by Kristin on November 21, 2011

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Yogendra174

The past few days I’ve been pondering “possibility,” especially as it relates to love.

It all started at my church’s Bible & Beer gathering last week, where we were talking about God’s love (how’s that for a neat and tidy topic?). The conversation started with how God gives love and reveals his love for us, which naturally led us to Jesus and his amazing brand of love.

This is the best sort of faith talk to have—the kind that fills you up and gives you glimpses of what that elusive word “grace” is all about. But then we had to ruin it all by taking a look at ourselves, and our own part in this great love story. What do we do with all the love we’ve been given by God? Do we hoard it or share it? Who do we share it with? And how?

What a downer, to go from the most perfect examples of love to the most imperfect. Because, as you can imagine, we concluded that we sort of suck at love, especially when it comes to loving the “unlovable”—those who are least like us, who most annoy us, who disagree and even seem out to get us. Our capacity for loving them seems pretty much non-existent. We also decided that it’s difficult to love (really love) people we don’t know, whether they seem potentially unlovable or not.

As Christians, we’re supposed to love everyone, but if we’re being honest, how can we claim—or even hope—to really do that?

The beauty of grey

That’s when the idea of “possibility” entered my mind.

To me, possibility resides squarely in the world of grey, which I think is an important space for Christians to be OK with. Why? Because the world of grey is fluid. It allows for change—changed circumstances, changed minds, changed hearts. It might not be as emphatic or conclusive as we’d like, but it protects us from being dishonest in our emphatic proclamations—I love everyone!—while simultaneously protecting us from making negative conclusions that back us into corners and close doors.

Instead of insisting on black or white conclusions—I do love her or I could never love her—we need to be comfortable taking some time in the grey. That’s where the possibility of love is, and I’m beginning to think that possibility has power, in and of itself. It’s more than just a holding pattern.

When I’m wondering if I can love a person, what if I took myself and my opinions and issues out of the equation for a moment, and just sat with this: God loves that person. Which means that person is lovable. Which means it is possible that I could love him, too—if I knew him like God knows him, and saw him like God sees him. Of course, God’s love is beyond our comprehension or replication, but I think embracing this possibility of love has the power to transform our hearts and relationships into something more real and whole. I certainly don’t think it could hurt.

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  • http://takingtheyoke.blogspot.com Ray Hollenbach

    Let’s here it for possibilities, especially possibilities that originate in heaven. I have a friend who works in a helping profession. One day he told me, “If we knew–really knew–most people’s life story we wouldn’t ask ‘Why are they so screwed up?’ We would ask instead, ‘Considering all they’ve been through, why aren’t they more screwed up?’”

    Does it strike you amazing that the Father, who knows us completely and could possibly justify his decision to reject us, is the very one who chooses to love us most fully? The One who knows us best loves us most. But perhaps it should not surprise us: in our paltry imitation of Him, we as parents are the ones who know our children better than anyone in the world. We know their strengths and shortcomings, but we love them most. There’s value in the grey because it contains the promise of true color.

  • http://www.roxannegalpin.com Roxanne

    Most of hoard that love from God. I like the concept of the Grey. It’s useful, too, to ask ourselves WWJD ~ what would Jesus do? Someone once told me that I should pray for that person who I’m having difficulty liking/loving.

  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com Jennifer

    I like you. I really like you. Why can’t I have a cup of coffee with you right now? Here’s something interesting. As I’ve traveled from weirdly introverted depressive to slightly less weird getting better all the time depressive, I find my capacity for love has grown and grown and grown, like that little leaf up there you included. A veritable Jack in the Beanstalk magic blossom. Almost every time I hear some one say, “Those parents shouldn’t be doing xyz,” I think, “But you don’t know what prompted that. Let’s have some grace, here.” I feel like the world’s mother!

    On the other hand, I find it very easy to dislike the parents of children who play opposite my daughter in soccer. I find it easy to think lowly of them; they teach all the wrong ways of play to those rough and dirty girls competing with my child. Last night at a game, I challenged myself to look at the other bench of parents and really see them. To see that they were just like me; enjoying watching their girls do something fun. I wish I was kidding about this. Tells you how easy it is to save God’s love for those we deem worthy.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    What a beautiful reflection on sanctification and letting God define the terms of our growth!

  • http://katieleigh.wordpress.com Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

    I love this idea – because possibility is infinite and exciting. (Reminds me of Dickinson’s line, “I dwell in Possibility, / A fairer House than Prose…”)

    I was reminded again this morning (re: Jennifer’s comment above) that there’s just no room for self-righteousness, whether we know the person’s situation or not. Self-righteousness drives out love (this happens to me all the time). I like this “dwelling in possibility” much better.

  • http://www.stephindialogue.com Stephanie S. Smith

    There’s security in black and white, to be sure. But sometimes it becomes a cheap answer. Navigating the gray, with all the mess it takes to really love a person, takes far more courage. Thanks for this reminder this morning!

  • http://www.left2devices.blogspot.com Matt

    Great topic, Kristin.

    Of course, it helps to know how we define “love.” That may seem like a silly question. At a glance, we may think that it’s obvious what love is. Yet, on so many occasions, I have heard pronouncements of love from folks (the all-encompassing love of which you refer to), only to see them treat others in a not-so-loving way, so it often makes me wonder: How do people see love? How is it defined within their hearts and minds?

    And, of course, if we strive to seek a godly-type of love, what then becomes of hate? Is it a goal to eradicate hate? Hate for hate’s sake is terrible, but are there some fellow humans who earn a fair degree of hatred? I think of someone like Osama bin laden. It’s hard for me to say that I loved him (as one loves a fellow human being). It’s easier to say that I hated him. Is that right? Wrong? Should I even feel conflicted about it?

    One wonders: For the sake of argument, assuming there’s a God…. what would He do with someone like OBL? If God does, indeed, love everyone, in a way that only He can, would he still cast his soul into eternal torment for his actions here on Earth? See, that’s one of the things I’ve never been able to grasp about so many religions: the gods can get angry, very much so. Yet we’re also told that they love us. But would a loving god send some of the ones they love to a hell-like eternity? If so, and if we still say that they love us, then isn’t “love” in danger of losing its meaning?

    Or should it be termed “conditional love?”

    Not to de-rail the subject but, speaking of eternal torment, I’ve always wondered why it’s supposed to be eternal. I mean, considering the relative shortness of human life, why is someone judged for all eternity for actions done during such a short period of time?

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Ray, I often think this: “If we knew–really knew–most people’s life story…” Of course, I had to start struggling with my own life story before I was really able to dial up the compassion for others. And yes, this is amazing: “The One who knows us best loves us most.”

    Roxanne, I think you’re right—it’s tempting to hoard the love we’re given. I guess that’s part of being human, or at least having only a human capacity to understand love. We struggle with the fear that the love will go away.

    Jennifer, you *can* have coffee with me right now, or at least about 10 hours from now. You just need to get in your car and start driving. :) But yes, you’re absolutely right about the way depression can impact our ability to really see others. I like that you said your “capacity for love has grown and grown and grown.” That’s exactly what I was imagining when I chose the maple tree seed to illustrate this post.

    ed, I hadn’t thought of connecting this idea to sanctification, but yes! And defining the “terms of our growth” is a great way to put it, too.

    Katie, ah, “dwelling in possibility” conjures a really wonderful image. I’m not a visual artist, but it makes me want to create something to express just that.

  • http://greenergrassmedia.com/blog Paul Merrill

    I wrote about friends here – http://pmerrill.com/2011/11/friends/ – and how it’s OK to not like someone.

    But I like how you pushed the possibility part further. That’s so hopeful to me.

    And yes, I was thinking of one specific person when I wrote that post. It’s so occasional when my wife and I see that person that I don’t know when the possibility of change might happen. But it might. God can do that.

  • Joi

    The idea of possibility opens up the previously closed door just a crack to imagine yourself, maybe even forcing yourself, to actually seat yourself next to someone you have decided is unsavory for whatever reason in any group setting, such as a church dinner – whoa! – and treating that person as an acceptable human being. I think we have lots of trouble “liking” people who are of the opposite political persuasion, no matter how they otherwise live their lives. This resistance to include them within our circle of kindness creates tons of negative energy for us, ultimately maybe even more than for them. Yes, this idea of yours, Kristin, is definitely an epiphany that could make a huge difference in the world. Only by the grace of God can we overcome the negative thoughts that keep us from stepping into this gray place of possibility.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Stephanie, I love how you put this: “Navigating the gray, with all the mess it takes to really love a person, takes far more courage.” Thanks for reading and being a part of the conversation!

    Matt, you’re absolutely right—there are many ways to define or think about love. I tend to think they’re all valid forms but each deserve their own place (and it helps to know which version we’re talking about). I guess at its most basic form, I think love is about wanting the best for another person (and I think what’s truly best for someone will not be in conflict or prevent others from seeking/having what’s best for them). Does that make sense? Of course, we all fall short at times, and I suspect we each have our own distinct groups of “unlovables” in our lives. You also bring up some interesting questions about hate and God. Here’s what I think: God hates emotions like greed and he hates many things humans do to hurt and even destroy others, but he does not hate anyONE. That might seem like splitting hairs, but I think it’s an important distinction—it’s the difference between the potential of who each person is and the ways we fall short (sometimes WAY short) of that potential. Anyway, this response is turning into its own post! Maybe you should just come to Bible & Beer sometime. :)

    Paul, thanks for linking up your post. I love it when we can each be doing our own thinking and writing, and then share and grow even more through these connections.

    Joi, I like that you brought up the idea of “imagining” yourself interacting with someone you would normally avoid. It might not have any immediate impact on the people around us, but I do believe those inner paradigm shifts begin to change our hearts, so we can eventually *live* differently. (And yes—the political divisions seem to be among the biggest and most troubling in our nation right now.)