After my blog, I Thought I Knew What Love Was, regarding how I believed I was loving by taking responsibility for others’ lives, I think it’s important to explain the rest of the story and how God taught me how to love my family member, Nancy.
It’s apparent I wasn’t loving Nancy God’s way when I took it upon myself to try to change her. I allowed her to have control in our relationship by letting her bulldoze my boundaries, all because I thought my “love” would inspire her to get healthy. It’s interesting to note that one of the main reasons it’s difficult to set and maintain boundaries with certain people is because we need something from them whether it’s love, attention, acceptance, or, in my case, my need for Nancy to change.
So, if loving others is not all about giving them whatever they want and saying yes all the time, what is love?
That’s obviously a very tough question to answer, so I won’t attempt to explain all the complexities of what that word means, but I will share the ways God led me to love Nancy once I began setting boundaries and regaining authority over my life.
Also, remember that this is the goal of boundaries—to love better. Boundaries are not for the purpose of pushing people away. They are a foundational key to stewarding your life and protecting your heart in order to love well.
One of the first things God had me do with Nancy is apologize to her. Maybe that comes as a surprise to some, but it makes sense to me now. Nancy and I had a false relationship with her as the dominating controller and me as the passive victim. Because of this false relationship, God knew we needed to take steps toward reconciliation.
And what’s the first step toward reconciliation? Repentance. But it wasn’t just a quick “I’m sorry” to try to appease Nancy and to make me feel like I’ve done my part. God had to reveal to me how I played a role in this unhealthy relationship, so I needed to repent for my half.
This was literally one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. To humble myself before someone who had hurt me and wronged me in so many ways was absolutely heart-wrenching. Thank God I had a supportive husband and encouraging friends to back me up.
The experience was as hard as I imagined it would be. I apologized for the times I had not been honest in our relationship. I apologized for the resentment that I had allowed to fester in my heart towards her. I let Nancy know that I would make an effort to be more honest with her and to let her know how her actions affect me so that I wouldn’t again get to that place of bitterness. We both expressed that we wanted the relationship to work, so an important part of this relationship would be honesty with our feelings.
The most difficult part of this conversation was the fact that Nancy seemed to rub it all back in my face. She would say things like, “Ya, I noticed you were doing that,” all while taking absolutely no responsibility for herself. But God had brought me to a place where I didn’t need anything from her. I didn’t need her understanding or acceptance. I didn’t need her to apologize or even to forgive me. My apology was a no-strings-attached love offering to her.
When all was said and done, I walked home and climbed into my husband’s arms. I may have cried a little. It was a rough experience, but God gave me the grace I needed.
There were other occasions where God led me to have more humbling and difficult conversations with Nancy. To be honest, it would have been easier to either ignore her crap and just keep my distance or to let her have it with some unloving rant about how everything is all her fault. That’s not God’s way, though. God calls us to humility.
There were times that God led me to give something to Nancy when it was difficult for me to let go. There were times when Nancy crossed my boundaries and I had to communicate to her, “It frustrates me when you parent my children, especially when I’m sitting right next to you.”
I was constantly having to check my heart for any root of bitterness and then seek God for wisdom in handling the situation. I could not continue to blame Nancy for my heart condition. I had to learn to take control of my life and make decisions that would protect my heart and not cause me to turn my love off toward her.
Oftentimes this required my being honest about my feelings. Other times, I just needed to take it to God and just forgive Nancy in my heart.
These things all depend on how close you are or want to be in the relationship. Nancy communicated that she wanted a deeper relationship with me, so I was honoring that by being honest with her and communicating (with words and my boundaries) how I expected to be treated. If she wanted a real relationship, she would have to learn to hear the truth of how she affects people.
Obviously, there’s no use in sharing your feelings or expressing concerns in a non-existent relationship, like a stranger at the grocery store who blocks the entire aisle or an obnoxious salesman. That is our time to “turn the other cheek,” so to speak.
It’s not enough to just be nice and polite in our closer relationships. I could have chosen to simply be polite in my relationship with Nancy, while allowing bitterness to grow in my heart, but that would be sin. I could watch her cross my boundaries all the while holding back my imminent explosion of yelling and blaming. I could have continued to wear the mask of “nice Dani” while my heart sank further and further into hate.
God calls us to more. He calls us to love.
Love is an Overflow
What I have learned about love is that it’s more than just an action. We can fake love all day long through actions. Oftentimes, we give in order to cover over our lack of love and compassion. Love is an overflow of our heart. That doesn’t mean it’s easy and effortless all the time, as evidenced in my story, but it is the result of stewarding our hearts well and receiving from the Source, which brings me to my next point.
Love is First Received
You can’t give love if you haven’t received it. God is the Source of all love. If we are not continually receiving from Him, we are left dry and empty. Then when someone needs love from us, we give begrudgingly, sparingly, or not at all. We overreact when we get pushed to the limit because we feel others are trying to get something from us that we just don’t have.
It’s normal to have limits and it’s actually very important to recognize and communicate them. But don’t stop there! When you are empty, go to the Source. Be proactive about starting your day off with God. Get alone with Him. Read the Word. Worship. Be filled up with God so that you have something to give to others.
Love is Cultivated
The final thing I have learned about love is that it’s cultivated. Love is not a one-time act. I didn’t say my wedding vows and then just expect that Josh would feel loved for the remainder of our marriage. Love is something we have to cultivate in our marriage. It’s pursuing another person with their best interest in mind. It involves giving and connecting. It involves having a vulnerable heart that’s open to receive love. It’s being honest with your needs, desires, and feelings. It allows freedom in relationships. And it takes time to grow.
I definitely don’t know everything there is to know about love. I’m still on this journey of learning how to receive love from God, value myself, and love others better. There are times I do well and other times I fail miserably. God’s grace is sufficient and He continues to teach us if we’re willing to learn.
Like me, I’m sure many of us have had a misunderstanding of what love is. Perhaps we’ve received poor examples of love. Maybe we’ve been pressured into giving more than we felt we could and we were made to feel guilty when we started to have a bad attitude, thinking we just need to “cheer up” and be positive! Or perhaps our fear of what others may think has caused us to always play the role of the nice, polite Christian.
Whatever the case, God is wanting to teach us His way of love. It’s a love that at times seems completely backwards to how we’ve been taught. It’s a love that requires humility and asks for nothing in return. It’s a love that’s so powerful and overwhelming, it can only be traced back to God. It’s a love that can only overflow from our hearts when we have received with open hearts from our good Heavenly Father.
Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly”
Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection”
Brene Brown’s “Rising Strong”
Danny Silk’s “Keep Your Love On“