They questioned me about someone in my life. Someone I love.
They had issues with some things the person had done. Things about that person's character with which they disagreed. They thought if I knew the truth, surely I would no longer associate with such a person.
They were surprised by my lack of reaction. They evidently thought if I heard enough "evidence" I would completely wipe that person out of my life, ostracize them, and they would be dead to me.
I heard the tattlers out until it made me tired, but their chatter made no difference. I knew some of what they said was true, I knew other things weren’t. On some things, I had no clue. I was mostly struck by their hate for this person, who had done absolutely nothing to them. In other words, it was none of their business.
They denied hate - but it oozed out of every word. I decided I no longer had the energy or the inclination for a discussion with these "reporters”. I still, however, would love the imperfect person they discussed that I called a friend.
It's not the first time this has happened. There are always going to be those who focus on the shortcomings of others. They are always going to wonder why you have relationships with imperfect people.
I hope that unless there is a major shift in our world's thinking, they continue to find me odd. I hope I love people differently. I look around at what others call love and it seems like a weak imitation of what I believe the word to be. Not that I always do it perfectly; in fact, I would call myself quite inadequate. But, nevertheless, I keep trying.
Look at me living my life and I hope you see me loving a lot of imperfect people. "Sinful" people. People who don't always get it right. Sometimes people don't even try to get it right. Some try and try, but always seem to fall short. People with lots and lots of flaws. People who hurt other people, either intentionally or unintentionally. People who don't believe as I do and don't live as I think they should. People who screw up again and again and again. Gross people. Distasteful people. People who are rusty on the outside but shiny on the inside. People who are shiny on the outside but are rusty on the inside. People like you. People like me.
I find that we usually weigh the grossness of what others do as worse than anything that we would ever do. We use our own moral compass, which may or may not be in good working order. We point it at others and it seems to show us they are headed dead south to hell, while we are headed due north to heaven.
We don't consider that maybe we're using faulty equipment or are actually confused about how to get to our own destination. We're looking from the eyes of our own experience, our own goals, our own beliefs, our own strengths. We think people are all they are ever going to be. That God is done with them. That God’s priorities for them match ours.
We are arrogant - and using others to avoid looking in the mirror.
The behavior of others is not my responsibility. I shouldn't even try to locate it with my compass. unless it somehow will help me find my way. Their behavior is not contagious unless I have low moral immunity. That’s when you’re easily led and don’t take responsibility for your own decisions.
I know people try to make us sinners by association, but I don't ascribe to that theory. You do need to be careful of the company you keep. You need to figure out where and when you are vulnerable to adopting the bad habits of others. You need to be a person you respect, inside out. The inside matters most - I don't care if you judge me for how it looks on the outside.
My responsibility is to keep a close and open connection with God, who shows me when people are throwing me off course, draining me, and where I need to go for refreshment. It's not always where people think. Sometimes it means I avoid certain folks who call themselves Christian. Sometimes it's time to find a well and drink with a sinner.
We are people of free will. We own our own behavior, others own theirs. You can point fingers at others, you can describe their grossness in detail, you can tell the sad story of how they led you astray, but you never make yourself more pristine when you do. Oh, you may look better to throngs of people around you, who agree with everything you say because it is the most expedient choice. But they are wrong, either because they don't live mindfully or because they are too lazy to care.
You’re deluding yourself when you listen to the yes people. God knows the truth. Deep down, you do, too. You, and you only, are responsible for your behavior. For your choices. For your sin. No one else is. I never am. Well, unless I do encourage and entice you to it - but once again that enticement is my issue and has nothing to do with your choice.
If I spend a lot of time focusing on the things that people are doing wrong, I often fail to encourage the things they are doing right. I am not encouraging positive change. Yes, I believe people can change. I also believe there are reasons for what we do, all the time. Sometimes people just don't know any better. Sometimes they aren't self-aware. Sometimes they have adopted bad patterns and habits. Sometimes they are overwhelmed or anxious or depressed or bored and do stupid things.
Love is not a feeling. Love is a commitment. A vow, of sorts. A word of ongoing action. My definition always goes back to I Corinthians 13. I use it as a checklist to make sure I am really loving people and not just describing how people make me feel.
If I am loving someone, I am patient with them, kind to them, not envious of them, and not boastful about how much better I am than them. I am not too proud to be real with them, not doing things that dishonor them, not thinking just of me (and my wants and needs) but also considering them. I am not getting angry at them easily and I am not keeping lists of their wrongs and bringing them up over and over and over again. I don't get excited when I see them do things that are wrong. If I love them I always, always, always protect them, trust them, hope for them, and hang in there for them, even (especially) when it's far easier to give up on them.
I don't usually stay in relationships without purpose or when people don't treat me well. This is not a rule for me, but a guideline - for example, they may actively disrespect me, but I willingly stay for a season to see if I can help them learn something about respecting others.
Overall, though, I don't enable bad behavior. I tell friends when I think they’re wrong. When I do, I will only bring it up myself once. After that, it’s on them.
Sometimes I have to acknowledge the bad behavior and know I am not the best person to help them "get it". Sometimes there are the folks I must walk away from and love from afar. I have to get back to living my own purpose and they're not it.
Sometimes I have to put extra energy in praying for someone and waiting and watching for God to change them. That is how faith is built.
But sometimes I am meant to stand alongside them as they face the consequences of their actions. I need to pull them up and love them well.
My goal is that when I leave this world I will have learned to love well. I hope I please God with my progress. I hope I never have too much regard for what others think of me. It used to matter more, but I find that it matters less every day.
Love is not a warm and fuzzy feeling. In fact, if you only love those for whom you have warm and fuzzy feelings, there is not much power in it. If the people in your life only love the perfect sunshine-y you, and you only love them when you are around the perfect sunshine-y them, see it as it is. That's conditional love. It's a weak love.
I am after agape love. The kind that loves people "even though". The love that is there even when we are gross, socially unacceptable, unloving, making bad decisions, falling short of the mark, and getting the gossips talking. I believe in loving when they don't necessarily love us back the same way.
I hope I continually am learning to actively love others through it all. I hope I also love myself that way. Because that's how God loves - and the kind of love we demonstrate when we love God first, and then love others as ourselves.
Let's work on increasing that pure love for others and ourselves. It's a beautiful thing. Even when the blind gossips and troublemakers tell us it's not.