The toughest love

by Kristin on November 15, 2012

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by jana-

I have a feeling God has either been having a generous chuckle or a mighty cringe as he looks down on little me, going about my week.

It started out as a good week. In fact, I went into it better equipped than usual—Scot McKnight had just spoken at our church over the weekend, so I was running on a fully-inspired charge.

Both of his talks focused on the topic of his blog and best-selling book, The Jesus Creed—how all of the commandments in the entire Bible hang on the two greatest ones: loving God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. While that was certainly inspiring—especially what he said about the significance of reciting the Jesus Creed again and again—it was Scot’s definition of “love” that really rocked me, in the best of all possible ways.

He was going to save his definition of love until his teaching Sunday morning, but a couple of us sort of cornered him during the question time Saturday night. We had to know—we didn’t want to wait! Because sure, it’s great to focus on loving our neighbor as ourselves, but it’s hard to make that real if we don’t know what real love looks like. And besides, this fit right in with everything I had just been thinking about in terms of teaching our kids empathy. I needed something I could hang on to.

So Scot obliged, talking for a bit about the dictionary definition of love, and about how popular culture has co-opted the idea of love so much so, that most people—certainly most adolescents and teens—think first of the pheromone-rushing sense of desire when they think of love. But the Bible, again and again, demonstrates what God means by love, Scot said: A rugged commitment to being WITH and FOR people, unto divine ends—for the purpose of becoming all that God created us to be. That’s the definition of love we need to strive for—the same type of love God shows us.

The definition was so simple, but so astounding. It rang true deep in my bones, like something I had always known, yet it felt brand new, like some amazing new invention being shown to the world for the first time. I was stunned. It was not just truth, it was practical truth—something I could imagine, something I had experienced, something I could explain to my kids and put into practice in my life. I haven’t always known what love is, but I know exactly what it means to be with someone; I know something of what it means to be for someone. Presence and advocacy are not foreign concepts.

So I went forth, out into my week, to love. And first thing Monday morning, I encountered a rude, self-absorbed graduate student at the cafe. Later, I swore under my breath at the driver of a Suburban who was drifting over into my lane—yep, he had his phone out, and he looked exactly like I expected the driver of a Suburban to look. Then I became incredibly annoyed over a new comment here on my blog—one that began with the sentence “What about what the Bible says about fornication?” I immediately turned to Twitter for consolation, tweeting, “something shuts down in my brain when a comment at my blog starts with ‘What about what the Bible says about…’ if only it was that easy.”

It seemed like there was a hard-to-love person at every turn. I don’t know if there were more aggravating people than usual (was this a test?), or if I was just noticing them more, because I had entered into the week so determined to love and they were so determined to make it difficult.

As I thought more about what God must be thinking, though, I decided that God does not cringe or laugh at us. I think he does this thing that no human can do—a type of cringing-chuckling-head-shaking-grace-filled-hug. It’s sort of like how other languages have perfect words for things that leave English-speakers speechless. For God, it’s all part of that being-with-us-and-for-us love. It involves a sense of humor, and a lot of patience. Maybe we can’t quite get it right, like God does, but there’s so much we can learn in his true love embrace.

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  • Annie Barnett

    You’re right, this definition of love is so simple and so loaded at the same time. It’s always the application that’s the hardest. Right here with you, Kristin.

    • kt_writes

      Yes, the application IS the hardest part. At least when we have a more concrete definition to work with, rather than just “go out and love people,” it gives us something to check ourselves against.

  • Kari

    Oh no! I was not loving you well by encouraging your snark. :)

  • Matt


    • suziwalks

      I’ll check my concordance, but I don’t remember the word “hug” being in the Bible.

    • cherylsmith


    • kt_writes

      Ha! Thanks for the laugh. You have demonstrated there can be a sentence
      that begins with “What about what the Bible says…” that doesn’t
      frustrate me!

  • Scot McKnight

    Kristin, that’s an absolutely knock-down, perfect illustration of why Jesus focused so much on loving — and turning enemies into neighbors — and most of us (I’ll include myself) fail at this often enough to make us see the wisdom of what God wants for us. That’s what the Bible says, you know! :)

    • kt_writes

      Thanks so much for stopping by my blog, Scot! You’re absolutely right—the failing, even though it isn’t pretty, is a big part of the learning and seeing.

  • Brenna D

    Today I walked into OT and I was already in a bad mood. I HATE going there…sitting in the waiting room for one hour with my youngest two is exhausting as I try to navigate the chaos of a room full of kids, most of whom have some pretty serious behavior issues. And a bunch of moms who seem to check out and don’t monitor their kids.

    One of the moms walked in and the first thing I heard her say to her child was, “Go find something to keep you busy so I can zone out.”

    I was SO angry. How could I mom act like that (in public)? No sympathy for the Ugg boot wearing, Starbucks sipping, Mercedes driving mom. None.

    About 45 minutes later, after she had been playing on her iPhone, she stopped to compliment me on my girls. Then it started to pour out…how she has 4 kids…2 of which are in OT for some severe issues. Her boy was just kicked out of school for the week after his meds changed and how she’s just worn out and doing it without any involvement from her husband.

    And in that moment, when she became much more human to me, I felt what you described as that “cringing-chuckling-head-shaking-grace-filled-hug.”

    Thank you for that reminder of what love really is. I just wish I read this BEFORE I walked into that room!

    • kt_writes

      I have to start by saying I first read your comment as “I walked into the Old Testament…I HATE going there.” How funny is that?!? Anyway, I have found myself in situations like that SO often, Brenna. They have really humbled me and taught me so much about giving people the benefit of the doubt—grace. After all, that’s when grace comes in—when the being with and for a certain person is really hard.

      • Brenna D

        Old Testament…..yup, that too ;)

  • suziwalks

    Yep. Love is so much more complicated and uncomplicated than we make it.

  • cherylsmith

    I love how God gently gives us opportunities to get it right.

    • kt_writes

      Indeed! Sometimes gentle opportunities don’t really get through to me, though, so God has a way of getting my attention, as needed. :) Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

      • cherylsmith

        Golly! I totally get that. – me, from underneath a ton of bricks

  • Jennifer Luitwieler

    Well, boy howdy. I have been having the same kind of week, and I’m certainly not turning to the Bible to help correct it. Instead I’ve been just clashing against the *moroons* around every corner, like I’m some kind of magnet. (Is it true, like attracts like?)

    There are indeed people who are kind of hard to love. And so what? It’s still the smallest thing, the biggest thing, I can do for them. Thank you, my friend.

    (Also, I think God taught my mom how to do that the head shake chuckle, exasperated, disappointed, totally proud kind of thing).

    • kt_writes

      This is so true—so strangely but perfectly true: “There are indeed people who are kind of hard to love. And so what? It’s still the smallest thing, the biggest thing, I can do for them.” Thanks for stumbling along with me, friend.

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  • JLS

    Thank you for your thoughts. LIving as I do in a major metropolitan area of 5 million people I can certainly understand the temptation to see people as I expect them to be. Your post helped me, especially your comment about the person in the Suburban.

    My daughter drives a Suburban. She has a husband and 5 children. One of her children has a rare genetic disorder, occurs in something like 50 in a million births. You can imagine what it is like when she goes to the grocery store! Her 3 teenagers eat like horses. You can imagine when they go on a trip, especially if they take the 2 pound dogs and the 2 pound cats.

    My daughter is a Nurse Practitioner and has a private medical practice that sometimes costs her far more than she makes. It’s okay. Her husband is a doctor who puts in about 60 hours of week in emergency services.

    Part of my daughter’s patient load includes 100 women prisoners. She extends care to the uninsured and goes the second mile, especially with her aging patients. She works in a fairly poor part of the country and some of her clients do not have insurance.

    Last year she employed something on the order of $20,000 in “injectables”. These were all on Medicare patients. Medicare paid her $400. Because it is Medicare, she could not contest the payment nor could she recoup the losses by turning to her patients. She had to absorb the loss herself, which she did. While she’s had to cut back on “injectables” she continues to administer them as needed, especially to her aging patients.

    She is a terrific person. Giving. A wonderful mom and wife. She is a Christian.

    Lately she has been trying to figure out ways to start a foundation to which she could contribute to help pay the medical bills for those who cannot afford their medical or prescription costs.

    But, she drives a Suburban. Perhaps you have seen her…Please, if you do, say a prayer for her or at least wave.

    • kt_writes

      I really really love that you shared this snapshot of who your daughter is and what her day-to-day life looks like. It seems as if you and I each had words to help the other grow a bit more and see a bit better.

      • JLS

        Indeed! :-)

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  • themoderngal

    What a beautiful reminder from Scot McKnight. It is always important to understand the context of the idea.

    Tangentially related — when the priest at my own church preached on this very passage recently, he made the point that the love mentioned involves three different relationships: You loving God, you loving your neighbor and you loving yourself. That “as yourself” part sometimes gets swept under the rug as an afterthought. Sure, some people have no problems having a commitment to being FOR themselves, but I bet many of us have struggled with it at one time or another.