Friday, March 30, 2012

But Is That Love?

 by Guest Blogger Jennifer Slattery

It’s easy to see hurtful behaviors when they’ve reached the extreme. It’s another matter to catch the impact of our seemingly helpful daily choices and interactions.

A few years ago, my husband and I started watching Intervention. Sitting on the couch in the comfort of our home, the action-reaction cycle we witnessed was so obvious! We readily saw the intertwined family dynamics and often talked about what the individuals should or shouldn’t do. Maybe if Mom quit making excuses for the addict, he’d be forced to change. Maybe if Dad didn’t cave to his son’s anger, it wouldn’t have escalated.

Viewing such drastic examples of helping turned hurting, it’s easy to see the long-term effects. It’s not so easy when the situation hits closer to home and is surrounded by a lifetime of behaviors. Then suddenly, the lines blur. In the evangelical community, this can be especially hard. We’re commanded to love, to carry one another’s burdens, to provide for our brother and sister in need, but if our acts of love aren’t grounded in truth, we risk actually harming our recipient.

Let me give an example. The other day I received a phone call from our daughter. She’d forgotten her math book and assignment at home. I could’ve responded in one of two ways: I could’ve brought her book to her or I could’ve allowed her to suffer the consequences of her actions. Both choices had long-term effects.

Which would’ve been an act of love?

This isn’t an easy question to answer, is it? The answer largely depends on her history and my long-term vision for her future. If this was a one-time event, a bit of grace might be appropriate. But what if this was the third time she’d left her book? Would rescuing her help or hurt? How might my action impact her future behavior?

When talking about children, most of you will probably agree. We understand as parents that sometimes we must do the hard thing. Sometimes we must take away privileges or allow natural consequence to train certain behaviors.

But what if the person needing help is a sister, brother, or parent? Suddenly those clear boundary lines blur, don’t they? Largely because our reaction and perception is rooted in long-establish patterns of behavior.

Let me give another example:

Gary’s Mom has a low-paying job. It’s the fourth job she’s held in four years. She has no health insurance and a mortgage she can’t pay. The Bible says to care for our parents, that he who doesn’t care for their family is evil. The loving son would provide his mom with extra income, would help her find a better job, get settled in a new community, would do whatever is necessary to help, right?

But what if Gary’s actions, although meant to be loving, really hurt his mom by encouraging the behaviors that led to her current situation?

To honestly evaluate the situation and our response to it, sometimes we need to take a step back. We need to look at our family history and the person’s past behaviors as well as our own. Because love and truth must always go hand in hand.

Let’s flash back twenty years. Gary grew up in a tense home with an angry father and a mentally unstable mother. As a child, he learned which behaviors led to the most peace. When dad got angry, he’d perform. When mom got agitated, he’d protect or fix the situation. He took on the role of fixer and protector. And Mom fell into the role of a victim in need of rescue. Over time, these roles strengthened and became normal patterns of behavior. Child and parent began to view this pattern as a display of love. But is this a healthy pattern? And is it truly loving?

These patterns of behavior are similar to those displayed on Intervention, only it’s harder to see them because the consequences don’t seem so dire. Mom’s not passed out drunk or strung out, and the money the son gives her goes to real needs. But Gary’s actions are still damaging if they encourage Mom to continue making poor choices.

I’m often reminded, love is a verb, an action. Emotions are great, but they can be faulty. Emotions tell me to let my daughter play outside even though she should be studying, but love tells me to hold her accountable in order to point her toward maturity.

Sometimes love does the hard thing. Finding the balance, that clear line in our emotional sand, takes prayer, wisdom, and grace. We need to step back from the situation and learn not to own the other person’s problems or emotions. When we do that, our love becomes pure and true, not motivated by guilt, past wounds, or faulty thinking, but instead, by wisdom. Then there’s a higher chance our actions will truly help, not hurt. Empower, not enable.

Jennifer Slattery lives in the Midwest with her husband of sixteen years and their fourteen year old daughter. She’s passionate about seeing lives changed by the radical love of Christ and prays to be a grace and truth filled ambassador for Christ. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, the ACFW Journal, Internet Café Devotions, Jewels of Encouragement, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud ( She’s also written for numerous publications and has placed in numerous writing contests. Connect with her on Facebook ( to find out more.


  1. I saw this post on Monday on a different blog, and it really blessed me. Talk about hitting someone right where they are. I felt like it answered questions that I'd been struggling with. So I hope it blesses our readers today as well.

  2. Very well put Jennifer. We certainly play our roles in all our relationships. Like Gary, I was the buffer in my family and its quite exhausting. And I can see those difficult "tough love" decisions even with adult children in their 30s.

    Thanks Dina!

  3. Dina, thanks for having me! God's grace and restoration encompasses every area of our lives--including our relationships. :) It's amazing how He continues to foster emotional health, creating and restoring healthy relationships in a sin-filled world!

  4. Debrah, I can imagine that was exhausting! I've heard it said, "God's got it covered. Sometimes we just need to get out of the way."

    Have a blessed, truth and love filled day!

  5. It’s amazing how there’s always more than one side to each story. When I hear someone say something, I’m tempted to make up my mind how I feel about it right away, but really, there’s so much under the surface that needs to be thought about.

  6. Jennifer, I cannot thankyou enough for this post! I have believed for so long that Love cannot be separated from truth, and it has caused much contention for me with some Chritians who believe that we should not tell people the truth, and we should not address thier negative acions because this would be 'unloving' and would offend or upset them and 'drive them away'.

    In know of one particular Christian author who espouses this view of 'love' in her books.
    One particualr charater in her book regularly abuses and mistreats others the and the Christian charactersresponse to this is to stand by and do nothing because they are afraid of upsetting this other character, and so being 'unloving'.

    Thier response to other negative behaviour is just to let her do whatever she wants, no matter how harmful and immoral, and they are in a constant state of denial over her actions. They know what she is really like, but instead they delude themselves into believing she is something else, and consciously uphold outright lies about this other character's nature and actions.

    Yet readers are supposed to beleive that the Christian charcters responses and actions are good because they they are practicing 'Christlike love'.

    I personally have a big problem believing that such actions are 'loving' at all. I is rather good to know that I am not the only one who thinks truth is an imprtant aspect of love.

  7. It's hard to balance love and truth. I wonder if any of us ever get is quite right. I was thinking it probably relates to personality. Feelers probably err towards love and thinkers probably err towards truth.

  8. Aidyl, That is soooo true! Only God knows the whole "backstory" into a person's life, along with their weaknesses, and destination, but praise God He promises to give us wisdom to handle any situation we encounter, if we'd but ask. Then listen and obey. :)

    Anna, I am sorry you have experienced negativity from others. We (as a society) are trained to "own" other people's emotions and reactions, but God tells us to seek His will alone and leave the results to Him. I often have to remind my daughter of this when she has to make a tough choice. She'll say, "But so-n-so will be mad at me." To which I respond, "How she reacts is not up to you. You are to obey God and leave his/her reaction to HIm."

    Dina, you are sooo right! I can often see this in my parenting. I'm so glad God partnered me (a feeler) with my husband (a facts-based man). :) Together, I think we tend to balance each other out.

  9. I think that's a great way of putting it about people's emotions. I think the best we can do is be true to what we believe rather than trying to please others all the time, because we can never be so.

  10. There are so many aspects of Christianity that involve opposing equally important truths. Freedom and law, justice and mercy, etc... That's why I think it's so important to learn how to listen to God's voice to find that balance.

  11. I really agree with you, Dina about thinkers and feelers and how they respond. I also agree with Anna, and I think even for us feelers, there eventually comes a time when (hard as it may be) we have to put the feelings aside and "love with truth."

    Great post, Jennifer, and it certainly generated good discussion. Thank you for visiting with us today.

  12. So true, and SO difficult to apply in those day-to-day relationships.
    As I often say, there is a ditch on either side of the road, even when it comes to walking in love. I suppose that just underscores the importance of being willing to listen to His still, small voice and obey His instructions, no matter what.
    Great post, thanks for visiting!

  13. Very helpful--we do have to weigh the variables and "backstory" when we face sticky situations. It's not always easy to make these choices! Praise God for His guidance.

    Thanks for visiting, Jennifer.

  14. This has been a great discussion! Thanks for having me, ladies!

  15. Very interesting, Jennifer. It's similar to the Tough Love program taught in some cities.

    Thank you for blogging at the Inkwell today.



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