Thursday, February 28, 2008

Love ain't making people happy

Thirty years into life, I started to really learn about love. My kids are teaching me. The next few days I'll write about things that my kids have helped me learn that love is not.
Love ain't about making people happy. I should have known this just by reading the Old Testament, where a God who is love defined does all this stuff:
  • God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden of their dreams.
  • God promised a son to Abraham and Sarah and then made them wait till their Geritol-taking years to have and enjoy him.
  • God allowed his chosen people to be in slavery in Egypt centuries before Moses delivered them.
  • God led a generation of those people in 40 years of wilderness-wandering, allowing them to die off before taking them to their Promised Land.
"But that's God, Old Testament edition. It's a whole new deal when Jesus comes, right?" Wrong. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. The Bible also tells me this:
  • Jesus told a man grieving his fallen father to let the dead bury their own dead, to come follow him now.
  • Jesus allowed his friend Lazarus to die, knowing the pain it would cause Mary and Martha, even though he could have gone to heal him before death.
  • Jesus proclaimed, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
  • Jesus said to his buddy Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” and later, “You will deny me thrice.”
  • When his friends and following wanted him on the throne in Rome, Jesus went to the cross on Golgotha.
God is love. If this is how a God of love rolls, there must be more to love than making people happy.

Part of the problem is my human disability in receiving love, that "break in the cup that holds love inside of me," as singer-songwriter David Wilcox puts it. (Complete lyrics to "Break in the Cup" are worth reading.)
"I try so hard to please you
To be the love that fills you up
I try to pour on sweet affection,
But I think you got a broken cup....

I cannot make you happy
I'm learning love and money never do
But I can pour myself out till I'm empty
Trying to be just who you want me to
I cannot make you happy
Even though our love is true
For there's a break in the cup that holds love
Inside of you."
This is a big relief to me as father. If love meant making my kids happy, what a failed, loveless father I would be! Come to our house and you'll notice at least two things: (1) we love our kids; (2) one or more of them is almost always crying, fussing, whining, pouting or otherwise displaying signs of unhappiness.

This can only make sense if love is about something much bigger than making people happy.

My freshman comp teacher at
Pacific Union College, Nancy LeCourt, once said, "Love does not mean always being nice." That was her take-home from a book I read for her class called The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. There, Peck defines love as "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth."

If I buy into this (and boy do I ever), then my job as a loving parent is not to make my kids happy. It is to extend myself to nurture the growth of their soul. This often means saying "no" to them--and to my own compulsion to please people--so they can grow.

I have a need not only to be loved, but to give love and know that it has been received. When I love expecting to make my wife or kids happy, I feel angry and rejected this inevitably does not work out. And then, hoping to avoid this, I withdraw my love.

But when I love with the intention of helping one of my girls grow, I realize that growth is difficult, a rocky road that winds its way through sorrow on its way toward joy. So if my love ain't makin' her happy, it might be just the kind of love she needs.

No comments: