(*Update: This post had been unpublished while I worked to gain some perspective. I have done so. I am in a different place. I am republishing for purposes of honest continuity.)
There seems to be a strange disconnect between our valuation and perception of Love and our valuation and perception of Respect. We’ve learned much about authentic love over the past couple of decades. Certain wisdom (God-based) on the subject has emerged and come to the fore in attempt counter certain world-dom that seems pervasive. So, now, we echo statements like “Love is a Choice” and ideas expressing that genuine love is unselfish and sacrificial, putting another first even though they may not seem, to some, to be worthy or deserving. Another way of looking at the “worthy or deserving statement” is to say that one holds expectations, which, realistic or otherwise are or are not being met. Part of “Love is a Choice” is choosing to realize that one’s expectations might be unreasonable, overly high, or, not to put too fine a point on it, unloving.
Respect, however, seems to be regarded very much differently by these same people. Really, when you get down to it, how can respect be any different? Respect is a choice. Respect is less dependent on the person one is or is not respecting, and more dependent on the barometers and expectations we impose upon others. How often has someone said, “I can love this person but I could never respect them.”? It sounds a little schizophrenic to me, and I’m certain that I’ve said the same on more than one occasion. Cognitive dissonant much? I need to take a good hard look at myself and see if I’m not talking nonsense.
Myself, I would be devastated to think of myself as an unloving and uncompassionate person. I would lose sleep over it and be distraught if I, or worse, others, failed to see me as loving and compassionate. In times past, I think I would have experienced very little discomfort were I accused of being possessing a heart of disrespect.
I would probably feel and maybe express that I am completely justified in depriving another of my respect because of some fault I perceive that person to hold. Well insulated by my justifications, I would probably never even stop to consider if my heart of disrespect might be sinful, disobedient, in need of repentance, and deserving of effort to change just as much as would an unloving heart.
I think that if I’m reluctant to self-examine in this area, it is because I’m willing to make a show of surrendering on the very easy; the unloving heart, provided I can use it as a justification to hold out on the very difficult; the heart of judgemental disrespect.
Should not I; should not anyone, be just as anxious to come-clean and work to correct one as we are the other?
Knowing I possessed an unloving heart would cause me to hurt, then reflect, then fret and ponder [hopefully stopping short of useless rumination], to seek the help of a counselor, to submit in accountability to those I trust to challenge me and disciple me to change. I would yearn to roadmap a solution and then persevere to completion.
I think my cognitive dissonance would maybe push me not to see a heart of disrespect as anything like the same kind of bunny.
We can just choose to keep the cold heart and mind that cannot [or refuses to] give to another a quantity of respect one minim greater than the other has ‘earned’ or ‘merited’. We can continue to wonder perplexedly why, despite our accumulation of gold foil stars for having loving and compassionate hearts, the kind of loving relationships with others we yearn for continue elude us.
I want to begin applying the same ἀγάπη love standard to my respect standard.
Grace is unmerited favor. Nothing more, and certainly, nothing less.
I want to be as grace-giving with respect as I seek to be with love.
I want to be as heartbroken by my possessing a disrespecting heart as I would be possessing an unloving heart.
I think back to my childhood and I see now clearly, that a parent may cover up a twisted heart of selfish abuse in their own minds by lavishing ‘love’ and proclaiming to all who will listen, what a loving parent they are… all the while, shredding their child’s heart with constant unrelenting meat-grinder scalpels of withheld respect or expressed contempt and disappointment.
My father may have been correct every time he contemptuously expressed how I failed to meet even the base expectations a child should meet, and how worthless I was. [ He was entirely incorrect. ] Even if he had been correct, his goal was never to make me a better boy, a better person, a better future man. That which I have accomplished in those areas, I have had to do entirely on my own under the hostile rain of his discouragement. This I have done in spite of knowing that I would never earn his favor. He believed himself justified in withholding respect. He is now beyond all capacity to give. Perhaps he always had been.
When I visited my father in Branson during my freshman year in high school, he even told me that he had been trying to parent me using Dobsonian “Tough Love” and that if he had gotten it wrong, it wasn’t for lack of trying. By his next words, he proved that lack of trying figured strongly into things. Had he truly read “Love Must be Tough” (The book in which Dr. Dobson coined the term “Tough Love” before giving it to the world as his lasting legacy to misquote and misuse), as he claimed to have done, he might have known that the book was written to help and encourage the husbands and wives of spouses who refuse to repent of and turn from sins such as verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and infidelity.
Imagine namedropping Dobson as scapegoat for all the pain one inflicts on another. Paul might well respond, “μη γενοιτο”. My father was certainly not alone in having made the attempt.
I think it is clear, going forward, that when we see these little tendencies in ourselves to inflict upon others, that which was inflicted upon us, our heart’s cry should be a desperation to do whatever must be done to remedy. Once brought to our awareness, the absolute very last thing we may allow ourselves is excuse and self-permission to continue living life in this manner. We must counter our hearts of non-respect as strongly as we must hearts of unlove.
To acknowledge and then make excuses or pass responsibility and not make desperate effort to change is additional retroactive abuse to the child we were, a visitation of the abuse we suffered as children upon our adult selves, and of course, abuse of those God has put into our lives for us to, serving as His proxy, shower with His love and His respect.
The best response I could have ever made to my father was not to fight him, not to hate him, not to resent him, and certainly not to try to show him that he was wrong and that he should repent. The best response is to instead to make certain that I become the healed and impenetrable wall through which his influence is never again permitted to visit hurt on another.
We are instruments capable of serving as proxy for another.
Do we allow ourselves to be used as the tools of those who have hurt us, or do we offer ourselves up to the Heavenly Father who loved and sacrificed all to save us?
This subject has been an ongoing ponder for approaching a year. To this point, I’ve not had the courage to say what it was that gelled ponder into a need to write this article.
Confession. Contrition. ὁμολογέω/homologéō.
Recently I have been in a situation where people I very much love and very much respect (as Emmerson Eggrichs would say, “People of basic good will”) have done some things I regard as needing remedy/redress. I try not to put people on pedestals anymore, but it’s more of a struggle with folks I very much do love and respect who are in a position of authority. I think that the fact of their being just as human as the next guy engenders in me feelings of betrayal, which is unfair and ridiculous on my part. Rather, I hurt for a goodly while refusing to remember that they are fallible persons of good will with their own fears and hangups and foibles. In my hurt, I hurt back and feel justified doing it.
I am responsible for not just what I do with such knowledge, feelings, situations, but how I do it.
Emmerson exclaimed in a verbal conflict with his wife Sarah, “You know you can be right, but you can be wrong at the top of your voice.. I’ve always had an inkling of what he meant, but I think I understand his meaning better now.
Sometimes it’s much less about feeling respect than treating another with respect.
A friend pointed out to me while I was doing it that I was clearly distraught and maybe should find another time, venue, and method.
I felt justified based on the other person’s action and my hurt, so I continued unheeding.
It’s difficult. My mind is still thinking up ways I could have better used the opportunity to devastate resistance and drive home what I perceived as reality.
Meanwhile, my heart is breaking, and all these thoughts on respect are crushing me down.
My heart is telling me that respect… true respect… would be to not speak from my hurt… would be to make effort and figure out how to accomplish what I feel is apocalyptically important, but in a way that did not give voice to a heart of disrespect. These folks are certainly worth it. I’m worth it. Christ is worthy of all and infinitely more.
I don’t know that I’m capable. It seems an entirely impossible task. It seems that by the time I figure out how to accomplish it, it may be too late for real-world events.
Respect means trying in spite of all that. Respect means turning to God to be strong where I am newborn blind-kitten weak.