Several years ago I was invited to join a friend, Ashley, and her parents for dinner. As the conversation started, Ashley and her parents described that they were painstakingly hungry for connectedness. They missed one another. But when rubber hit the road and Ashley asked her parents to support her transition, both child and parents became incredibly defensive.
Her parents felt bullied into meeting their daughter’s “demands,” as though Ashley was manipulating them in the clutches of her controlling hand. In response they criticized her for, what they called, unhealthy friendships, conformity to the world’s ways, and a fading moral character. With utter hatred in their voices, her parents declared that they would not support any child who ‘disobeyed’ God with such rebelliousness. As Ashley sat across from me, I saw an anger I had never seen before. She shouted slanderous statements that left me churring inside.
Eventually, I started to hear Ashley’s hope underneath her anger. She had been, all along, describing a relationship full of joyful unity. And when her anger turned to tears of sorrow, it was almost as though hope transported her to another land, one in which she was the prized possession. Ashley wanted one simple thing: to hear her parents say, “I love you because you are mine.”
When her parents finally understood what Ashley was asking for, they softened and began listening to her feelings of rejection and isolation. They heard their daughter characterize their interactions as dismissing and hateful, sentiments for her they had never felt. The family had found their resolve.
Needless to say, in fighting to defend their theological positions more than their solidarity, both Ashley and her parents lost sight of their relationship. Their willingness to hurt one another with angry criticisms and harsh tactics, left the family more battered than whole. But when the family moved their pride and anger out of the way they were able to make a critical distinction: their roles as loving family members superseded any need to defend the faith.
Throughout a lifetime of relationships, we will find ourselves in tension just like Ashley's parents- being pulled to love, but taught to defend. However, the process of reciprocity, loving and being loved, especially when the relational waters are boiling hot, teaches us just how valuable we are. Tolerating tension and living out deeply intimate relationships is a powerful tool of relational justice. The willingness to engage one another despite massive differences is a profound statement of relational solidarity that ultimately shapes our identity: “I stay because you are mine.”
I think it’s important to say that the Triune Godhead was ready for every interaction and all the behaviors that would create our physical and emotional reality (Romans 3:3-4). From the moment parents were born to the time their children transitioned, God has remained faithful and present. Nothing surprises God and nothing reduces the stamina of God’s love for us. The pleasantly stubborn and irremovable essence of God’s love is a form of divine acceptance: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Plain and simple, the love of God transcends relational dualism. And as we tear down the dualities that impair our relationships, we will not only be able to recognize when one offers grace-filled, unconditional love, but we will slowly engender the ability to offer it ourselves.
With political policies attempting to erase and discredit the transgender community—an entire population of God’s children—may we persevere in strong character that produces hope for relational intimacy, relational respect, and also relational equity (Romans 5:1-5). The fight for equality and social change, particularly as we advocate alongside the trans community, is not only done in an attempt to promote radical acceptance, but also to demonstrate to our trespassers that they too are fully loved by God, no matter their position. Regarding our trespassers with unconditional love, precisely as an act of honoring their inherent value, is a powerful way to inspire relational justice. Doing so may very well be the first step at initiating dramatic social changes. When we recognize the essence of God in another, we are able love past the conditions that scare us, challenge us, or leave us feeling defensive. Remember, our roles as loving members of God’s family supersede any need to defend the faith. In this contentious time, may we abide, not divide.
Questions for this week's devotional:
How might your desire for belonging have gone unmet when someone could not
tolerate the tension of paradox,? What did this teach you about relational dualism?
How might you be called to tolerate paradox in your current relationships,
theology, or political context?
How might your relationships improve if you were to strive to love another like God loves us, as described in Romans 8:38-39?
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