I have a confession to make: I pray every day that God would help me to love my family.
It seems like loving my husband and children should be an easy thing. It should come automatically, like breathing. After all, what mother doesn’t love her children?
But the truth is, love isn’t easy. It’s hard. When I use the word love, I am not referring to the warm fuzzy feelings that bubble up from somewhere deep inside my heart when my loved ones do something nice for me. I’m not talking about the affection I feel when my husband brings me flowers or sends me a text just to tell me he misses me. I’m not talking about the way my heart melts at my youngest son’s toothless grin.
No, the love I’m speaking of is the kind of love that seeks the best in others even when they don’t respond in kind. It’s the kind of love that continues to give even when no one else gives in return. It’s the kind of love that stays in for the long haul, remaining committed, even when love seems all but lost.
The love I pray for is hard love.
Hard love is the love Paul speaks of in Philippians:
“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:1-5).
Paul Miller describes this kind of hard love as “a determination to do someone good, no matter what, to be faithful to a covenant regardless of its impact on you. It wills to love when every fiber of your being screams run. This determination is at the heart of Jesus’s relationship with his Father, and at the heart of ours as well” (from A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships).
This kind of love can’t be produced on our own. I call it hard love because it’s not easy and it’s not in our nature to love this way. Hard love is a by-product, an outgrowth of the love Christ has for us. There is an order we have to follow: Christ loves us and we then love others.
As 1 John 4:19 says, “We love each other because he loved us first.” Hard love doesn’t come naturally, but through Christ, we have become new creations. What is unnatural has been created within us by his Spirit. Christ is the beginning and source of hard love, and it’s only through him we can love others as he did.
In the passage above, Paul uses an if-then statement. If you have encouragement in Christ, if there is consolation of love, then do likewise. If you have grasped the gospel of Jesus Christ and know his love, then love as Christ loved. Serve as Christ served. Live a life of humility. Love through the hard times. Give when no one else gives back.
Hard love is the way of the cross, it’s the way of Christ’s love for us, and it’s the way we ought to love others. May we all pray to love our families with a hard love.