The Trouble with Love: A Christian Perspective

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The Trouble with Love: A Christian Perspective

About the Author

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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It’s the night that Jesus will be captured. After washing the disciples’ feet, dipping bread into wine and giving it only to the one who would betray him, Jesus says to the disciples,

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:1-35

There is a scene in The Big Bang Theory that is repeated almost weekly. Sheldon, who has some obsessive compulsive behaviours, goes across the hall and knocks on his neighbour Penny’s door. He can’t just knock once. It’s always three times, and he says, “Penny” after each knock. Penny finds ways to make this less than tedious. Once, after the first knock, she calls out, “Who do you love?” Sheldon, never one comfortable expressing affection, is forced to say, “Penny!” This is repeated three times.

It’s practically the same dialogue that Jesus has with Peter. “Who do you love?” “You Lord.” “Then feed my sheep.”

In Sheldon and Penny’s exchange there is some coercion and compulsion. In the exchange between Peter and Jesus, there is consequence. Either way, there is no doubt that love is complicated.

The Trouble with Love

I discovered, early in my ministry, a pattern. Couples would come to me after say 11 years of marriage, at the end of their ropes. They would say things like,

“he’s not the man I married.”

“she’s changed.”

“I just married him to get away from my family.”

“I got married because it seemed like the right thing to do.”

“All our friends were doing it.”

It seems that either they hadn’t known each other very well; or, in the flush of romantic love, they had overlooked flaws in their partners which reared their heads later.

But at the same time I was preparing couples for marriage. So I started asking couples planning their weddings why they wanted to get married, and, you know, none of them said, “I’m getting married because it seems like the right thing to do;” or “I’m marrying to get away from my family.”

Rather it was, “because I love everything about him/her.”

Since both things couldn’t possibly be true, I got into the realm of Jungian psychology and Myers Briggs Type theory, to help couples to know themselves and each other better, which is why last week several couples gathered to prepare for their marriages by looking at themselves and their relationship through the lens of Jungian psychology.

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Penny answering the door after Sheldon Cooper does his 3 knocks, shakes it up a bit. Photo Credit: Chuck Lorre Productions & Warner Bros.

Back to The Big Bang Theory. Howard and Bernadette are telling each other what they love about each other. After a few contributions, Howard says, “I love how I’m kind of a slob around here, and you’re okay with that.” And Bernadette says, “And I love how I work all day and then come home and do everything around here … and you’re okay with that.” And on and on they go as the sarcasm and self righteousness escalate.

The trouble is that we do and say things under stress that is out of our control, but we justify our behaviour and reject our partner’s.

But even self-knowledge and knowledge of the other won’t guarantee the permanence of love without forgiveness.

As people get to know each other better over the years, their love for each other has the potential to grow. But it also has the potential to wither.

Love and betrayal. Remember, Jesus tells them to love as he loves — right after Judas leaves to betray him.

God understands this danger. And that’s why, when Jesus offers us what we call the Lord’s Prayer, right after we pray for daily bread, we ask for forgiveness.

“Forgive us our trespasses.”

In these four words Jesus is telling us, first of all, that we all need forgiveness.

It follows “give us this day our daily bread,” so it looks as if Jesus has figured out that we need forgiveness every day.

Jesus is telling us that we can’t give ourselves forgiveness, since if we could, we wouldn’t need to pray for it.

Jesus is telling us, what everyone of his fellow Jews would know, that God does have the power to forgive.

The greatest obstacle to love and therefore to forgiveness is our instinct for self-justification.

Two people are praying, and the religious guy justifies himself, saying, ‘Thank you, God, that I’m not like that sinner over there,’ but the tax collector throws himself on God’s mercy, knowing he is a sinner. And Jesus says it was the tax collector, not the religious guy, that went home justified. Luke 18:9-14

The religious person in the parable justifies himself because that’s our instinct. We want to survive, and that means we want to protect ourselves– we want to protect our egos, our sense of self-worth, our fallibility — and to do that, we justify ourselves. We tell ourselves we didn’t do anything wrong. Or that it’s someone else’s fault. Or that we were forced. Or that it’s just the way we are, the way God made us.

The tax collector is not a particularly good person; but he knows he has sinned.

That’s all we need for God’s forgiveness. And it’s probably a pretty good basis for loving relationships. To try to see ourselves as God sees us, to search ourselves and to train ourselves to see our need for forgiveness; to break the big things into little things that we can work on: these are the keys to loving relationships.

In 1984 a lawyer named Marty Stroud was the lead prosecutor in a murder case in Louisiana, and he won a conviction from an all-white jury against a black man named Glenn Ford, who was sentenced to death. He spent thirty years in a small dark cell, and then evidence came to light that he was innocent.

The prosecutor wrote:
In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. …After the death verdict in the Ford trial, I went out with others and celebrated with a few rounds of drinks. That’s sick. How totally wrong was I…. I end with the hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford. But, I am also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it.

Christian maturity, Christian love is gained by these small steps of knowing oneself, resisting the urge to justify our actions, praying for forgiveness. And God promises us that we will know love. The barriers between us fall down. We still make mistakes, but in God’s love, we are forgiven and that gives us the courage to continue to love. No more walls between us. That’s Jesus’ hope for us. No more walls.

In the words of the poet Andrew King, in his poem entitled, ‘Gospel without Walls,’

Some One there is who ever loves us all,
whose grace declares none of us unclean,
in whose life and death barriers come down:
Jesus is one who doesn’t love a wall.

To love our neighbour, near and far, our call,
and more: to love as Jesus loved, for that,
he said, will truly mark his followers.
Jesus is one who doesn’t love a wall.

And this Peter discovered in the fall
of a rigid prejudice held so long
only the voice of God could shake it loose –
our Lord is one who doesn’t love a wall.

May this, too, be our vision, seeing all
as God sees, undivided by our fears,
resentments, our old sinful selfishness,
God-graced to share the gospel without walls.

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