Tag Archive: discipline

Love, Unconditional

It’s a pretty enough morning. I can hear the birds out my window telling each other something like that while I sit here at my computer with a perfectly decent cup of coffee. For anyone who may be wondering, it is, of course, a cup of French pressed Black Butte Gold roasted by Sisters Coffee Company. I like it so much that I even sent some in a small thermos with Carey to work today for her boss. The attached note said that no one should have to drink random coffee from Safeway, which is what the lady’s husband bought instead of Sisters coffee! I figure she’ll get a chuckle out of it. She does prefer some of the medium roasts put out by Sisters Coffee, I believe.

As entertaining as talking about coffee may be, I suppose I should move on to unconditional love. A friend mentioned it a few weeks back and got me thinking about it. She said she wasn’t sure it existed. I told her I wasn’t sure about its existence, but that I was pretty sure that people who invoke it (especially in some sort of conflict) are trying to get you to suck up the consequences of their bad behavior. That wasn’t a very nice thing to say, but it has unfortunately been my experience. This made my mind start turning over a couple of things, which I thought I’d explore here. 1) What is unconditional love, particularly as demonstrated by God? And 2) if it does exist, does God’s version differ from what we see people commonly practice?

Like I said, what I’ve seen a lot of is that people who want to claim unconditional love from another person are the people who just did something rather awful to that person and want out of the consequences. In that case, unconditional love is the “Get out of jail free!” card. They’ve got free license to misbehave without having to worry about what sort of damage they might be doing. The people who are trying to practice unconditional love often seem to have trouble placing boundaries. They get stomped and trampled by people less principled or idealistic while believing they have to take it because love is unconditional. They’re busy turning that other cheek. Do either of these positional extremes sound like the love of God?

Maybe we should take a look at some definitions. Merriam-Webster says unconditional means “not conditional or limited : ABSOLUTE, UNQUALIFIED.” The thesaurus provides some interesting synonyms, too, if you care to take a look. Unconditional means pretty much what I expected. It’s without condition or limit. That’s pretty straightforward and simple, which is not to be confused with easy. It sounds a lot like Romans 8:38-39, which says that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Well, then, what is love? The dictionary has a lot to say about it, so if you want to look it up, go for it. I’d rather go back to I Corithians 13, especially since we’re talking about God’s love.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails.

A lot of this seems pretty straightforward to me. Patience, kindness, unselfishness, humility, honor, and so on are all things you’d expect to see in love, right? Those even seem like they might meet the conditions for unconditional. In fact, we could build a case for making unconditional love out to be just what I described earlier: it’s the get-out-of-jail-turn-the-other-cheek card. No consequences! No boundaries! Woot! Free love!

There is a massive problem with that, though. To make it work, we’d have to start with the scissors in Genesis and clip out some serious chunks of it. After we hacked up Genesis, we’d have to keep going through the rest of the Bible, too. The story of the first of men repeats its theme throughout our history.

*cue ominous music here* Dun-dun-dun!

Genesis tells us that not long after the beginning, there were these two people, Adam and Eve. They got to spend time walking around with God in the Garden of Eden. What a fellowship that must have been, to walk in the beauty with God Himself! Do you suppose they stopped to admire a butterfly’s wings, or to watch a sunset, or to appreciate the lithe muscle powering the cheetah’s stride? Life was perfect. Adam and Eve had only one restriction. They were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. With a little persuasion from a serpent form named Satan, they disobeyed God. That disobedience got them tossed out of paradise, and it created a separation between Creator and created that still exists thousands of generations later! That doesn’t sound to me like God simply ignores disobedience or other bad choices. It doesn’t sound like there are no consequences. Does that mean He no longer loves us? Does that moment mark the sudden death of unconditional love or prove that unconditional love does not exist and perhaps never did?

Personally, I doubt it proves any such thing. Again, what is love? When I scroll back up to take a look, it’s patience, kindness, unselfishness, and all that. If I’m honest, I can’t say that God’s treatment of Adam and Eve was unloving, or that His love of them (His patience with them, His kindness toward them, etc.) was conditional upon their kissing His butt and being good kids. I can say that I don’t much like His actions, or that I don’t wish for something easier, but my dislike or disapproval does not mean God was unloving. To say that, I would have to ignore my friend in Hebrews 12 which says that God will discipline those whom He loves. Love that will employ discipline complicates the simplified view of unconditional love I presented above. That sort of love probably trashes the simplified perspective, actually, because it’s so simplistic that it mistakes boundary and consequence for condition and therefore believes it is unloving to apply boundaries.

It’s the sort of love, I suppose, in which children start out believing. You do what they like, and they love you. You do what they don’t like, and they think they hate you, but their belief or how they feel doesn’t mean that anything you did was not out of love toward them. That perspective is not a bad place to start. I guess it’s just not a good place to stay. Smart kids eventually learn that sometimes the things done by their parents which those kids hated were done to protect and nurture those kids. A love that will discipline, which God claims about His love, will not seem “pleasant at the time, but painful” (Heb. 12:11a), but it is still love and, I think, still meets the conditions for a love that is, at the very least, unconditionally present and active.

I think what’s making it difficult for me to progress through my post is that unlike my revelation about I Corinthians 13, I don’t remember having a specific moment where I quit fighting God’s discipline and accepted it as loving behavior. In trying to write about it, I’m having trouble tying it up in some neat package. I don’t have that handy dandy, I Corinthians 13-like moment to write around. The learning itself was and has been a more gradual experience with plenty of frustration and setbacks.

Honestly, while it’s frustrating my attempts to write it into a nicely tidied story, I do think that it’s a good thing. It’s life. It’s so (insert clip of huge smile spreading across my face) life. Sometimes, you bet, we stand on a mountain top and have an epiphany. We get to see a transfiguration or something equally cool and awe-inspiring. We gain a revelation that can drop like a bolt of fire from heaven and burn through our hesitancies, rebellions, and misgivings. As awesome as those moments are, they are only sometimes. Revelation can also come through the passage of seasons, through the growth of a summer, through the slow, wearing action of a stream upon a stone. It can feel like no progress at all as we stumble forward, one step in front of the other, or even take two steps forward and one step back. It can grow and ripen slowly, and that’s all right. It’s okay if life and learning take time. Not everything is, “Beam me up, Scottie!” Considering that learning to trust God about love and discipline took me a while and was a very frustrating process (and I’d be silly to claim to be done learning it now), it seems appropriate that writing a story about it would also take a while and be, at points, frustrating. In fact, it makes me smile, because here for me is another small moment of revelation and remembrance. To overcome, to finish well, life will demand something more than, “Eureka!”

I do think that revelation received more slowly and perhaps less dramatically is just as awesome as the quick and elevated types. Actually, in some ways, I like it better. It makes me smile and smile and smile some more to see God at work, slowly and methodically, in all the little things of our lives. Little things are important. Little things are what make up all the big things in our lives. Hebrews 12 starts out by saying this:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

“Run with perseverance” – wow, doesn’t that make your heart go pitter-patter with excitement! *laughs* Maybe I’m projecting me onto you, but I would guess that it probably does not. Perseverance, the “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition” (thank you, Merriam Webster), is not something that seems to come naturally or easily. Simply trying to develop it ensures that a person will run into “difficulties, failure, [and] opposition.” The development of perseverance seems to go something like this: “EW… EW… Ew… ew… ew… oh… Oh… OH… Hey! Huh, maybe I am progressing.” Perseverance is so often about the little things that try to stop us, like blisters and aching feet and sore muscles. To acquire perseverance is to acquire the belief that practice makes perfect, that failures are actually an opportunity to learn, and that you don’t arrive all in a rush right now.

It tends to be a frustrating process. It’s also deeply rewarding. Mountaintops make me feel exultant (they show off God’s glory in a special way), and that’s good. However, perseverance is satisfying the way cold, clean water is on a hot day, and I personally like that better. It lasts longer. It enables me to live every day with the hope that I am progressing, and that the difficulties and disappointments and frustrations through which I suffer are but part of the journey I am making toward joy. Perseverance is what helps me cling to faith and love especially when they don’t make any sense to me. Perseverance moves me past this “now,” this moment in which I doubt and struggle and fail, into moments of deepened trust, joy, love, and, yes, even discipline.

So I’ve struggled to tell a good story about accepting the discipline of God coming from His love for me. Okeydoke – so be it! Apparently, writing and story telling mirror life. I shall persevere and see what God has for me in this process. He’s always up to something. This, too, can be an opportunity for growth and to learn more of Him!

Love Disciplines

I’ve gotten myself somewhat stuck trying to write this next post, so I’m going to give it a shot and see how it goes. I feel like I’m still trying to communicate why on earth I would feel disappointed with love, why I think that it can be a good thing, and why I expect to run into that disappointment fairly often in my walk with Christ.

Perhaps it could be stated as simply as this: my ways aren’t His. I lack understanding. I just don’t get God and what He does an awful lot of the time. Unfortunately, I suffer from delusions and think that I do understand. In fact, darn it all anyway, I understand perfectly, all the time, ra-ra-ra-rawr, rawr, rawr, blah, whatever. So I lack understanding, I experience disappointment, I start up the whole cycle of Bekah dealing with disappointment, and it’s a good thing. It is an opportunity to learn, to grow, to be better conformed to the likeness of Christ. God can take the wind out of my sails, no problem, and leave me stranded to give me time to understand that I don’t understand. I think this is something that will be a semi regular occurrence because, in my saner moments, I’ve a suspicion that there are many, many things wrong with my understanding. Really, if you stop and think about the objective truths of God, does He make any sense to you?

Love disciplines. This little gem was the source of much anguish for me and an effective needle on my butterfly-and-rainbow euphoria balloon. Because I didn’t know all that much about love in general and God’s love specifically, I’d dragged out a concordance and was checking out references to God’s love. It was pretty exciting, until I found Hebrews 12:4 -11. The link is there if you want to read the whole bit, but I’ll quote the part that made me choke.

6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”[a]

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

I had a HUGE problem with this passage.  To make it even worse, verse 6 didn’t originate in Hebrews. The author is quoting a passage from Proverbs 3, so it’s in the Bible at least twice. Here’s some objective truth for you, a statement of fact – if God loves you, you can expect correction and discipline. I could not – literally could not – understand that, because I could not reconcile what God says about love in 1 Corinthians 13 (patience, kindness, selflessness, etc.) with discipline and being treated as His child. I was so upset about it that there were times I hated God. I did not want to be His child.

My life experience was causing me some real problems here. What I knew about a father’s discipline was that I could expect harshness, cruelty, and capriciousness. Capriciousness is taken from caprice, which means:

a: a sudden, impulsive, and seemingly unmotivated notion or action b: a sudden usually unpredictable condition, change, or series of changes <the caprices of the weather>
: a disposition to do things impulsively
By itself, capriciousness is fine. It is not, however, something you want associated with harshness and cruelty. I was disciplined by my father, sure. He made certain to exercise that privilege, that right, of parental authority, but I never really knew what to expect from him. The boundaries shifted. What was fine one minute might earn me a beating or other punishment the next. What had been fine for months might be, just this minute, the epitome of childhood rebelliousness. I saw little patience, kindness, or unselfishness from my dad. That just… wasn’t what he brought to my family. By the time I was starting to talk to God about love, my dad’s presence was starting to fade from my life. I was not at all interested in getting myself into another “child” situation where I would be subject to somebody’s weird ideas of love and discipline, you know? I was so done with being controlled. Beyond that, it didn’t help at all that I could read, say, the Old Testament and see lots of terrible things happening to the naughty Jews because of their disobedience to God. That was scary, scary stuff!
The ironic thing is that my fear of being controlled was doing a fine job of controlling me. It’s odd how that works, how fear removes your choices without you ever being aware of it, and how it stampedes you into something under the illusion of your own, free will. Thinking about it now, I suppose that’s part of why discipline is important to love. It takes discipline to stand against fear. At the time, though, love and discipline being paired frightened me badly, and I got stuck there. I think I’m going to stick here now, too, and move on in the next post about what it was like to have God discipline me over my fear of discipline. 😉 This post is plenty long already!