The Problem with Love

The problem with love is that it’s hard work.

Movies make it seem like the hard work happens until love shows up. But life isn’t like that. At least my life isn’t like that. Life is hard work. Love shows up. Life continues to be hard work. And now you’ve got the work of relationships too. So in fact, love makes the hard work harder.

I don’t just mean romantic love. All love is hard work. There are wonderful perks to love – companionship, friendship, affection, camaraderie, fun… lots of things that make the work more than worthwhile. But make no mistake, love is work. Lots of work.

Wouldn’t it be great if love were easy? If love solved our problems, not caused more problems?

I’m not down on love. I’m just feeling the need to be clear about the reality of love. While I look at those I am closest to and couldn’t be more grateful for those relationships, I also see the effort we have put into those relationships to make them work as well as they do. The relationships that have grown and strengthened and lasted aren’t the ones that have been the easiest. They are the ones that have been mutually worked on.

Certainly in the case with my kids, I did most of the work through their childhood. But I also sought to teach them their responsibilities in a relationship and eventually expected that to occur in our relationship as well. I would not have the relationship I have with my adult kids if they did not at some point start participating in and contributing to it.

Is that to say the relationship with my kids is perfect? Hell no. They’d be just as quick to say that as me. We get annoyed or frustrated with each other. We need breaks every now and then from each other. But I would say (and I hope they would to) that the relationship we do have with each other is deep, reliable, helpful and often enjoyable. And that no matter what, we will always show up for the other when truly needed. We might show up late. We definitely show up imperfectly. But we always, eventually, show up. That is why, while love is hard work, it is worth the work.

The reason I found myself thinking about love today is as I continue to figure out how to survive this awful year, I was reminded that at the center of my faith is love. It is the center of all the commandments according to the Christian faith. It is the most important responsibility. And it’s hard, especially when there are people who are hard to love. But I know that there are always people who are hard to love, including or maybe I should say, especially me.

There are days I don’t feel very loving, and days I don’t feel very lovable. I try to figure out how to love anyway. For those I’d rather dismiss, those who annoy me, those who don’t seem very deserving, those I’d rather not hang out with, I try to love anyway. It’s hard to keep showing up. I fail regularly, which gives me the opportunity to practice self-love as I learn to do better. We know that we can’t be very good at offering love if we aren’t good at receiving love.

I wish the point of faith was to be right. Or to be rich. Or to be protected. Or to be blessed. Those sound so much easier. But since it is not, at least not for me, I am thankful for what my loving relationships have taught me and give me in order to learn to love others, to keep showing up for others. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the point where I can say I love all. But that’s the goal.

Ugh. I grimace as I write that last part. Because the problem with love is that it’s hard work.

My Favorites

Sometimes I am with people who seem to bring out the best in me. Sometimes it’s the opposite. The people I’ve learned to hang onto are the ones who see the best in me. It’s not that they overlook my faults. But they see my strengths – my love, loyalty, deeply-felt feelings, intentionality, humor – in spite of my shortcomings – impatience, pushiness, tendency to correct whether one seeks a correction or not. These people are My Favorites, the ones I love more than life itself.

I think it’s a choice, that we can actually authentically be who we are regardless of who we are with. But that is a hard, maybe lifelong skill to learn. It’s normal to allow insecurities or uncertainties or hurts or anger to adjust our demeanor. In fact it’s really hard not to be defensive with someone you don’t trust. But what My Favorites teach me is that I can be my authentic self no matter who I am with. They remind me I am worthy, and in turn can make others feel worthy too, of love, of friendship, of kindness, of gentleness, of patience though God help me with that one.

Life feels very different when I am in that place of grace, even though circumstances might be exactly the same. My perspective softens. Hope is a bit more tangible. And with my ongoing existential crises, I’m deeply in need of both.

On March 5th, I’m getting my first tattoo. I’m 51 years old. I never really wanted a tattoo. I had a hard time imagining what I would want on my body for the rest of my life. And then my daughter, Liv, told me she was getting a tattoo of a flower drawn by one of My Favorites. I knew immediately that I wanted that tattoo as well. It felt right before the thought even fully formed. I asked Liv how she felt about her mom getting the same tattoo. Thankfully she thought it was a pretty great idea. March 5th, 2020 will mark six long years of Catherine being physically gone, a reality that still hurts so much.

This morning I’m realizing the tattoo will mean so much more than an homage to one of My Favorites. It will be my reminder to see myself as she saw me. It will be my reminder to be my best self no matter what. I think she’d like that a lot. I just wish she were here with me, but so continues the journey. She will always be one of My Favorites.

Tough Love

I have been the recipient of tough love on several occasions. I am referring to the experience of being told something I didn’t want to hear because it was hard to hear. But as the pain ebbed, I could see that I needed to hear what was being said. It is that moment of truth you initially push aside because it hits a little too close to home; a truth that challenges the narrative you have chosen to believe; a truth that feels like a mirror being held up too close to reveal a flaw you would rather not see.

Rarely does a tough love moment work the first time its message is conveyed. Its effectiveness usually requires multiple supporting messages and a recipient willing to listen or at least unable to ignore. One of my tough love moments was about money. And in hindsight I realized how that moment had been years in the making. I didn’t enjoy my tough love moment. But I was changed by it, for the better.

Initially I didn’t believe any logical and loving person could vote for Trump. When he was elected, I was shocked. When I realized some of my friends and family voted for Trump, I couldn’t really talk about it. I was so incredibly uncomfortable with the thought that one could believe Trump deserved the office of President. The only argument I heard that made any sense was the struggling coal miner who believed that Trump might revitalize the coal industry. I didn’t believe Trump would actually do that. But I could wrap my head around it.

I still can’t comprehend how a logical and loving person supports Trump. I’m not saying that a Trump supporter can’t be logical and loving. I am saying that a Trump supporter has a malfunction going on in both logic and love. That is my tough love message. Trump is a malignancy and in order to support him, you must deny the damage and ignore the hurt he is causing.

It doesn’t matter how he advances your convictions, who he puts into power for you, or what you gain. Nothing is worth the damage this president is causing at the expense of others. Without love, we are nothing and we gain nothing. And so we need to cut out the fucking cancer. If you are a Trump supporter, put forth a decent candidate for 2020 who represents you without decimating decency. Put forth a candidate who is able to argue his or her ideas rather than relying on cruelty towards another. Put forth a candidate who serves more than his or her own ego. Put forth a candidate with integrity. I believe with all my heart that Trump supporters need this tough love moment.

I am aware of a paradox here. While I articulate my belief that Trump supporters need to do better, I am convicted of the reality that I too need to do better. I must move past my disbelief and discomfort and have the conversation with my family and friends who support this president. I need to speak and listen, which will not be easy. I propose, if you are also willing, that we try to give each other room. Thank you for reading this far. Now tell me what it is you are fighting for. Tell me what the tough love message is for me. It might be difficult to do, for both of us. But isn’t it time we choose something other than division or superficiality?

I have one final thought to share. It is not only our convictions that reveal who we are, but it is the substance of our lives: the quality of our relationships, the sense of peace versus fear we carry, and the love or lack thereof that we give. I hope my life is about love, whether I am standing up for the marginalized, or listening to someone I completely disagree with because love never fails.