t have to experience this pain? Is there a magic key to doing relationships right and saving ourselves the heartache? I honestly believe so. What I’m about to suggest is not a quick fix, but it is a fix. It’s going to take some effort, some discomfort, and some sacrifice. But trust me, the price is worth the payoff. So just what is this solution to all your relationship issues? (Drum roll please) Unconditional love.
Not satisfied? Feel like it’s cheesy? Feel like I over promised and under delivered? Just hang around because I promise you that I didn’t. Why do we have problems? Why do we feel pain? We feel pain because we don’t get what we want from the other person. This could mean we don’t get the attention we want. It could mean the other person doesn’t act the way we would hope. This could be anything. We get hurt because their actions don’t line up with our hopes/expectations.
So what is the way to get around this dilemma? To not hold those expectations. To not hold an ideal that will eventually not be met. Think about it. If we are to love the other unconditionally (meaning no condition is to be met) then we will not experience this let down. If my sister acts in a way that would usually bring me hurt, but I instead freely offer forgiveness (genuine forgiveness that fully lets go and doesn’t keep a record of the wrong (1 Cor. 13:5)) and love her regardless of her action I have freed myself from the pain of disappointment.
We hurt when we don’t get what we want. When we (maybe even unintentionally) make the relationship about what we want from it and not about denying ourselves and putting the other first (Phil. 2:3) we are bound to experience pain in the form of disappointment. The more we learn to deny ourselves and participate in the other-oriented-self-giving-love as displayed by Christ crucified, the more we will find the freedom that comes with freely giving ourselves to the other without the expectation of anything in return. We enslave ourselves to the other’s ability to meet our expectations when we love on a conditional basis and look to gain and not simply give.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his work Life Together, has a wonderful quote that I think will summarize all the rambling that I have been doing. “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
Bonhoeffer says that as you hold onto the ideal you have created in your mind of what community should be like you will be crushed when if falls short. If you base your happiness upon how closely your relationship lines up to this dream you’ve created you will end up destroying the relationship. However, if you simply love the other person freely and without condition then you will create community.
So this means that when that person doesn’t put away those dishes like you expected you won’t feel the disappointment and anger that comes with them falling short of your ideal. Sure you can have the discussion on why they should, or on how it would be helpful. But you don’t have your happiness riding on their ability to maintain the standard. You have freed yourself from the slavery of performance based love.
That means when someone says you don’t care for them or pay attention to them when you’re home, even though you’ve been putting in that 50 hour work week to provide, you don’t have to experience the anger and frustration that comes with them not recognizing your effort like want them to. If you aren’t self-centered and expecting them to recognize your hard work before you love them, then you are free to simply give. This is because you are finding your joy, worth, and value from God and not them.
Now this is easier said then done. To the degree to which you can deny yourself, put the other first, love unconditionally, and be satisfied by the unconditional love of God, you will find no hurt in your relationships. But that takes an adjustment deep within that can only come from reflecting on that sort of love that God has for you.
1 John 4:19–21 says, “We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen. And we have this command from Him: The one who loves God must also love his brother.”
The reason we love our brother like this is because we have first been loved in that way. When we have grasped the unconditional and non-performance based love that God gives us, it will create a radical desire within us to do the same for others. God could not love you any more or less based on your performance or actions. God loves you as much as possible right now, and nothing you can do will alter that. Any pain that God experiences does not come from His frustration with our failing to meet His standard of obedience, it comes from Him seeing the child He loves so much doing something that will hurt them in the long run, and that is a big difference from the pain and frustration we experience.
The love of God cries out, “Father forgive them they know not what they do.” The love of man often cries out, “Father why is he/she being like that?” So do you want to stop feeling the pain and frustration that comes with the community that you seem to need but hurts to have? Then as Jesus says, you must lose your life to find it (Matt. 16:25). You must die to self and live for the other. You must decrease and He must increase (John 3:30). You must no longer live, but rather have Christ live in you (Gal. 2:20). You must prove your love as God did by dying for us while we were still in the height of rebellion, not waiting for us to get our act together before loving (Rom. 5:8). This is the way of calvary. This is the way of love. This is the way that true community shall be made. A community free of pain and conflict can only come at the expense of dying to self and freely giving to the other. There can be no true community without cross. You cannot avoid the cross and have genuine community.
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.” John 13:34
I pray we will begin to show the cross-shaped love that was shown to us.