People lie to me just as they lie to their own pastors and to their doctors (“I only drink one glass of wine a week“) and to their dentists (“I floss most days.”) They tell me they are “fine” when they are not fine. They tell me family stories that are either exaggerated or wholly false.
Sometimes they are also lying to themselves and they’ve told a story so many times, they believe it’s true.
[Just to be clear, I also lie to myself and others to spare me shame or to avoid difficult conversations. Ask me about that time I told the truth about chopping up our neighbor’s rose bushes as a seven year old and – while I confessed the truth – my siblings who were partners in that crime – lied about it and I was the only one who got disciplined. I learned that lying = getting off easy.]
Throughout my professional ministry I’ve been told some pathologically interesting stories:
- The parishioner who told me he grew up in a mansion with gardeners and chauffeurs when the truth was that his father was a prison warden and he grew up on the prison grounds.
- The parishioner who told me he went to Harvard when actually he signed his war registration documents on the campus of Harvard and never took a class there.
- The parishioner who told that her successful father was her hero, when actually he had sexually abused her throughout her childhood.
I remember sitting with a woman who was telling me for the umpteenth time that one of her relatives had won the Nobel Prize. I don’t know whether this was true or not, but God put the following words into my mouth:
You know, I would love you even if what you’re telling me is not true.
I wasn’t saying that I didn’t believe her. But she had shared that comment with me so many times, it was clear that it meant a lot to her. It made her feel important.
But she wasn’t important because of her proximity to the Nobel Prize. I didn’t love her or those others because of who their parents were or what they owned or where they went to college. I loved them – or tried to – just because.
Loving people – or trying to – is the only way I can get through this life and I’m often not very good at it. People can be so selfish/obnoxious/narcissistic/cruel and the only possible way I can love them is to remember that God loves them. I don’t have to like them. But I’m called to love them because of Jesus.
All of us say things and do things that we think will make others love us.
Sadly, it is true is that some will not love us if we behave a certain way or if we don’t behave a certain way or if we have debt or an addiction disorder or a criminal record or a home in a not-so-great neighborhood. Some people won’t love us if we fail to live up to their expectations.
Love feels especially conditional these days. And we could all use some unconditional love.
How can we nurture unconditional love? Repeat after me:
- I will love you even if I disagree with your politics.
- I will love you even if you disappoint me.
- I will love you even if you don’t take my advice.
- I will love you. No matter what.
There is someone in my life who made some poor life choices once upon a time, and now that those poor-choice-days are over, I sometimes remind him: “There’s nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you.”
The first time I whispered those words into his ear, it was just a pep talk comment. But because he told me that it means a lot to him, I say it more often now. I want it always to be true.
Only God can help us know the truth about ourselves. And only God can help us love each other unconditionally.