I was sitting at a table with 5 other colleagues, all ministers in Christ. I know their hearts; they love God and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I appreciate their efforts in living out the gospel in mission.
We were sharing about different opportunities to provide ministries for people who are on the fringes of our associations. One of them shared about a particularly difficult and painful time they were having with one of their adult children’s friends. This young woman was in a rental unit they owned and they were trying to love her along as she tried to get her feet under her and make her way in the world. It was a wonderful example of how we are called to be in relationship with one another and really be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Then they shared how the one obstacle in this young woman’s life was the man she had as a boyfriend. “He’s a drunk, and doesn’t do much of anything.” A little ball of pain fired up in my stomach. “She seems able to draw the love out of him, but he’s bad news.” A profound sadness came over me accompanied by a fair amount of guilt because I have been in this spot before.
We form relationships, and we come to love people as children of God. Sometimes they become part of our families in a congregational sense and sometimes in a real emotional way. We become attached; lives intertwined and connected, so many connections like threads of a web. And when someone or something impacts our loved ones’ lives, we react, emotionally and usually defensively.
Recently a couple who we are very close to us experienced the complete breakdown of their marriage. This was particularly difficult for me because of the deep love we have for them and their children. I was mad that the husband would not go for counseling. He was prepared to give up and walk away and ultimately did. But I still love him in spite of what he did to a girl that I consider as close to a daughter as I will ever have. I still want to be there for him when I know, even now, there are friends and family alike who have already turned, fangs bared and baying for blood.
This is life. It happens. Sometimes there is no amount of prayers or counseling that can save whatever we would determine needs saving. It is difficult, even when there may be someone to “blame”, to remember that we need to love them too. As Disciples of Christ we cannot pick and choose the relationships we are to have that will reflect the peace and love of Jesus Christ. It has to be every relationship, with every “other”. When Christ met the Samaritan woman at the well, he did not bad mouth the man she was living with or condemn her choice. He let her know he was aware, but did not judge either of them. He simply offered himself and the promise of God’s love. He left it up to her to live in righteous relationship. Jesus was probably also very much aware that the societal rules and expectations would never meet the reality of their lives. And he had to love them both where they were at, not despite the decisions they made, but because of the decisions they made.
Back to the earlier scenario, I felt I should have cried out at the table, “But what about him? He is broken for a reason – someone broke him and he needs to be loved. If she can find a reason to love him in his brokenness why can’t you? Jesus would and does.” But there is a time and a place for everything. It would have been embarrassing for both of us, and it might not have been received well. Here is the rub: I am guilty of the same thing. All the time. I pre-qualify those I come in contact with. I establish in the first 30 seconds if I want to be in relationship with them. So, hopefully I can allow the Spirit to gently remind me that all people, including myself, are granted grace and love by God, and I am called to do the same.