One day last spring, when the clouds rolled back and the Oregon sunshine filtered through the valley, I went hiking with three friends. We always have good conversations, but this time was different.
My friends Bradley, Jared and Eric talked about the common frustration of seeing other friends struggling with some personal issues, making poor life choices or walking away from God. People never seem to do what you want them to.
Relationships are messy and risky because people are messy and complex.
If imperfect people spend time with other imperfect people, there’s a high probability—hovering around 100 percent—imperfections will surface. But where’s the balance of loving other people and carefully calling out their imperfections that keep them from moving forward?
That question bothered me, because it surfaced the conflict of what I felt I should do and what I thought I should do. Thoughts and feelings make a mess of things we already had sorted out, don’t they?
On the mountain, Bradley told us about one of his friends from college. He had noticed some pretty obvious ways in which his friend was acting dismissive and destructive, disregarding the health of a relationship and the God he claimed to follow.
When Bradley confronted him about it, his friend passed it off as unimportant and irrelevant because he didn’t see it the same way Bradley did. Bradley wanted to help his friend, a fellow Christian, return to a better way of life in connection with Jesus—but he didn’t know what the loving thing to do actually was.
I questioned myself, too: Should you stay friends when you don’t agree with their decisions? What do you do when things seem unclear?
The Truth About Love
In the first century A.D., a mentor named John wrote a letter to a group of followers of Jesus, urging them to remember an old commandment from God. The old commandment, which John redefined as new and relevant as ever, explained why we can’t be right with God if we’re holding out on love towards the people around us:
“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble” (1 John 2:10).
In the darkness of our fragmented lives, we operate outside of connection with other people, without their help, without honest communication and healthy challenges for our growth. It’s easy to live in darkness because it hides us; we don’t have to admit we’re wrong.
But we’re not meant to live in that darkness.
Do You Love Your Friends—Really?
Friendship gets tricky when we have differing opinions on what’s healthy and what’s not. Are there some decisions that require you to change or end the friendship when you don’t agree—when you think he’s doing something wrong when he thinks the opposite? How does God’s truth about love inform our perspective and actions in this tension?
Love is hard to describe, especially when it comes to friends. What’s loving is not usually quick or easy or simply affirming everything someone does.
When we look at our relationships, we need to shift from our limited perspective to God’s far richer view of love. Sometimes we think of love as giving someone everything they want, but it’s really about helping them grow and understand their own needs and find healthy ways to meet them.
Jesus sets the example so we see how to love someone: Caring for people is not about pointing out their faults and controlling their decisions, but instead pointing them to better things and helping them get there.
Loving God is inextricably tied to loving people.
God’s invitation to live in a relationship with Him means that we’re also connected to other people He is in a relationship with and people he cares about. Our connection with others looks different depending on things like proximity, trust and seasons of life, but love allows those variations.
It’s a demanding challenge to love people who have as many imperfections as we do. But knowing Jesus is knowing our place in God’s family—a family that loves each other. We cannot claim to belong to God’s family if we do not love the people who belong to God.
Deciding to Stay
Sometimes love means letting go of our own preferences for a moment or a season. Other times, it may mean compassionately confronting the beloved with a harsh reality she hasn’t yet realized, but allowing her the choice to change for the sake of her long-term health and growth.
On the mountain, Bradley said something I had to think about: “At some point, I had to decide whether I wanted the self-satisfaction of being right or the opportunity to keep him as my friend.”
In an uncomfortable situation, Bradley approached his friend and lovingly pointed him to something better—God’s help recalibrating a relationship—but his friend declined. Instead of calling off the friendship, Bradley chose to remain his friend.
Bradley didn’t neglect the truth of the situation, but he continued to offer his friend love regardless of the choices he made. Love doesn’t always need to be acknowledged as right. That’s a hard teaching I often resist because I like stating the reality of a matter, yet love takes care of that on its own.
Whether you’re trying to love your spouse during a time of conflict, family members with vastly different political persuasions or navigating theological differences in your faith community, love is a higher call.
Truth and love are mysteriously intertwined, braided together to bring us clarity and belonging. Truth motivates love; when we know who God is and who he’s made us to be, we can love at our fullest capacity. By extending that love to other people, we find that to love is to express the very presence of God.
Excerpt taken from John Weirick’s upcoming book, The Variable Life: Finding Clarity and Confidence in a World of Choices (used with permission).