Recently spreading its way around my Facebook is an article from Huffington Post: If I Can’t Accept You at Your Worst, Then Maybe You Should Stop Being So Horrible. Most are sharing it positively. I shared with no comment given, but yes, I did mean it positively. Aside from a bit of an unnecessary shot at Marilyn Monroe, I definitely do think its message is an important one.
I’ll start off my comments by making clear I am not endorsing either extreme that most of us are tempted to jump to. I definitely do not support the extreme statement of forcing people (primary context: romantic relationships) to give you everything you want no matter what your faults that you don’t even want to grow past. I definitely do not support the other extreme that you should not be in relationship with anybody who has flaws. To me, if you come away from the article thinking it supported either one, you’re reading it wrong.
Most of my readers are Christians, so you probably understand why we need to avoid declaring some worthy of love but not others. We are all image-bearers of God. We are all loved by God so much that he died an excruciating death for us. No exceptions. But we aren’t talking about giving every human being their due dignity.
The harder one to swallow in the Western world is the other extreme. Some take that idea of unconditional love and grace to say that we must be a doormat. This extreme is what the article is challenging. Yes, we need to show everybody love and grace, but that is not the same thing as being “nice” and avoiding any consequences whatsoever for their faults.
In the article, he’s clearly talking about using “you have to love me unconditionally” as an excuse to not deal with your problems, a surprisingly strong tendency in my generation. For example, when a couple breaks up and one shares on Facebook that he knows he’s a selfish asshole but any woman who wants to be with him will have to accept that. To which I respond, “no wonder you’re having trouble keeping a relationship!” It isn’t just that you’re an asshole; it’s that you are completely ok with being an asshole and don’t even want to try to treat her better. That’s messed up.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about “cheap grace” as opposed to “costly grace.” Cheap grace is a loose meaningless forgiveness which doesn’t change anything. It’s still legalism, what proponents of cheap grace would often criticize, but it is legally-required lack of consequence.
For example, staying in an abusive relationship because it’s the nice thing to do is cheap grace. Costly grace hurts, but that’s what changes people. If you’re being abused, get out. That is not only the most loving to you but also to them as they are given the opportunity to learn that something significant is wrong that they need to work on. Jesus showed unconditional love and grace to the oppressors of his day. He also told them when they were hurting people (often with good intentions) and encouraged them to do better.
We need to be able to admit our faults. We need to be able to admit that there are consequences for our faults. We can’t shrug them off in an “oh well; I’m still amazing (all those participation trophies as a child told me so) so I’m going to ignore them.” We need to admit that if we give that attitude to romantic significant others and even friends, we can’t really blame them for not wanting to be around us anymore.
Don’t accept your brokenness. Acknowledge that your identity is grounded in unconditional love and with that stable base in place, acknowledge where you need to do better at loving people. Then get to work at improving.