What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happend to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’ . . . I conclude that my conception of love [particularly God’s] needs to be corrected.
-CS Lews, The Problem of Pain
Tough love is a term I’ve throw around a lot as a pastor and a thought that comes across my mind as a dad and Christian who understands sacrifice – both Jesus’ and that which we need to make. I’m experiencing it in powerful ways right now.
After two Sundays being away from church (which have been absolutely enjoyable and worship-filled), my emotions were all over the place having to be around people who were there and talk about it. I’ve been able to escape conversations but I can’t escape my frustrations. I’ve prayed asking God to help, for certainly I can’t do it on my own, but man it’s tough. Explaining again and again to my kids why I’m not going and their disappointment and confusion is brutal. Even when wanting to get something that is ours which is left at church, my son wants me to go get and I say mommy has to. I am experiencing tough love. The hard part is that when we experience it, it affects so many others.
There’s been times recently when I’ve felt like an estranged troublemaker and/or victim and find myself objectively looking back at those thoughts as both pathetic and real. My bride gets messages via folks from church and doesn’t know whether she should relay them or not. And I don’t know either. So she doesn’t I deleted close to 400 facebook friends in attempt to protect myself from something that I can’t point a finger to. Some I’ve had regrets at doing already. Aside from the first three days after sharing on Dec. 11th, I’ve received messages from 2 people. 2. I kinda set myself up for it, but you have these mixed emotions that plague you.
Some people you perceive backstab you in ministry and it’s hard to receive passive aggressive meanness (“tough love”?) at one moment and then encouragement another time. It’s hard to hear what others say (or at least what folks tell you others say) and then try and treat them as if you didn’t know or you forgive without knowing it’s true or not. You need to be tough-skinned, grace-filled, compassionate, loving, understanding and committed to the call in ministry. I find many leaders are a couple of those, but not all of them – and it shows. The tough-skinned ones appear rigid and compassionless while the compassionate ones appear enabling. In my attempts to be all of that, well . . . it’s part of this tough love. While I know folks can change since they’ve hurt you, often times they don’t know they have and while you love and forgive them, you know you need boundaries for yourself.
And there’s folks you really want to hear from and you think they care but know that the awkwardness you have they also experience and their way of loving is to give you space but you know that’s tough for them. My swinging moods continue to be challenging and I don’t know whether to be hurt or thankful, understanding or rejected. The emotions and mind-out-of-control tell you one thing while Scripture, level-headness, and grace tell you another. I’ve had so much peace, but just as much tension and confusion.
All that said, tough love is what I sense I’m receiving. And I’m getting it first and foremost from God. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I’ve done the right thing, but I don’t know how to continually do the right things. The big decisions are tough, but once they’re made, the everyday tough ones are where the true challenges lie. Understanding that it’s love, and recognizing it is tough and that I will grow from it is actually exciting. Being in it, though, is just . . . well, tough.
Each of our decisions affect so many people. Even the decisions we choose not to make. I know that my decisions can be transformed by the renewing of my mind, and in fact need to be. And this helps us know God’s good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2). Yet being transformed is something we can’t do, something I can’t do. Only God can do it for and in me and part of the tough love is the patience required to let Him do it. That’s been my prayer: Lord, I apart from You I can do nothing (John 15:5). I am abiding in You. Help me to just walk in your presence in everything I do, considering you first, others second and not neglecting myself third.
I keep telling Sherry that this is “just tough.” I can’t explain why. And when I try I’m all over the place and it’s hard for Sherry to know and hard for me to figure out (cross reference my 2500 word journal entry yesterday). But in my authenticity, my desire to not only do God’s will, but see the world the way he sees in both in brokenness and boldness, I trust He will transform me. The greatest transformation I need is through forgiveness, perceptions of people and patience with both God and myself. It’s all part of sanctification. It’s a process. It’s tough. But it’s love. And truly, I am thankful for it.
My conception of love is being corrected. And I have a lot of hope in that.