“I love you.” Those special words are often the climax of a rom-com or the ones we desperately want to hear from a family member. I was (and still am) fortunate to hear it from both of my parents often, but my mom’s "I love you" is different than my dad’s.
To give you an idea of the kind of mother I have, here’s an example. Several years ago, while going through TSA at an airport, an agent pulled me aside and said, “Excuse me miss, are you Lil Kim?” I shook my head in horror until he clarified “I mean, are you Kimmie’s daughter? She told me you were coming to the airport, showed me your picture and told me that I should take care of you.” And that’s how I got a bottle of lotion onto a cross country flight in my carry-on bag. When my mother says “I love you” it’s a warm confirmation of what she’s already proven with emergency Western Union transfers, non-judgmental advice, a short stint at Waffle House so we could have a great Christmas, and yes… a TSA hookup.
With my dad, it’s a little more complicated. When my parents divorced, my dad pretty much dropped off the map, only to reemerge during holidays, summer vacations and special events. My mother would do the hard work of schlepping me to track practice, drama rehearsal, Upward Bound meetings, and my dad would show up for the graduation and say “I love you!” I know that he means it, but it means something different than when my mother says it.
Bob Goff, a great author/speaker wrote a book called “Love Does.” In short, Goff’s philosophy is that “Love doesn’t just think about it, love doesn’t just plan it, love does it.” My mom gets that. My dad’s more of a work in progress.
After the horrible shooting in Orlando where 49 people were killed at a gay club, I heard those words and over again from both sides of the political spectrum, “We love you Orlando. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”
What does it mean when someone who has stood by your side, rallied for you, sacrificed for you, defended you (even when you didn’t deserve it) says I love you? It’s the icing on the cake, but in reality, you knew it already. It’s easy to accept.
But how about when the person saying “I love you” has also deeply hurt you, ignored you, dismissed you, or even unintentionally failed to consider you? What does it mean when someone says “I love you” and you know there’s an unspoken “but I can’t attend your wedding, because I don’t believe in that... I love you but I would rather you express your love or affection behind closed doors because it makes me uncomfortable… “
So this is the part where I should launch into an attack on anyone opposed to marriage equality, or anyone in favor of bathroom assignments that discriminate against the transgender community, and excoriate all the politicians who are saying “We love you Orlando” while refusing to vote on gun control, right?
I’ve been down that road before. I’ve crafted arguments that rail against conservatives believing that my pen will “surely show them.” I still believe there’s a place for passionate political opinions, even within my faith! I strongly believe Jesus is the prototype of a social justice activist. But if I’m rallying against folks for failing to show that “love does”, all while failing to embody love in my approach, doesn’t that me a hypocrite?
Probably one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn is: Just because you are right, doesn’t mean you are loving.”
Jesus doesn’t call us to “Win as many arguments as you can so that you can win souls for me.”
“In everything, treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” Matthew 7:12
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39
“Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you were doing it for me.” Matthew 25:40
Here’s the other thing about “winning” arguments…. It rarely converts anyone; more often than not, you just end up with an injured friendship, on someone’s “blocked” list, and now they’ve decided that not only do they disagree with you; they think you’re a jerk.
So today, I commit to the challenging version of “I love you” which isn’t “I love you but…” It is “I love you even if…”
I love you even if we disagree.
I love you even if I think giving more people guns is ridiculous.
I love you even if you don’t always call when you should.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t hold people accountable; it doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to engage in a spirited debate. It does mean you have to consider the goal. Are you trying to win? Is your approach loving? Have you considered that you can likely do a better job of swaying someone by the way you live YOUR life? Loving by doing isn’t just right; it’s effective! Most opponents to marriage equality aren’t softened by a long-winded Facebook comment. They get to know a cousin whose partner of 20 years provides a model of love.
With an election this year, I don’t know how successful I’ll be at this, “Love does” approach, but I’ll try. Will you join me?