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Tuesday, January 1, 2013


The following is a discussion I've been having with my cousin and dear friend, Leslie. In July 2011, we went to see my favorite Christian band, U2, together. So many of their songs, though veiled in poetic artistry, touch me with deep spiritual truths and truths about human relationships in this fallen condition.
This one touches both Leslie and me. ONE is among their most profound songs, most touching, most real, most human and most divine.
ONE, by U2.


Is it getting better?
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you now?
You got someone to blame
You say

One love
One life
When it's one need
In the night
One love
We get to share it
Leaves you baby if you
Don't care for it

Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Well it's

Too late
To drag the past out into the light
We're one, but we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head

Did I ask too much?
More than a lot.
You gave me nothing,
Now it's all I got
We're one
But we're not the same
Well we
Hurt each other
Then we do it again
You say
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt

One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
One life
But we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other


Leslie:  So I've been contemplating the lyrics to U2's One.  I've decided it is among the saddest songs on the planet.
You act like you never had love and you want me to do without. 
Did I ask too much?  More than a lot?  You gave me nothing, now that's all I've got.
And of course, I told you before that the line, "well, it's too late tonight to drag the past out into the light" makes my soul hurt.  That feeling of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion mixed with the beginnings of indifference and apathy that it conveys to me is one of the worst feelings in the world.
I've been spending too much time thinking about this.  I don't know why...

Me:  On Sunday, our pastor said that love is giving for the sake of another and expecting nothing in return. He said that, and I practically gave up all hope. I cannot give all the time without expecting something in return. I can't even give a little without somehow expecting at least that relationship will grow and deepen because of it. And I'm not sure we're supposed to, either. I mean, Jesus, in John, told his disciples not to love their neighbors as themselves any longer. But he told them he was giving a NEW command, "JUST AS I have loved you, love one another." And then he called them friends and brothers.
There are two important parts to that: Just as he loved them. He DID life with them. They ate and drank and talked and slept and worked and traveled together. He let them know him intimately, and he knew them as well. They really knew who it was who died for them. They knew him like family. He declared them to be family. He let them in close.But the second part is the mutuality he commands. LOVE ONE ANOTHER. It's a back & forth thing. It's no longer just "love your neighbor," but there's expectation that we will love one another. One gives and one can also expect to receive. We're made to be in community and we're made to encourage others, because we also need encouragement.

So just as I was giving up hope, our pastor admitted that we can't do it. We can't love with no expectation. Love is supposed to create a response, even if it doesn't demand on its own way. So he said love is to be both justifying and sanctifying, like Christ is.

Love tells the brother who has offended you that he has right standing with you. The one who loves absorbs the offense and offers grace to the offender without expecting restitution for the harm. That's the justification part. But it doesn't stop there. He says then, real love encourages improvement in the relationship. It doesn't just accept it the way that it is. Real love says, "You have right standing with me at this point. Now, let's work on this together."

I like the sound of that. But I reach the fatigue point too. I think ONE is talking about something similar, though. We are brothers and sisters. That we get to carry each other is a blessing, not a curse. At least, it is supposed to be. But we're so bad at actually loving one another that it happens imperfectly. And the fuel runs out. We can't seem to meet consistently where we need to be.

I know that personally, my expectations are just so much more full than those of others. "Did I ask too much? More than a lot?" (Not by my own standards, no. I don't ask more than I've been willing to give, and then some. But it's uncommonly deep, that which I seek. Yet, I can often be satisfied with a small response if it is inclusive and voluntary. Fighting for it cheapens it, somehow, and makes even small responses seem untrustworthy or insincere.) I expect, somehow, to go all out. To draw people in like family, and for them to stay and want that kind of overlapping inclusion. But it's most typically, though not exlusively, one-sided. I draw circles to bring them in and within that, they draw circles to shut me out. Holding on is not something I can do on my own. It takes supernatural power to keep loving and keep trying when that happens.

I told him I didn't think I could keep doing it. I can't be the only one waving this one banner all alone. He said in 30 years, less than a handful of people have seemed to hear what he's saying. I want to respond, "But it's too late, tonight, to drag the past out into the light." I tire. That's where that supernatural comes in. He says the power I claim to make ONE possible is the same power that will fuel me to keep trying.

"Leaves you, baby, if you don't care for it."

One love, one blood, one life, I've got to do what I should. One life, with each other: sisters, brothers. I believe it. I want to live what I believe. But I run out. (This is the "already" person in a "not yet" world. I always long for the ultimate fulfilment.)

Leslie:  I think that maybe the key to loving without expecting anything in return is misleading.  I think it might be about changing what we expect in return.  And I think it is easier to do with strangers than it is with family and very close friends.

When we volunteer at a habitat house, or make Christmas boxes for children third world countries, or foster dogs, or pay for the person behind you in the drive through - we don't expect anything remotely reciprocal - we do it, with love, expecting nothing more than the warm fuzzy feeling of doing the right thing.  It is an act of love, truly selfless, with the anticipated result of the act being the reward in and of itself. 

But when it comes to family and close friends, we (and by "we" I mean "I") become more likely to have a mental scorecard, no matter how much we try not to keep score.  Even when we WANT to write it off, the ink seems to be indelible.  The closer the relationship (with the exception of infants and very small children), the more we demand in return, and the less likely we seem to be to love without expectations.

While Jesus did obviously love the disciples in a very real and present way, I think it is fair to say that he didn't expect anything in return, really.  Even Judas and Peter, who took and took, but when it came to the one time Jesus needed them, weren't there - they didn't act in love in return.  My reaction would have been intense anger... after all I have done for you, and here you are, betraying me unto death and denying you are even my friend... but Jesus' reward (if it can even be called that, that seems to be dismissive somehow) wasn't caught up in what WE could do for HIM, it was love for love's sake.

And yes, we were commanded to, and in a perfect world we all would love one another, but sadly, we can't control anyone but ourselves, we can't control their actions or their reactions.  I can't rightfully expect that people are going to love me back, do nice things in return, treat me the way I would/have treated them.  I can only control me and MY reaction.  If they aren't loving me as I loved them, as God loves me, I cannot change that, but I can recognize it, and rationalize it, and attempt to modify my expectations of reciprocation.

And here is where the concept of loving someone but not liking them very much comes in - and it usually seems to happen with sisters most of all :-)  Sometimes the nicest thing, the most loving thing I can as a human in that situation is to refrain from doing something hurtful or destructive, and try to reset and recalibrate my heart and head. 

The one thing we can't do is make someone love us that just doesn't love us in the same way, manner, depth that we love them.  You gave me nothing, now that's all I've got.
So to recap, yes, we SHOULD love one another, and in a perfect world, it would be equally reciprocal.  But it isn't, and we can only change half of that equation.  Also to recap, I am cynical and have learned that people are hurtful and have come to terms with that. 

Me:   You are right and you are right and you are right. And you are real.
I love the part about sisters. But that's how we all are, too, once we get close to each other. Really close.

And Love Never Ends. Even if we think we need to shove it down or pack it up or reroute it. Love Never Ends.

Leslie:   I've been thinking some more about it, too, and it struck me that one of the two quotes that made it to the "about me" portion of facebook years ago is about this, too, and it was a tough thing for me to come to terms with.  I am not sure that I am right and right and right, but for me I have to believe this:

"Just because someone doesn't love you the way you want them to, doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have."

Me:   Yeah, I think of that quote a lot. But what if you share with people how it is that you experience love. Does love in them then attempt to love you in the way that you best experience it? Or is a response of, "well, I don't do things that way" legitimate?

If I know you respond to gifts above all else, but never give you one, am I really "abounding more and more in knowledge and discernment" (Philippians) so that I can accurately encourage you? If I know that quality time is what makes you feel loved, but I never seek to spend any time with you, am I committing a sin of omission?

And regarding Jesus expecting nothing in return, that's a bit nuanced. He KNEW he was gaining a people for himself, even if he also knew/knows how far short we will fall in responding well to his love. He does it by giving faith and giving a love response, writing his word on our hearts and bringing us through sanctification to eventually perfect us. We humans don't have that power. As you've said, we can't change one another. We can only change ourselves. But aren't we still to be open to confide in one another where we have need and to be open also to hear from each other where we can likewise be better? 

Leslie:  Hmmmm - if it as simple as "well, I don't do things that way, so get over it" I am not sure that that person has love HOWEVER, I doubt it is usually that simple.  For example, if my love language is Quality Time, and I tell that to you, a working wife and mother with four children, and you are unable to meet what I determine to be a minimum demand for my needs, are you wrong for not loving me enough to my needs even though I communicated them to you, or am I wrong for expecting something that may be unrealistic from you?
Similarly, if you tell me that your love language is touch, and I tell you that touch makes me uncomfortable, does it mean that I don't love you when I shrink back from a hug, or does it mean that you don't love me when you, who shows love through hugs, hug me regardless of my stated feelings?
Are we both wrong if we don't work toward meeting the other's needs while resetting our own expectations of reciprocation based on what we know of the other person?  Could abounding more and more in knowledge and discernment also apply to attempting to find true peace, if not full satisfaction in receiving what another has to give, even if it isn't exactly what we wanted?
I fully expected you to push back on the Jesus example, and I was not 100% on board with my own argument there :-), because even though Jesus didn't expect reciprocal love even from His disciples, Father God has certainly told us what HIS love language is, as a result of our love for Him, it follows that we would strive to respect that and love him back in the manner that He instructed us to do.

Me:   Well, the "get over it" addition puts a whole different attitude in the response, and that's not quite where I meant to go with that... much less forceful and demanding, but maybe just a passive, helpless sort of response.

The touch thing is a good example. The time thing...well, it's hard for me, because I AM far too busy, and yet, that's my love language, and so it's like oxygen.

Striving for peace, yes. We get to carry each other, right? That in itself implies that we all have brokenness and need for being carried at some point. Learning to give that right standing. That's the key, I think.

Leslie:   But you get the idea - if I ask something of you that you are incapable of returning in the same quantities that I can give to you, that doesn't mean that you don't love me as much as I love you.  If you HAD time to give and knew I needed time to know I am loved, but choose not to... well, that is something different.  It still doesn't mean that either one of us are "bad" or unloving or unlovable, but it might mean that we are loving with different levels of intensity, and that might need to be considered.  Did I ask too much?  More than a lot? 
We are all trainwrecks.  We are all scarred.  We are all broken.  We're one, but we're not the same.  We get to carry each other.

Me:  Another thing I just thought of: Where is prayer for one another?
Unless I'm missing it, there's no mention of it in ONE. And that's a little bit unusual, because generally U2 refers to a female presence as representing the Holy Spirit. When someone burns me out, shouldn't I pray for that person? Wouldn't I want that person praying for me too?
In Christian relationship (and that has to be what this song is referring to) part of carrying each other is praying for each other.



Mary said...

When Bob, in his sermon, said that love means that first, you are in right standing with me... then we work on the relationship, my eyes opened! I've heard the words "unconditional" and "agape" describing love all my life. And I know that because of Jesus, I am in right standing with God, even though my relationship with him is not perfect. But, somehow, I never thought about applying that "right standing" phrase to my human relationships. It is freeing to realize that in relationship with the humans I love, they are first of all in right standing with me. (Pause.) Now, if there is an issue, we can work on it. (I'm not that good with obscurity so I'll leave U2 to others:)

Anonymous said...

Somehow I missed this post back in January, but it was just what I needed this morning.

--Rebecca said...

Anonymous--I am glad you found it now, then. God's timing is perfect, however roundabout it may seem. I hope you are able to take what you found (and needed) and move forward somehow with it today. Best to you. Please come back again. Discussion (as you can see by the entire post above) is welcome here.

Mary, I doubt you'll see this now, after all this time, but looking back on this post now, and re-reading your comment has me old brain churnin' again. I remmeber Bob's sermon. It was so optimistic. I was so exhausted--it rejuvenated me for a little while in one of those exhausting relationships. I tried again: Right standing, again. Let's work on it, again.
But it didn't get through. Twice more, it didn't get through. My fuel ran out, and that was the end. But even our ends aren't complete ends. God's eternity still waits. I suppose it is his ordination that we can't fix them all here in our timing, no matter how much our hearts are invested. I don't have the power to summon the Holy Spirit to give understanding. I sometimes just have to surrender to him.
And remember then: if surrender doesn't feel like dying, then it isn't really surrender. Sometimes, it is that acute.