Bible, control, covenant, devotional, God, inspirational, Jesus, love, manipulation, motivational, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, New Testament, nice guys, obligation, Old Testament, understanding
Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Break-Up Break Down”
Spike and Discord’s discourse in this episode made me think of something. Even though it’s one of the most basic feelings of humanity, after thousands of years of human civilization we still ask ourselves the same question: “What is love?” What constitutes love? Is it an agreement? It is a partnership? Should it only be unconditional to a point? Or, as Spike and Discord themselves debated, is it even real or just some giddy emotion we feel from biological functions? And I have a feeling most people have felt like siding with Discord’s viewpoint over Spike’s in their lifetimes.
I come from a family that has had some successes in love but also a ton of disastrous failures. On top of that, I’ve seen more than my share of divorcees and I can tell you it hasn’t been pretty. I also know a couple individuals who meet that classic formula for having “struck out” at love. While I myself don’t have a succinct answer from my own life experiences (and I will be the first to admit that I’m more of a person who strikes out than succeeds), these instances have helped me at least get a definite picture of what love is not.
There’s an old adage that’s gone around for years: “Nice guys finish last.” However, it’s only been in recent history that this has taken on a dark new meaning. In modern lingo, the label of “nice guy” (or girl) is something to avoid like the plague. A man who is one of these “nice guys” initially approaches a woman behaving very politely, friendly, suave, and genteel. (Occasionally, they are a bit too polite and genteel, speaking almost like an 18th century nobleman, but that’s besides the point for now.) They offer compliments such as they have a lovely smile or they admire their work or laugh or how they performed at some public game or function, and then ask if they might go on a date sometime. At this point, the woman, who has likely just met this individual, usually politely declines until they get to know them better or apologizes and says they have a boyfriend.
Then things do a 180. The “nice guy” reveals their true colors; petulantly whining, moaning, swearing, and raging about how girls never want a nice person. They immediately accuse the woman of being sexually prolific and vilify them, insulting them in the most crude and disgusting of terms, mocking them as being cheap or any other vulgar thing, and then storm off. And worse of all, when this is all done, they insist that they are still a genuine “nice guy” and that women just won’t give them a chance.
Needless to say, if you’re male, you do not want to be known as a “nice guy”.
There are obviously a few things wrong here. The first is that these people are sick. They weren’t trying to form a relationship; they wanted someone to pair with to make them feel good about themselves by telling them what they thought they wanted to hear and, when that failed, they tried to make them feel bad about their own natural rejection. At both points they were emotionally manipulative, first in trying to charm and then in trying to tear down. Such individuals need to maturely face up to their own insecurities and low self-esteem and perhaps seek professional help, or they (and their partners, for that matter) will never be in a healthy relationship.
The thing I want to draw attention to, however, is a misconception that many have to a lesser degree. These people think of love as an equal exchange. They thought that, in exchange for not being vulgar, offering polite compliments, and essentially treating a person with basic decency, they were now entitled to love. And while most of us are neither “nice guys” nor “nice girls”, odds are at one level or another, especially if we’re currently single, we buy into this idea. That love is a matter of goods and services–you give something out and you’re guaranteed something back.
This may be a hard pill for many to swallow, especially for those who keep striking out, but the truth is you are never “entitled” to love. No one owes it to you based on the amount of good deeds or pleasant gestures you perform. And frankly, if you stop to think about it, you’ll probably realize that’s a good thing. Would you have wanted your parents to only care about you when you did all your chores perfectly and got good grades in school? Or would you want your friends to only desire to hang out with you when you’re buying them things or taking them places? Ultimately love is a choice. You either give it or you don’t. And true love is based on an understanding of everything about another person and accepting and loving them because of it.
The overall story of the Bible illustrates the difference between the two very well in a history that spans both Old and New Testament over hundreds of years. The ancient Israelites received two things from God when he chose them to be his own people: his Love and his Law. The latter of the two formed the basis of a covenant; in which both parties were expected to give something. Israel was to follow the letter of the Mosaic Law carefully and obey it completely, and in return they would receive the Promised Land and God’s material blessings. However, they violated that covenant by embracing idolatry and breaking the commandments, and as a result God withheld his own end of the covenant and allowed them to become prey to the Babylonians and for the ancient nation of Israel to cease to exist. At that time, many of the scattered Jewish people equated the Love and the Law. They believed that God had now fully rejected them because the covenant was broken.
The truth was God’s love remained even once the covenant was gone under a “greater” law, because while the Law demanded certain obligations in exchange for certain favors, God’s love was always a conscious choice. God himself likened his Love for Israel as a parent for his child. “‘But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!'” (Isaiah 49:14-15) And just like a parent can’t ever stop loving their child no matter how disobedient they behave, the same was true for him. And that eventually manifested itself in the form of Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself gave the ultimate expression of God’s Love by being sacrificed for the sin of the world…even when the world put Him to death themselves and sought no mercy or absolution for it. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8)
Now please don’t take this to the extreme and think that means that to truly love someone we have to put up with abuse. While being in a loving relationship is a matter of choice and not favors, any individuals who truly love and care about each other will demonstrate that by tangible acts of affection naturally (and if they consistently do not, that might be a genuine problem), and they won’t willfully try to mistreat or control their partners. Yet just as everything in Lord Jesus’ life was a model for us, this serves to show us true love is given, not earned. Therefore, we can’t think that by performing a set of purely external actions like showering people with compliments, pretending to be more pleasant and polite than we are, or otherwise subscribing to some “magic formula” we will ever gain true love. We must be honest with ourselves and our feelings first, and frankly we must also love ourselves first. And if we find that we really are doing something that we don’t like and can’t expect others to either, then we need to focus on improving that before trying to cover it up.
On a final note, if you find yourself in an unfortunate place where you yourself are believing that “true” love is a matter of pleasing someone, I strongly urge you to take out whatever time and assistance you need to grow to love yourself first; whether that be a true friend, a good church community, or a counselor. And if there are any non-Christians reading this who would like to experience more of the Love of God firsthand, I strongly suggest that you seek out a good church in your area and inform the pastor you’d like to learn more.
Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the love of your Son, Jesus Christ, who demonstrated to the world the ultimate act of perfect love. Grant that I might be as selfless in the love I give to others, and deliver me from the folly of treating love and affection as matters of obligation and exchange. And if I find myself caught in the trap of believing that love is something that can only be earned, please help me to experience your true affection for me and deliver me from my emotional bondage. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”