When Love is Tough

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It’s easy enough to understand the concept of tough love.  It makes perfect sense when I see other people in situations where they need to practice it and I’m certain that I’ve given advice on more than one occasion to just show some tough love. But wow is it hard to practice it myself.  

If tough love is when you treat another person sternly in an effort to help them in the long run, then I guess as a parent I’ve used tough love. You know, for minor things that the kids have done. Grounding them, keeping them home from a birthday party because they didn’t do their homework, taking away their t.v. privileges, stuff like that.  I guess that counts as tough love, right? But honestly, that’s pretty easy. 

Recently though, things have changed and I’m becoming well-versed in matters of tough love, and it really is tough.  It feels pretty confusing and on most days it’s awful and doesn’t feel a whole lot like love at all.

Tough love situations are always borne out of necessity, which is exactly what has happened to my family. My sister is fighting a heroin addiction which has pretty much destroyed her life, and is having serious effects on ours as well.  Her story is exactly the same as the many others I’ve heard recently.  She started using, then stealing to use even more, wound up getting arrested for stealing, spent time in jail, went to rehab in hopes of getting a reduced sentence, got out…went back to using…steal, arrest, rehab, repeat. And in 2011 during a two week break between rehab and a jail stay, she managed to get pregnant.  I was so certain that a baby would be the catalyst for change that she needed, but when he was just 18 months old, she wound up back in jail and Little B found a new home here with us.  

It’s exhausting to be the family member of an addict. It’s tiresome and it’s frustrating constantly trying to figure out the “right” thing to do. I’m getting better with the “tough” part, but it wears me out sometimes trying to figure out how to love my sister when I’m so angry with her decisions, upset by the effects that her addiction has had on my family, and saddened by the fact that Little B is caught up in the middle of her mess.

But as a follower of Jesus, I believe that I’m called to show love.  In John 13, Jesus says “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The Bible doesn’t put any contingencies on this calling.  Three times in three sentences he says to “love one another”. But he doesn’t clarify what that love looks like.  He doesn’t use the phrase “tough love”, and he doesn’t give instructions as to how we are to show love.  I wish Jesus would’ve been just a little more clear.

Most of the love that I see around me is really different than the love that I see in the Bible. It says in Romans that God showed his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  But in this world, love seems to be completely contingent on the behavior of the other person.  It’s more of an “if/then” love.  IF you do this for me, THEN I will love you.  IF you (meet all my needs/make me happy/buy me nice things/put up with my bad attitude…etc) THEN I will love you.  But if you don’t, then forget about it.

So, my dilemma is this. I want to love my sister through this addiction, I really do.  But my natural inclination is to have an “if you clean up your act, then I will be able to love you” mentality…which is exacerbated by the fact that her addiction has had such a huge effect on my family.  I want to love like Jesus, but to be honest, most days it’s a struggle. 

What makes it harder is that all of my really well-intentioned, loving and loyal friends are quick to point out that I’ve done enough for her and that I need to stop, that I can’t let her take advantage of me, that she’s in this mess because of her own bad decisions, that these are her consequences so she has to deal with them…etc.  These are not things that I need someone to point out to me.  I already know all of this.  What I could really use is someone to remind me that I am called to love her.  Period.  Not with contingency, not IF she gets her life together, not IF her bad decisions don’t effect me.  None of those things matter.

I’ve been shown love and I’m undeserving too. I’m grateful for love that comes without contingencies and I want to pour that out for others. 

Love is tough. Tough love is tougher. And I don’t do either of them as well as I’d like to.  But I’m learning.

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