Love = Affirmation?

“If you don’t affirm me, you don’t love me.”

This is the cry of Western culture. It is also the cry of every three-year-old. When my girls were three, they did many things that I couldn’t affirm. Walking out in the street. No. Climbing on the cupboards in our kitchen to get food. No. Drinking Kool-Aid all day long. No. Not brushing their teeth. No. I couldn’t affirm those desires in my girls because they would’ve been destructive. And when I told them no they didn’t feel particularly loved. But I denied them their desires because I do love them.

Love isn’t always affirming.

But somehow, we’ve raised a generation or two that continues to believe love equals affirmation into their adulthood.  Love can be affirming, but it isn’t always.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Jesus said this is the second greatest commandment, second only to loving God with your entire being. I think to some degree the world can get on board with this command. I’ve seen non-Christians love their neighbor very well. I’ve seen secular humanitarian organizations love their communities. Because every human being is made in the image of God, love is something that we’re all capable of expressing. Love your neighbor isn’t always so lofty. Sometimes you have nice neighbors and they’re easy to love.

But if everyone took that second half seriously – as you love yourself – many would balk. See, an honest look at how we love ourselves means that we’re actually not loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Do I deny myself things that would be destructive to my body, mind, and spirit? Of course I do, and so do you. You don’t affirm everything that your mind and body desires. You don’t indulge every impulse. If you did, you might be a humongous wreck or even dead!  When it comes to loving yourself, love doesn’t equal affirmation.

The truth is, we often affirm people, for right or wrong, not because we love them, but because we love being loved by them. We affirm self-destructive behavior at times, just so we can continue in the glow of their affections. To withhold affirmation from that someone would mean to risk losing the love that we want from that person.

And that’s selfish. You love being loved by them more than you actually love them.

That’s what we’ve become. It’s not brave to affirm someone who’s making choices that will ultimately lead to their destruction. It’s not noble to be “gracious” and enable someone to bring harm to themselves and others. But that’s what we call it.

Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it – Psalm 141:5

Can we cut the crap?

We’ve become people who live in fear. If you’re currently enabling a child, a friend, or a spouse to be destructive to themselves or anyone else, you are a coward. You’re afraid of losing their love, when their love isn’t worth a plugged nickel. The moment you cut off your affirmation is the moment you’ll surface the user in them. They’re using you and they’re controlling you with their pseudo-affection – which will dry up the moment you stop giving them what they want.

Love does not always equal affirmation. Many times, love is a stern conversation about poor choices. Others, it is cutting off the money. And every now and then love is putting them out of your house or your circle of friends so they can hit rock bottom.

Call it tough love if you like but also realize that what you’re doing is letting go of the selfish love of being loved. You’re risking losing that person’s affection in the hope that they’ll be diverted from destruction. Tough love is also selfless love.

Stop affirming people so that they’ll continue to love you. The brave and noble thing is to try to persuade them of their error.

whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. – James 5:20

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