34 I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.”
It was so important He said it twice.
I spend a lot of time talking about loving others. Today I am going to say something out loud that might surprise you coming from someone who is a self-defined love warrior.
My love has limits.
As I read about the unconditional love of Jesus and our instruction to love God and love other people, the reality sits here beside me. This is the truth that I don’t talk about. This is the shadow I keep put away from the world. I say I am a loving person. I say I love everyone. I say that I can love difficult people from a safe distance. Those words are not truth.
Those words are lies. They are lies because they have exceptions. Limits. Hidden messages. Fine print. Let me try to say those statements again with some real transparency.
I am a loving person until you step on me nine times and then I am not so loving anymore. But surely God would understand that. People shouldn’t hurt people. Right? Golden rule anyone?
I love everyone except the worst of our society. The ones that hurt kids. People who kill. The ones that destroy lives for fun. I am sure God understands why I don’t love them. I mean surely that love everyone instruction did not mean them. Right?
Now my favorite one. I can love them from over here. From a safe distance. That person hurt my feelings and lied about me. That person grates my nerves every time I am around them. They gossip and create drama. They are toxic. They bring out feelings in me that are not very Christian like and loving them is a lot to ask. But I can still love them. I can love them from over here. Boundaries are a good thing, right? God would certainly understand that. Right?
What if I am wrong?
Let me pause here and be clear about my comments on boundaries. You should NEVER put yourself in danger or in a position to be harmed. If you have been abused or hurt by someone, this IS NOT instruction to reengage in a relationship that is dangerous. There are situations in which you must stay away for safety. I am NOT talking about those situations. Keep in mind I am also not talking about having to enlarge your circle to physically spend time with everyone. It does not matter where you are physically standing when the safe distance is in your heart.
I AM talking about that neighbor who annoys you. I am talking about that person who was mean in high school. I am talking about that girl at church with a better-than-thou attitude you can’t stand. I am talking about that person whose political beliefs are another world different than yours. I am talking about the ones that are human and messy and complicated and different and challenging and you finding a way past your anger, frustration, exhaustion, or pre-built attitudes to see them for who they are, loved by Jesus, just like you. There is a difference between a healthy boundary for emotional health and using a healthy boundary as an excuse. There is a difference between distance for safety and safe distance from things that are difficult. It is especially important in this conversation to know the difference.
Now back to my above definitions of what my love should look like. They obviously don’t match the definitions Jesus has. That’s the truth I need to hear. I have not seen an exception list near the verses that tell me to love others. Nothing remotely like that in the verses that remind me to love them like He loved me.
I have a lengthy list of mistakes, bad attitudes, and bad behavior that He loved me through without exception. Am I loving like that?
The hardest part of this conversation for me is admitting there is lengthy list of mistakes, attitudes, and bad behavior that He loved them through too. I am meant to love them through those things as well if I am who I say I am. Anyone can love people who are easy to love. I was told to love differently. To love like He loved me. So that I can show others what that looks like. Thank goodness He didn’t take exception with loving me. The hardest part really is admitting the truth. Admitting my exceptions to loving others are not a match to how He loves me.
These are the lies I tell myself to get out of doing extremely hard things. Lies that I sometimes justify with boundaries and safety and self-care and time management. I am telling you about the exceptions I created for how I love others because maybe you have exceptions too.
Maybe it is time to drop my exceptions about how I love others and become the exception to the rule myself. And in case you wondered—no, this will not be easy. And no, I am not strong enough to do any of it alone. I don’t have the kind of strength it takes to love someone like that, without exception.
But I know someone who does.
Father, let there be no restrictions to my love. Teach me to love as you do, fully, completely, unconditionally. Lift me to hear your voice in those moments and grant me your strength to turn even the most difficult to you. I do not ask for an east road, but one in which I travel with you.