So what I’m about to write about might seem painfully obvious. Like “Gee Cait I can’t believe you bothered putting this in words” obvious. But I was inspired by a few things to write it down. One was seeing a lot of people hurting because they couldn’t let go of hurt in their relationships. Really legitimate hurt. We’ve all been there and we know it’s not doing us or anybody any good but how do you move past it? And then I saw a friend with a very very difficult relationship with a parent beautifully acknowledge the good things she’d gotten from that person along with the difficult things. It seemed a really graceful moment. And then I went to see Cinderella. And I think I’m going to have to write a whole separate post about my love for Cinderella in a world full of haters who think she’s a doormat. NO WAY. Best Princess ever! But that’s for another day. Without further ado here’s my reflection on loving people it’s hard to love sometimes.
“You don’t have to like everyone but you have to love everyone”: A way of explaining the second great commandment to our children. Love your neighbor as yourself.
“Even bad guys Mummy?”
“Yes even bad guys. You don’t have to like what they do but you do have to love them.”
But what does that mean exactly? Is it a throw away line? Can we say and do whatever we want in relation to a person so long as we pay lip service to some sort of wishy-washy love? Or must we love our neighbor by supporting every single decision they make and characteristic they possess? No, but both of these attitudes are quite common.
Love your neighbor as yourself. In a world of relativism it is common to mistake love for blind agreement. If there is no truth except some nebulous idea of tolerance then the only way to express love is to be a yes man. Another common mistake is perhaps a natural reaction to this frustrating trend. There is a tendency to excuse cruel or angry words by boasting of our honesty. (“No offense but…” or “I’m just telling it like it is.”) Yes, St. Paul teaches us to correct our brethren, but the attitude so often is not one of love but of scorn. Strangely enough both positions hold something essential in common. Both are focused on the flaws of our neighbor. And this is a very wrongheaded way to kindle love.
Love is an affirmation of goodness. God knows Himself and in knowing loves Himself for He is Good. When God created the world and mankind through his love He “saw that it was good.” We are all made in His image and likeness. Even when that likeness seems obscured we can be confident that it is there and that it is very good. This is what we must seek in our neighbors.
Nowadays many of us want love to include our faults. We wear them as badges of honor. If you can’t love my bad temper or my cruel sense of humor then you don’t deserve me! (You’re right. We don’t deserve it.) Others feel that failure to support every action of every person is failure to love. Bigotry! They cry. Conversely, many withhold love by focusing on the bad. Well I could love this person if only they hadn’t hurt me in x way. If only they didn’t hold y opinion. If only they didn’t commit z sin.
Yet our job, if we are called to love our neighbor, is to look for the loveable. How many of our broken relationships could we fix in this way! Do we have political enemies we cannot communicate with because we only see errors? Look for what is loveable. Wrong opinions are often held for understandable reasons, like a mistaken idea of charity. Love their good intentions and then debate from there. Do we have long standing resentment towards family whose flaws have hurt us or even shaped our lives? Look for the gifts they possess which have probably shaped us too. Do we have friends who let us down? Love the things they do right. When we love what any given relationship does provide we are more able to forgive its limitations.
I took my older daughter to see Cinderella this week and one line struck me as I was preparing this reflection. The prince asks Cinderella if her family treats her well and she replies, “They treat me as well as they are able.” Hopefully none of us are living with evil step mothers and sisters, but the line seemed so different from how we speak today. Today she should have said “No, they are really horrible and treat me disgracefully.” A true statement. Or “Well they have a really tragic backstory and they do what’s right for them. You can’t blame them.” An accepting statement. Instead Cinderella answers with true charity which sees flaws for what they are, but loves the intrinsically good person behind them. In loving them she desires greater good for them and is also able to forgive wrongs; so much nobler than pretending they don’t exist.
We don’t need to excuse flaws but we do need to see beyond them. Love is an act of will, not just a nice feeling. Making the decision to love begins by first making the decision to seek goodness. Goodness is naturally loveable and everything and everyone God created is good if we have the eyes to see it.