“Loving people means caring without an agenda. As soon we have an agenda, it’s not love anymore.” — Bob Goff, Everybody Always
Friday night my house was full of some of my most favorite people. People who I can honestly say love me just for me. I am profoundly thankful for this gift, and probably do not tell them often enough how much it matters to me. I mean, I’m a lot y’all, and at any given moment can be equally as on-the-verge of tears and laughter as I am righteous indignation or complete frustration. Jacked up like we all are, and so not so easy to love, much of the time.
What I’m saying is, if you’ve got such people, hold on to them. Tight as hell. It is not to be taken for granted.
Because here’s the thing: if there are conditions attached, it is not love. And if there is an agenda at work (no matter how subtle and well-meaning) it is also not love (thanks, Bob Goff).
It might be care. It might be affection. It might be a very good-hearted effort at wanting to help someone. But it is not love.
Whether you’re talking about romantic love or friendship love or family love or the kind of love we claim to have if we’re people of faith–love is not about fixing. Love is not about changing. Love is not about asking a person to be someone they’re not.
I cannot tell you how hard the way I have learned this has been. I used to believe that if I loved hard enough, I could change a person. If I could just say the right words, act the right way, do the right thing, everything hard and complicated would go away and everything would come up roses and kittens and sunshine.
Long story short: not so much. You can’t really love a person if you’re out to do such fixing, such changing…because if that’s what you’re after, there’s an agenda at stake. And the end result will not be what you’ve imagined.
I promise. Trust me on this.
Look, people are messy. And this makes life even messier. And there is no way around that. And sometimes, you just have to sit in the mess, get right down in the muck with your friend or family member or significant other and allow that, “Yea, this moment we’re in? It sucks. It’s awful. And scary. And maybe we could have even avoided it with some different decisions or actions along the way. Then again, maybe not.”
And then you just sit. You stay. You promise, “I love you,” and you promise that without any goal in mind except the one that matters most: presence.
Presence is maybe the best expression of love. “Holding space,” you sometimes hear it called–this idea that the best we can offer someone is our nonjudgmental, constant, unconditional, prayerful presence in the midst of whatever life has handed her. And no matter what demons he is battling.
(NOTE: Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about staying in harmful relationships, or toxic friendships, or enabling addicts or narcissists or abusers or other forms of painful relationship here. Sometimes, the very best decision you can make is the one to walk away.)
We’re super good at throwing the word “love,” around. We talk a big game about “peace and love,” and loving past politics and socioeconomic divides and different ways of living our lives. And mostly I think this is total BS. Because so, so often, I think we secretly (and arrogantly) hope that whoever we are professing to love “just as they are,” will actually become what we wish that person was–someone who believes like we do or acts like we want them to act or…whatever, you get my point.
Non-BS loving just says, “I love you,” and leaves it at that. Just, “I love you.” Just like you are. Even when you are getting on my last nerve. Even when I see you being your own worst enemy. Even when the ugliest parts of you are on display (because I know the most beautiful ones, too).
I have been very guilty of BS-love. Maybe you have too.
A very wise pastor once said to me, “Julie, you have many gifts. But what I hope more than anything for you is that you one day discover that YOU are the real gift. Just you. No matter what you can do for others, no matter what talents you have, no matter what things you accomplish–YOU are the gift.”
I’ve held on to his words as, at this point in my life, I’ve sought out relationships that are not dependent on what I can do or produce or make happen or excel at. Relationships that value just me…as broken and jumbled and messy as I am.
The thing is, when we learn to love without agenda, without seeking change, when we truly love someone where she’s at, or simply for who he is, the result is that we learn to love ourselves the same way.
And this is everything. Because we have been fearfully and wonderfully made.
There’s a man in my life who means a great deal to me, and a few weeks ago, he took me to a family gathering, where I’d be meeting one of his cousins–a lifelong best friend cousin who is very important to him.
I said, “I think I’m a little nervous. I mean, this is family that’s so important to you. I don’t want to mess up.”
And he said, “Just be you.”
Just be you.
Three little words, packing a mighty punch.
Y’all, if we could say this to each other, to ourselves, every day, and really mean it, really live it…good lord. I cannot even imagine what a difference it would make.
Just be you. And let those you profess to love just be them. With everything I am, I have come to believe that it is only through this kind of non-BS, non-agenda, real loving that we’ve got any hope of moving past division, brokenness, and pain, and into the truth of what it means to set aside our agendas, our arrogance, our determination that our ways are the best ways, and our insistence on our own false certainties, and discover something much more beautiful and whole–maybe, even, everything good about what it means to be human.
It is a hard thing, what I’m suggesting. As hard for me as anyone. But I think it matters more than we can even begin to know.
With love, y’all. — JER