Love: A Wholesome Illustration

Love is work.

Love is hard work.

Love is worth work.

Love is…

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NKJV)

Relationships are hard.

We all know that.

What we aren’t always clear on is why they’re so difficult.

Regardless of how our relationships start out…at birth, at first sight, by chance, a gradual pull, circumstantial, environmental…at some point they just go off the rails in ways that confuse and misdirect us in our efforts to repair them. Sometimes, a relationship can go so far off the rails that the love we profess starts to feel like a huge lie, and suddenly we find ourselves in a season of loss that could have been avoided if we had a deeper insight into how relationships actually work.

First of all, things in a relationship are going to go wrong. In our humanity, there is simply no way to avoid it. In our frustrations, it’s very tempting to start using words like ‘toxic’ and ‘narcissistic’ to make it easier to start building our exit strategies, but what if what we define as toxic has nothing to do with the designation of victim vs. villain? What if our view of love is passing through environmental filters? What if those we regard as enemies are just as lost and bewildered as we are?

Our friends who are brutal in their honesty. Our spouses who trust us so much that they are careless with the worst parts of themselves in our presence. Our co-workers who have very different definitions of healthy competition. Our children who are at their absolute worst at home but just ‘the sweetest things’ to the old lady down the street. The stranger who has no sense of personal space or the manners required to say, “Excuse me”. These people are not our enemies, and neither are we theirs. We are all simply human, each one of us different according to the lenses through which we view this world.

The only lens, however, that can ever show us the truth about ourselves and one another is that of love.

In all transparency, when I started this business, I only had one motivation in mind: to love people. Period. No conditions, qualifying standards, or filters. I simply want to meet people right where they are, regardless of how high or low of a point they may be on their journeys. With love as my weapon, going up against fear, division, and hatred has always seemed a worthy task to me. John Lennon says it this way: “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.” In an ideal nutshell, if we all understand and apply the basic attributes of love, we will stop being so afraid to love one another rightly. I realize, though, that loving people, while hard on the surface, is even harder the more you dig, and that is only because the definition of love itself is no longer clear in the national society we live in.

When I speak of love, I am only referring to romance when working with couples. Every other time, I am referring to the actual characteristics of love which are all necessary to every interaction we make in our lives amongst other people. Love isn’t fluffy, pink, or made of chocolate. It is the hard work of internal battles that must be fought every time our thoughts and feelings get knocked out of alignment. Consider the passage below:

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)

I have no problem outing myself about the fact that I often get an ‘F’ on my life report card for patience, and that’s just the first one! Looking further into this passage, it’s no wonder we struggle so much with love. It is chock full of the things that are the hardest to hold ourselves accountable for. We, as human beings, want to have pride in ourselves, don’t we? It’s not easy letting go of those receipts when we know we’re probably going to have that same stupid argument all over again. We most certainly don’t want the pain and pressure of enduring through every hard circumstance. I mean, who does?

That’s just it, though. No matter what Alannah Myles told us, what love IS and what we want it to be are two different things.

Months ago, I’d asked Trinity, my daughter, if she would consider helping me with some things for Root To Branches. Since I do all of it alone and she works such short hours, it seemed reasonable to utilize her downtime and social media savvy to lighten my load. After a couple of days, she agreed, and I thought it was all fine. However, after the agreement, any mentioning of content, pictures, or schedules sent my poor child into some kind of weird attitude episode that I just did not understand. Eventually, I just stopped mentioning it and left her alone because I didn’t want to argue about it.

Yeah, right. Not arguing with my teenage daughter? How did I think I would get away with that one?

I don’t know what got into me, but just today, I asked if she would like to go over some content, and within 5 minutes, both of us were heated and distraught. She explained that the only reason she agreed to help me was because I’m her mother and she felt backed into a corner. She felt that saying ‘no’ would have made her a bad daughter. Even though I explained that I wouldn’t want her to help under duress, she was still angry and we had to part ways for a while.

10 minutes later, I receive a text from her that included the following:

“Love is…Putting aside your pride to help someone when you know they need it.”

Apparently, she had taken the issue to a friend who told her that she was being selfish, and that her helping me was a reasonable thing to do, all things considered. She gave it some thought, calmed down, and picked our media content up right where she had left it. She did it with her heart, and it blessed me so much! After crying and hugging it out, she explained to me that she is very selfish and anxious about her own time, and that she was very sorry for including me in that. I apologized for being unkind when it seemed as if I wouldn’t get the help I desired from her. I truly needed help, and she is truly comfortable in her own space. Neither of us was wrong in our needs or desires, but we were both wrong in our handling of one another.

I had wanted her to help me blindly with no consideration for her own feelings in the matter. She wanted her time all to herself. What we needed, however, was patience, kindness and circumstantial endurance. In this, we have several things to be grateful for, including friends who don’t co-sign our BS, but are bold in telling us the truth and holding us accountable for it.

While this seems so small and wholesome, the truth is that loving my child is hard work sometimes because it is by choice, not nature. She is, after all, a totally separate being from myself and is in possession of her own mind and feelings. I choose to listen, guide and comfort even when I’m feeling selfish with my own time. More importantly, though, I choose to give her and myself a break when those things don’t come easy. My choice is a healthy relationship with my daughter in spite of my feelings. This basic illustration of love is what it’s all about.

Healthy relationships are more honest than our feelings will ever be.

With whom do you need to be more patient? What do you not need to be so prideful about? What is wearing you down in the areas of hope and faith?

I encourage you to remember that we are all fighting against the same tides in our pursuits of happiness. If you are hurting and confused, I am very sorry that this is your ‘right now’. Think. Pray. Phone a friend, coach, or mentor who will be honest with you, and let them help you dig deep to find the root of your position. Give yourself and your opposition a break in your shared humanity for the sake of the relationships we all work so hard to build and hold on to. If they must go, let them. But hold your ground in loving well and loving rightly.

Love is work. Love is hard work. Love is worth work. Love is…

What is your definition of love?

It’s OK to be a Chicken

4 Steps to Pushing Through Fear

Fear is the thief of growth and change that we cannot afford to feed. We can’t kill it, but we can put it so far in the background that it loses its power and ill-gotten authority over us.

An entire life can be consumed by fear in ways that stops all growth, all change and all good things. Sure, every doggie gets a bone every once in a while, but fear cancels the option for a daily influx of good, meaty and tasty bones. Some of us are afraid of failure. Some of us are afraid of success. Some of us are afraid of the dark. Some of us are afraid of the light. Whatever our fears, they gain more power every time we choose not to face and make war with them.

It’s OK if you’re a chicken. What’s not OK is failing to live it in spite of the fear. It is a normal thing to be afraid of the unknown or to be wary of a situation, but there is a great benefit to trying anyway because the only thing that can fail is a try. So, when we don’t bother trying because we’re afraid of failing, we cheat ourselves out of discovering new areas of ourselves and those around us, taking new opportunities, or gaining new life and work skills. Also, in a very twisted way, we can even cheat ourselves out of love and care because we are too afraid to be vulnerable. Lastly, and maybe the worst thing, we cheat ourselves out of functioning in our purpose even if we don’t know what that is yet. We will never find it if we’re always afraid to walk outside and look for it.

So here are a few ways to handle the thief blocking the entrance to your life:

Name it

If we want to conquer our fears, we need to first identify them one at a time. Whether it’s a fear of heights or a fear of loneliness, we have to call it by its name if we ever hope to make it obey us. When a boss, leader or authority figure wants something, they don’t just blurt out a need. They go to their subordinate and say things like, “Hey Dave, I need you to take care of this.” or “Hey Kate, do you have this done?” We identify the person and then we state our request. When you approach your fear and call it by name, it becomes more vulnerable to you because now you know its name. An even clearer example may be calling our poor children by their entire government name when they’re in trouble. When they hear their whole name, they know that mom or dad is serious, and that there will be no room for disobedience.

Define it

Knowing our fears and knowing why we are afraid are often two different things. In order to better instruct it, we have to figure out why that thing bothers, frustrates and frightens us so much. If you have a fear of traveling, why? Are you afraid of crashing? Are you afraid to be too far away from your home? Are you afraid of traffic or crowds? For these or any other reasons, why do these reasons exist? Take a look back. Really dig deep and look for the root of that fear of traveling. When you find it and understand why, you’ll be able to reconcile that root with what is going on now.

Run and Tell it

If we were capable of conquering our fears alone, we’d be rid of all of them by now. Whether we like it or not, we all need help. Now that we’ve identified and defined our fear(s), we have to put ourselves in a position of authority over them. In my experience, the best way to do that has been through prayer to give myself something to focus on that I know is bigger than my fear. If you’re not there yet, that’s perfectly fine. You can always phone a friend, coach or mentor who can help you talk, cry and shake your way through it. A friend, coach or mentor who can pray for you is a bonus. However you choose to tell it, make sure that the person you tell will never be OK with allowing you to stew in your fears. Make sure they love you enough to push, pull or drag you if you need it. You can be angry and even afraid, but the choice will be yours to work through it or live in it.

Surrender it To God

When you surrender it, you’ll be lighter, and you will begin to move forward. It will be difficult the first several times, but each time you take a step, your fear gains less and less control, because the perfect love of Christ will begin to cast it out (1 John 4:18). Whatever you are afraid of will still exist, but over time, the space in your mind for it will become so small that it will soon find itself out of real estate. It won’t be because you’ve become a better person, a saint or a boss. It will be because you will have learned to trust God more than you believe your anxieties. You will be afraid, but you will choose to go.

This is my personal formula, born of my preference to know the way things are made and how they work. The only way I understand to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) is to let God help me wrestle my fears into submission. Not all of us are that brand of bold, and that is not a problem. Whatever equation or process God gives you, however long it takes, you get a total of 365 days in a year to wake up and make decisions that can change your life for the better or for the worst. The reality of just how many opportunities we are given to make those decisions doesn’t weigh that much until we realize that God really understands our natures when it comes to fear. He even addresses it often. 

Get up and take your first steps.

It will be difficult the first several times, but each time you take a step, your fear gains less and less control, and you will have more and more power over your decisions. The fear won’t change, but your mindset about it will change. Whatever you’re afraid of will still be there, but over time, the space in your mind for it will become so small that it will soon find itself out of real estate. It won’t be because you’ve become a better person, a saint or a boss. It will be because you’ve learned to love yourself and others more than you’re afraid. You will be afraid, but you will choose to go, do and say in spite of the fear. Instead of just a chicken, you will then be an armored chicken…aware of the risks but willing to take them.