The greatest of these is love. (I Cor. 13:13)
I first posted a version of these thoughts at Desiring God a few years ago. Of all the thoughts on which I have written over the years, THIS is the one that I most often need to revisit. There’s not a whole lot of peer pressure in conservative evangelicalism to endure in love for the long haul with family and friends who are struggling. I’ve received this encouragement privately from time to time, but I haven’t read much about it publicly. Yet, it seems the essence of gospel grace. What IS gospel grace practically if it is not God enduring with us when we were unworthy because of Jesus–and then calling us to do the same with the person closest to us.
I have a friend who loves God and His Word and desired to raise her children to love Him. Yet one of her children has made a series of choices that has challenged their family. I asked once if she felt more peer pressure in her Christian culture to get her child to conform or to bear long with him in love? I asked because I too had struggling friends and family, and the pressure within me and from others outside was that these situations were unacceptable, and I needed to do whatever I could to change them. Her answer? She felt much more peer pressure to get him to conform than to endure with him in love.
Most of us want control of our circumstances and gravitate to suggestions of things to try to fix a situation with a struggling loved one. But at some point, as things continue without change, I tire of suggestions to try. In one such situation, I sat with a wise older friend and listened as she spoke words that poured over my parched soul. Her advice? Rest. Endure. Love. After time in her presence, I felt FREE—free from the guilt that I wasn’t doing enough to change my loved one, free from pressure to come up with the thing that would most help them, free to love them unconditionally the way God has loved me, and free to bare my soul to God in confidence that He would hear me. Most of all, I felt free to leave my fears at God’s feet when I was done.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing. Love never ends. (I Cor. 13:7-8)
My pastor’s wife has ministered similarly to me. One of my boys demonstrated numerous behavior problems in his early years. I finally stopped planning playdates after my 2nd son came along, because such times always descended into chaos on my end while my friends and their children watched in horror (at least that’s how I felt). I began attending a new church and showed up at the home of the pastor’s wife for a playdate. I was weary. I was out of things to try to control my boys, to control my life. I was afraid to admit my struggles for fear I would be given yet another suggestion of something to try, advice that means well but reinforces that my circumstances are unacceptable, and I need to do whatever I can to change them.
Instead, she encouraged me to persevere in love and confidence. She told me to rest in God’s sovereign hand and trust His commands to bear long with a quiet, calm heart. She gave testimony to me of her mother who persevered with her children in grace. She shared her confidence that unconditional love and gospel grace were the most effective tools for change. She ministered grace to me that strengthened me to reengage with struggling family and friends with hope.
If you are in a season of struggle with those God has called you to love, God doesn’t expect you to change your loved one. In fact, you absolutely can NOT change them, and changing them is most definitely not your responsibility. Instead, His call is to bear long in love, to endure, and to believe the best for that person while HE changes them.
If you are not in that season but are friends with someone who is, weigh carefully the tone of your suggestions or encouragements. Hold your friend up as they bear long and patiently endure. Believe with them that grace works and that loving unconditionally for the long haul is the most effective tool we have for influencing change in the ones we love. May you and I rest from our attempts to change our loved ones and find refuge in God’s ability and promise to do so. And may the greatest peer pressure we put on each other in such situations be to bear in love for the long haul.
… walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, (Eph. 4:1-2)