In November we explored what it looks like to love well. We used the acronym GYVE (explained below) as one tested way to do this. We also explored how Jesus modelled this movement for us throughout his ministry. This is all part of our “Fixed on Jesus” series which has been framed by the saying:
“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”
GYVE is our model for doing the third part of that saying, “in all things, charity”. In the New Year we’re going to do this together with our top three “Hot Button topics”
– three “non-essentials”. Before then, we must understand the ground rules. GYVE is our attempt at that.
How To Love Well (Part 1)
“We.” It’s a simple word, apparently.
When you can use it authentically, it means there is honest agreement. We need… we feel… we think; a sameness of circumstances, emotions and beliefs. There is a pleasantness to be able to say it and know that there is true unity. So pleasant, in fact, that even when it’s no longer true, we’re tempted to want to keep thinking of ourselves as a “we” anyways, and don’t talk about the differences. If we keep on using “we” language then, we no longer use it authentically, we use it presumptuously.
Those moments come when people become too complicated to fit inside that simple word. For those of us who thrive on a sense of togetherness, this can be terrifying. Even for those of us that don’t mind some conflict, it’s hard work to name the new realities, identifying and speaking out about the ways we’ve grown different. Despite the fact that differences can be either neutral, a result of compromise, or from increasing maturity, they can give us the same dread. And it’s never certain whether or not these differences will dramatically affect the way the group has been. Unspoken questions lurk in our minds:
“Will they be able to love me if I disagree with them? Will they try to control and change me, maybe with great pressure? What about our ability to work together closely for a common purpose?”
Differences are not in themselves bad, but many of us do not have positive memories of differences bringing anything good when they surface. Memories of conflict that brought devastation shout inside us, “don’t do that again!” Some of us have felt abandoned when our parents or leaders in the past couldn’t resolve their differences. Much has been lost by conflict that surfaced and never resolved, and the grief of these things remains in some of us. Sometimes, too, leaders see the potential of loss of momentum that disagreement has often produced, and they can be reluctant to pay the cost of honesty.
The “Presumptuous We”
If we go on saying ‘we” even if it does not represent the new situation, it can smooth over our fear of splitting up, of rejection, or of unending conflict. And so, despite the fact that it is presumptuous to say “we” anymore, we continue to generalize, one side speaking for the other without it being accurate. It becomes taboo to tell the truth about the differences, out of these fears. So when one side says “we”, the other side falls silent. At times, the side doing the speaking does not even know that their voice has become inauthentic to the others – but maybe they don’t really want to know, or bother ask about it. Both sides can lack courage to say that “we” is no longer completely true.
But why can’t we just be positive, silently forgive each other, keeping these things from disturbing us and threatening so many good things?
Because the alternative – accepting the pressure to conform – is also devastating, in different ways. In the long run, worse ways.
When we outwardly conform, continuing to say “we” when we have a feeling we are betraying our true thoughts, we no longer trust that we have permission to be real. We don’t know if we are being loved for ourselves anymore, or just being used. There is no sense of unconditional love, because agreement has become the condition of being together. And now, we don’t know if the conflict that we’ve smoothed over would be handled with great forcefulness, indifference, or worse. We have chosen not to know. In the meantime, no one grows or learns from the other viewpoint, and so positions harden, and become strident in the silence. And throughout the community, trust decreases. Low trust becomes normal.
The end of that path is almost surely the same disintegration that comes down the first path. Only now, the differences have corroded both our hearts and our relationships. And how much more violent the war, or severe the withdrawal!
Is there a way to let differences emerge that can be both loving and productive?
When differences are faced at high trust, there are very different outcomes than when those same differences emerge at low trust.
There is no guarantee that the differences won’t prove too much to stay together in the old way. Certainty must be let go of; it is an idol. Change can be severe, but it will be more severe if it is left too long, and then conflict comes at low trust. What we can be certain about however, is the one thing that we have control of: our own willingness to let differences emerge without trying to control or marginalize the other side. When this is done, in the three ways outlined below, trust and compassion have the best chance of growing. When differences are faced at high trust, there are very different outcomes than when those same differences emerge at low trust.
At low trust, there is war or withdrawal.
At high trust, two sides can hear each other deeply. Then they can decide how closely they can continue to live and work together without the threat of rejection or contempt hanging overhead. They can also find creative ways to make room for each other to be different. These “third way” possibilities never reveal themselves at low trust. Following Jesus’ teaching to love those who are different than ourselves, a community can often go beyond just managing to make room for each other; they can actually serve the purposes of those different than themselves. In the teaching of Jesus, both in the Sermon on the Mount and the Unity Prayer he prayed before his death in John 17, this love that crosses the great divides, serving even its enemies, is seen as the greatest sign of the Kingdom of God.
But to get to this place of unity without suppressing differences, there are four courageous things that must be done:
- Press pause on generalizing.
- Make it safe for differences to come to light.
- Find the heart values behind these different positions.
- Hear the stories of how these values were formed.
We’ve summed up these four stages in the acronym GYVE:
- G (Generalizing)
- Y (Yours and Mine)
- V (Values)
- E (Experiences)
>> Missed the teaching on Part 1: Our Essentials, or on Part 2: In all Things Charity (GYVE)? You can listen to the audio here.