A friend dropped by to pick up something bought from our yard sale, so I asked how a difficult situation in their life was panning out. Tears were close, their struggle undeniable and the betrayal real. “I don’t want to lose the relationship though,” they whispered. “I know they love me.”
“But respect is the core of love!” I replied.
The truth stopped us both and our eyes widened. It was one of those utterly brilliant comments you make that clearly didn’t come from you because you’d never thought of it before. A gift from God for us both.
Respect. A consideration of the other for their own sake, and not in relation to who they are for us.
God gave us free will because He loves us. That is the ultimate sign of respect, isn’t it? The truest love relationship of them all, and He gives us free will. He does not dictate our choices nor prevent us from making mistakes. He provides us with guidance when sought, sure. But He respects our person by letting us make those choices ourselves. No matter the depth of grief it may incur for Him.
He respects His creation. That is where all the joy is for Him. He created us in love so as to be able to lavish love upon us. And to surround us with His love through Creation and one another.
All loving relationship is rooted in respect. Otherwise it is not love, it is simply self-interest. Dallas Willard used to say, “True love is to will the good of another.”
I think about respect with regard to marriage. You are made one in the covenant, but you remain two persons also. In Godly order, the husband (understood to be seeking the Lord himself) is the head, the wife (equal but second in line) is a co-partner in everything. An equal voice. And there to be listened to, to be respected for her own needs and opinions and desires. Just for herself. As she too respects the needs, opinions and desires of her spouse.
The Covenant of marriage works as God intends when it is rooted in a mutual respect. Man needs a helpmate (God love him) and Woman needs a companion to cover her while she covers the kids (God love her).
I think about respect with regard to my children. I am in awe of God’s creation in my kids. From the moment they were born, I have recognized that – while “mine” – they do not belong to me. God made them, He created their inmost being and He has purposed them and gifted them for their own blessing and their own intended contribution to the world.
‘Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters
of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you
Yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow
which you cannot visit even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward
nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children – as living arrows –
are sent forth.’
Parenting is all about respect. Not just them respecting you, but you respecting them as the people they were created to be. Quite apart from you. Different. Their own creation. Their own purposes. Their own path. Their own discovery. My role is to guide them in a Godly way of living, but not to direct them in my perception of their Godly path in life. That is theirs to discover, mine to support.
So all one’s true love for one’s children must be rooted in respect.
And I think about respect with regard to family and friendship. If I say I love someone, am I willing their best for their own sake? Am I willing to offer advice only when asked? Do I continue to love them through terrible mistakes without judgment and “told you so”?
Do I respect them as another person in their own right (not as they relate to me), with all the same choices, realities and frailties I myself have?
My parents have modeled true love to me through my whole life. They have supported and encouraged me in my choices. As a child they guided me, and as an adult they have given sage advice when asked. They have comforted me through “mistakes”, and have stuck by me in commitments I have made that have proved difficult.
Perhaps the greatest sacrifice my parents have made with regard to my life, is to bless – entirely without self-reference – my understanding of God’s calling to me to live in America. Thousands and thousands of miles from “home.” I came to graduate school in ’92 and I never left.
I know they grieve this distance intensely, as do I and their grandchildren. But they have continued to bless me and support me and cheer me on for my own sake. To their own cost. No matter what. True love.
So I catch myself now in relationship. If I love someone, then the proof of my respect must shine out of my every interaction with them. And I can jolly well deal with my own stuff later.
And so these three remain:
Faith in the other’s freedom to choose their own path,
Hope for the other’s best for their own sake,
and Love whose core is found in my respect for their person-hood.
But the greatest of these is love.