Like most of us, I spent time with family over the Thanksgiving holiday.
It's a mixed bag, isn't it?
Traditions and nostalgia color the conversation in familiar shades of warmth and comfort. We are filled with a sense of belonging. The shared history breeds a shared kinship. We are part of a tribe, and on some level we feel known, accepted, and included.
But then there's difficulty. A hurtful word, an old argument that resurfaces, an infuriating pattern that just won't quit... And the stories that we tell morph from Normal Rockwell scenes of heartwarming family bliss to the Competition of the Victims.
"YOU said ____ to ME!"
"YOU were the one who did ____!"
These are a different kind of memory, aren't they? Rather than producing a warm glow, these memories seem to drain us of all color while leaving us ten degrees hotter. These are deep, buried scripts that surface from the bottom of the pile when the original players show up, like watching a movie from childhood and realizing you remember every line.
The pleasant and the painful.
The comforting and the confounding.
The experiences that built us and the wounds that broke us.
I don't know anyone who had a perfectly happy childhood, and people who claim this don't easily win my trust. Everyone has been wounded. Everyone. We may have had loving families who genuinely wanted our best, but fallen people push and pull others down, often without knowing they're doing the pushing or pulling. And everyone is fallen. And everyone's been pushed and pulled and done some pushing and pulling.
Some wounds are superficial. Like a scrape or a bruise. Painful enough to get our attention, but not deep enough to require more than a rinse under cold water and a bandaid and maybe a kiss. Certainly not deep enough to leave a scar or cause any permanent damage. Not even painful enough to remember after the moment the wound was inflicted.
A curt reply... an impatient tone... a missed emotional cue...
Then there are the deep wounds, painful and complicated. Those memories that stand tall and speak loudly in our minds even after years of life and experience. Some are now scars: we remember the story but we don't relive it again and again. We have peace. Yet some remain open. They still bleed when pricked. They still hurt when touched.
An outright lie... a pointed insult... abuse... ongoing neglect...
What do we do with them?
If everyone is willing to participate in personal work toward their own healing, then family healing becomes a possibility. It's not easy, but the likelihood of restoring peace where there is pain looms on the horizon. We discuss the offense, we listen with curiosity, we begin to understand, we accept our fault in the interaction, and we find new ground on the bedrock of mutual respect. What a blessing! What a gift!
But if there isn't mutual healing, the wounds don't stop. And instead of hope for a better family experience, we grieve. And we hurt.
We do what any rational person would do: we pull back. We don't feel safe. We don't feel reciprocity. And we think Love should be reciprocal.
In a fair world, love would be reciprocal.
In a fair world, we would be shown concern and respect when we express our hurts.
In a fair world, we are all equally capable of resolving conflict.
But this is not a fair world. This is a fallen world. Therefore Love is not a Fair process, because the people attempting to do the loving are fallen.
Fairness says, "You hurt me, therefore I can and will hurt you." This is fair.
Fairness says, "I withhold love and affection because you withhold from me." This is also fair.
Fairness says, "Because you have shown remorse, I forgive you." This is fair too.
In ancient law, this was called "an eye for an eye." And it is, indeed, fair.
But is this Love?
I think we confuse Love and Fairness.
We say we love, but what we are really seeking is reciprocity. And reciprocity says more about Fairness than it does about Love. If it exists among humans, Fair Love would indeed be a beautiful thing, but it is not Love. In Fair Love, we are loved by those we love. We are shown kindness by those to whom we are kind. We feel respect from those to whom we give respect. We forgive those who show remorse, and we are forgiven. We experience gratitude from those we serve. We receive in a way that feels commensurate to what we give.
But Love is not Fair.
Love loves when we receive hatred.
Love is kind to those who are unkind.
Love shares with those who withhold.
Love forgives those who show us contempt and disrespect.
Love gives to the ungrateful.
Love is not Fair. When we say, "I love you," what does that mean? Does it mean, "I'll show you love as long as you show me love?" If so, what we ought to be saying is, "I'm willing to make a fair transaction with you."
But Love is not transactional; it's transcendent. That's what makes it Love.
If we Love, we say:
It won't be fair.
Sometimes I'll take more than I give,
and sometimes I'll give more than I receive,
and I'll keep being here.