When I was a teenager, a well-intentioned woman in my church decided that she wanted to “love on” us youth girls. To “connect” with us. To “hear our hearts.” Maybe I should give her credit for caring and trying. But the truth is, none of us liked her.
When she talked, she always sounded holier than us. Like we should be grateful that she, such a wonderful, godly, loving person, was taking time out of her day to tell us how to live our lives.
Spoiler alert: we weren’t that grateful. We’d never asked for this. We didn’t want to share our hearts with her. It was awkward.
Instead there was a different woman in our church, named Arlene, whom we kept begging to be our Sunday school teacher. Instead of talking with a soft voice and a tumbling stream of holy-sounding words, Arlene treated us like we were normal people. People she enjoyed conversing with.
Which one of them loved us more?
Your first thought may be, “Arlene, of course.” But I don’t think that’s true. They both loved us, and perhaps the other woman felt it even more deeply. I don’t know. The difference between the two woman was not one of love, it was one of respect.
The other woman was holier than us. We were supposed to be grateful for her. It was the sort of love you give to children, and what teenager wants to be loved like a child?
But Arlene respected us.
I thought about this again today, because of a comment I saw on the Internet. Ha. Actually, because of lots of comments I saw on the Internet. In response to George Floyd’s death in particular, and in response to racism in general, white people like to say, “we just need to love each other more.”
But the comment that struck me the most was in a discussion about George Floyd’s deep faith and apparent struggle with drugs. Some well-intentioned person commented about how they wish they could have known Floyd, to love him, and to help set him free from drugs.
Um. Wait a minute.
A man who has struggled with poverty, with drugs, and with crime, who then comes to Jesus and turns his life around, but who has to fight a daily battle with addiction…your first thought should not be, “I could have helped that person.”
Your first thought should be, “that person could have helped me.”
I mean, imagine what a privilege it would have been to hear George Floyd’s testimony. Imagine. I hope one day in Heaven, I’ll be able to.
I hear condescending love from Christians all the time. A classic example would be the mission trips to orphanages, which contribute to terrible attachment disorders in children.
Those children are being genuinely loved by the people who play with them for a week on mission trips. How could genuine love have such devastating consequences?
The truth is, love is not enough.
We can’t fix any problem by simply loving. We westerners should have listened to the native people of the lands we tried to fix. We should have asked them what they needed, instead of giving them what we thought they needed. We had the love, but we were missing the respect, and the humility to shut up and listen.
And we’re still missing it, right here in the United States of America. We’ve decided that maybe racism is real after all, and the solution is to love people more. But have you noticed? Have you stopped to listen? The black community isn’t asking us to love them more, like that will fix all the problems.
They’re asking us to listen, and to march with them.
They’re asking us not to leave when the cameras leave.
They’re asking us to put our money where our mouths are.
To invite them to speak, and pay them fairly. To visit their churches.
I’ve seen white person after white person say some variation of, “if only we could just love each other more!” But I haven’t seen a single black person say that.
Now, you may be upset at my apparent dismissal of the fact that “loving others” is the second greatest commandment. And I’ll give you that one. Loving others is extremely important. More important, it would seem, than even respect and humility. Second in importance only to loving God.
But I find it telling that the Bible doesn’t command us to simply “love others,” it commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Why add the “as yourself?” What does “as yourself” have to do with anything? What if you don’t love yourself in the first place?
As I understand it, the “as yourself” means that you’re loving the person as a peer of equal value to yourself, not as a child. Not as someone who pulls on your heartstrings and makes you think, “aww, the poor thing, I just want to give them a big ‘ole hug.” But as someone whom you could learn a thing or two from.
Someone you respect.
Someone you will listen to, in humility.