The Love We don’t Like
Love takes many forms. The majority of the time the word ‘love’ invokes fuzzy warm thoughts of affectionate parents, young newlyweds, or naive high school romances; perhaps even the bond formed with a pet. All qualify as love to different extents, and obviously there are many more forms of it that are not being mentioned here. However, in a society that is seemingly becoming ultra-sensitive and subjective, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on a form of love that, at least for me personally, isn’t always appreciated but in hindsight has been extremely impactful in a positive way. Tough love doesn’t always feel good to receive. In fact, most of the time it can really sting. Tough love has left me with a bruised ego, angry, obstinate, and in the moment feeling anything but loved. But that’s ok. Tough love isn’t meant to feel good, and its purpose is to instill something longer-lasting and more beneficial than some fluffy coddling would in the situations where tough love is used.
I think it’s often forgotten that there are multiple instances of Jesus using tough love. He did not shy away from calling Pharisees hypocrites when they were acting as such, or chastising his disciples at times when they deviated from his teaching. In one case, Jesus overturned tables and chased dozens of civilians out of the temple with a whip for using the sacred ground as nothing more than a place to make money. In these moments, Jesus isn’t the affectionate, overflowing fountain of redemption that is described in our worship songs. If that’s the only perception of Jesus you have, the Jesus we read about in those cases actually comes off as rude and harsh. Yet Jesus loves the people he was stern with just as much as he loves you and me. There are multiple ways to communicate love, and not all of them feel as good as others. But a true sign of love is doing what is best for someone, whether or not it’s what will make them happiest at the moment. Sometimes love is telling the harsh truth, even if telling someone what they want to hear would be easier and make them feel better. Looking back, the times where I was shown tough love were the moments that made me grow the most. I’m extremely grateful that there were consequences for breaking the house rules when I was growing up; that my mom reprimanded me for “acting stupid” when I wasn’t putting enough effort into learning a new concept during the years when I was homeschooled, and that my dad pushed me to put extra time outside of practice and during the offseason into becoming a better soccer player. Most of the time I wasn’t particularly receptive of what they were telling me at the time, but soon after I would realize they were right, change accordingly and better myself in the process.
Proverbs 25:12 likens a wise person’s rebuke to a valuable jewel that should be treasured, as is tough love. Like growing pains, tough love never feels good in the moment, but we end up being better off for having received it. I hope we all can learn to appreciate tough love as one of the many forms of love that God created, receive it with humility when it is administered, and not shy away from exercising it in our relationships with others when appropriate.