I love Seth Godin.
The guy is a genius, but actually if he was here he would say that I am too. And you. And everyone. We all have genius in us but we’re often just in places where we’re not allowed or prepared to let it out.
Reading his book ‘Linchpin’ at the moment I was struck by an illustration he used about ‘teaching fire a lesson’.
Basically if fire burns us we can be angry with our self but getting angry at the fire is pointless. It won’t stop the fire being any hotter next time. Or if we are cut off by a driver we scream and yell at them because we want them to know that is not acceptable and so they won’t do it again.
But as Seth observes, they can’t hear us. It has no effect on them whatsoever.
Really when you think about it we are just trying to control them.
But that is wasted energy that could be used for more productivity and more connection with people. It’s a futile exercise.
This idea got to me so much because I know that I have spent a lot of my energy yelling at fire. ‘Loving’ my friends because I want them to be ‘better’, not so they can live up to certain behaviors that I have determined as ‘right’. Oh no, my motives are always so ‘pure’. (I hope the heavy sarcasm was obvious there)
When people hurt us we want them to know it. We want them to feel our pain. If we’re honest often we don’t really want them to change. We just want them to know that they were a jerk. As if magically that will make us feel better.
Most of the time the person coming out of it damaged the most is us.
We’ve given so much head space and energy to something that the person may not even be aware of.
Which in turn means we are prone to disconnect with them, to give up if they don’t behave like we want and still carry around the frustration.
But this is the opposite of the love that we experience through God; the same love we are called to show others. But why is it so difficult and why do we feel vulnerable when loving others?
The reason is that we are investing our time and energy in them and if we don’t see some results we feel like we have wasted those. But of course that is not love. That is simply a desire to control the situation so that its outcome is how we want it.
So what if we gave that up?
What if we understood that ultimately people do what they like and we can’t control them? Does that mean we don’t bother?
Or does it mean as I suspect it does, that we become free to love without any preconditions. That when we understand that this may not change the person and if it does its not because of us really; we will have no good reason to stop loving.
The big question is whether or not this is what God’s love looks like?
And I think the answer is yes.
Think about all the times you have messed up only to experience God’s love over and over again. There is never an end to His love, but rather than it being down to a desire to control us, could it be down to His openness to the reality that we are free to choose to do what we like?
If you took an overview of the Bible you would very quickly see that many of the great Godly characters we learn about in Sunday School are the very people who continually screwed up. Not the ones who made a mistake and then learned from it. No the people who made the same mistake repeatedly and never learned from it.
Yet God continued to love them.
Perhaps it’s because He knew that ultimately if he stopped loving them then the only person who would really be hurt would be God. That God would grow cynical and bitter. That unless we continue to love unconditionally the same will happen to us.
Our part in loving our neighbor or are friends or colleagues is not to control them. Loving for what we can get out of it is not love. It’s not easy to live like that but if we don’t then we are the real loser.
However, the only way in which we can love someone else unconditionally is if we experience that type of love first ourselves. One of the greatest ways I believe we can experience unconditional love is through other people. It can be a powerful motivator in our life but ultimately it will fail. Sooner or later we will be let down by the people around us and we will be burnt.
They will hurt us, we will hurt them. They will ignore our pleas for help or they will ask for something in return. The reason this hurts so much therefore is because we put so much as stake onto what others think of us. If someone treats us badly then we assume it must be to do with ourselves. We put 2 and 2 together and get an unhealthy outlook of whom we are. So we try and change what that person thinks of us by behaving ‘better’. By making sure they don’t get annoyed at us again by altering some aspect of ourselves.
We try and protect their love for us by changing.
But of course this is not unconditional love but conditional love. And that type of love never wins.
So this just goes to show that we should live selfishly and with number 1 on our mind right?
Well maybe, or maybe it means we should stop putting all our belief in others (not all though) and be free of the stress that comes with it to fit in.
And this is the magical thing, because when we do that and start to put our trust in a love from a much larger source than ourselves or other people, then we start to love others free of having to prove anything.
I can love you now, not because you love me, but because I understand that you won’t be able to perfectly, unlike God.
So I spend less time being angry, trying to prove I am right, taking the high road, manipulating, assuming the worst of someone, cheating, lying, talking behind your back, trying to fit in, writing passive aggressive blog posts, tweeting how much I disagree with Pastor ________, caring about what you think of me.
All of which are things we do to protect ourselves.
When we don’t need to.
Which takes up time we could spend loving each other.
When we definitely need to.