10.22.2006

The Difference Between AGAPE and Being Liked

I once heard Glenn Kaiser -- an elder in the JPUSA community in Chicago -- talk about what it was like to live in close community with disciples who are also sinners. The intimacy and growth and power were amazing, but there was no glamour, just the reality of living with crazy sinners.

But it is in community that the Holy Spirit transforms us and uses us -- and He puts the people He wants in here with us, and tells us to walk with those people, and not pick and choose. That's pretty different than our 21st century American culture that tells us to pick healthy companions, cut the unhealthy ones out of our lives, and make personal comfort and health our goal. (My husband even talks about a "Mother Theresa complex" as something healthy people avoid.)

I do think we choose our most intimate companions -- just as Jesus did. We can only cultivate and honor so much intimacy; so one of our areas of stewardship is in which relationships we focus upon, and which we let go for later, if "later" ever comes. And I am blessed to have a full plate of both that most-intimate kind of friendship (meaning my mentors and friends who know virtually anything they want to know about me and some things they would just as soon not know, and who regularly share the same with me) and of those second-tier friendships where there is a real affection and much in common, but not without reserve.

But in addition to those chosen friends, we have many in our communities of faith that are further out in our circles. We have those who are friends with our friends, and might be with us if the opportunity came about. We have those who are at odds with our friends -- or simply in a different clique -- and who therefore see us as "not a part". We have those who dislike us, or who we dislike, or with whom we have a more active conflict than simple dislike. And then we have those who are invisible -- that just never really come into focus for us. And we are called to show AGAPE to all of those circles -- maybe even sometimes by letting people from those "outer circles" take time, energy, and money away from those in our inner circles, and maybe even sometimes by inviting some of them in, even though they aren't as attractive to us as the people we have to choose to neglect in the process of that choice.

Jesus told us that we were to show we were His disciples by loving each other -- not by "loving each other" as an emotion, but by actively showing appropriate AGAPE to all the people who encircle us in the different parts of our faith communities. And we were instructed by Paul that -- as much as it lies with me -- I am to be at peace with everyone in my community. Now, that's AGAPE!

I love my church community -- which means I love the people in the community with me. There really aren't any people there -- women or men -- who seem to be people that are difficult to like, or even really all that difficult to get along with. That's not to say that there aren't the normal cliques and conflicts and "characters" -- but just to say that it is a good fit for me, because the culture and individuals make sense to me.

However, I do have people that I watch get along well with others -- and who even have mutual friends with me -- that are not friendly to me, but really are just the opposite. Some of those relationships are ones that I've tried to "fix", and some of them aren't -- and I've had varying degrees of success in "fixing" things when I've attempted that. (I suppose my definition of "fix" here lands somewhere between "making them be as friendly to me as they are to everyone else" and "making the relationship line up with God's requirement of Agape from me to them" -- and exactly where it lands on that spectrum depends upon the degree to which my focus is truly on the One who sustains me rather than on how comfortable I am.)

One of my attempts to fix a problem relationship ended in real success, and I have a comfortable, active friendship. One of my attempts ended in apparent success, with the woman saying and doing everything necessary toward a mutual understanding and friendship, and even now acting in a way that is outwardly warm -- but the underlying reality of being actively excluded from her ministry activities and personal friendships did not change, and was even more painful because I knew there was nothing more I could do about it. One of my attempts grew a fast and warm friendship quickly, but ended in that friend even more cold and distant than before. Another situation ended in apparent disaster and a lot of fallout with a lot of people who thought I did the wrong thing, and created more negativity than it solved. And then there is the woman who has always been friendly on the surface, so that it would be uncomfortable to address my sense that she really really dislikes me -- but who shows in many ways her dislike and competitive spirit, even though we seem to share the same passions and goals.

But then, my goal can't be to make everyone like me, can it? That's not AGAPE! (But my goal can be to not let someone's dislike for me get in the way of what God wants to do in or though either one of us.)

AGAPE needs to flow out of my intimacy with God and out of conversation and accountability with my chosen inner circle -- and needs to have the goal of accomplishing God's loving purposes for that person, for me, and for our shared community.

So when I reach the point of having said all I can say, written all I can write, and having done all I can do to make right a relationship that is not right -- not just "all" by my own calculation, but "all" by the estimate of those to whom I am accountable -- then I need to just wait and pray and grieve.

I am grateful for my friends who are as willing to grieve with me over negative fallout from an attempt to do what is right as they are willing to rejoice with me! Even though we know the goal isn't "to be liked", we also know how painful it can be to be disliked! And we also know that a community of real AGAPE sees an eventual transformation of emotions and cliques, if the action of the Holy Spirit is real -- so we grieve the evidence that there are many areas not yet yielded to His influence.

But it is in the pains of real life in community that the Holy Spirit does His greatest miracles of grace and transformation; so we trust that the pain and tears will eventually produce great fruit, and we will see forgiveness and acceptance and unity -- in on-going waves to cover the new daily evidence of the fact that we're still a community of forgiven sinners, even when most yielded to the One who heals our sin.

Meanwhile, though, we cry out and wait. "Lord, show me anything more I should do or say. Change me -- my character, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and actions -- wherever you want me to change. Change the situation in the ways You want to change it to bring Your kingdom here. And change their understanding of community and of You and of me -- so that they won't be okay with continued conflict (even in the form of deliberately ignoring anyone or deliberately ignoring a painful situation), but will do anything You want them to do on their side toward healing and peace."

And our God will show Himself to be the God of our Bible -- a real God, right here, right now, expressed not in creeds nor in organizational efforts to be "missional", but expressed in His ability to give you love even for that woman that you really wish would just go worship someplace else.

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