Playing love’s long game

February 10th, 2021

“Maybe you should be homeless for a while.” That’s a tough thing to hear from anybody. Chris Boutte heard it from his mom.

Chris’s mother had been sober for about seven years. His own addictions had brought Chris to death’s door. His mom picked him up from the hospital after he had been kicked out for lack of insurance. She brought Chris to her home, nursed him back to health, and forced him to get sober.

Eventually, he moved out, slept on a friend’s sofa for a while, and landed a job. He secured an apartment with a roommate. His life was starting to come together. And then he was fired.

His job had not paid well enough to set aside much money, so he was facing eviction. That’s when he called his mom. Her response: “Maybe you should be homeless for a while.”

Gripped by anxiety, Chris almost relapsed. But he didn’t. He slept on it. In the morning, he negotiated with his landlord and struck a deal with the utility company to get an extension.

He bought a seven-day bus pass and asked his former employer if he could use an office computer to find another job. Several job interviews and a new position followed. Chris now devotes his life to helping others get sober and stay that way.

Before I go any further, let me be clear. I’m not sharing this story to push the idea of tough love.
Families and friends of people in active addiction face a myriad of difficult decisions and a variety of options. For some people, risking the midnight knock at the door announcing the death of a son, a daughter, or a sibling is not what works. (Here’s a useful resource.)

My point here is about what salvation looks like. Salvation is not always—in fact, usually is not—a rescue operation. God does not merely pull us out of whatever mess we find ourselves in.

Instead, God joins us in the mess. His love transforms us from the inside so that we can join him in healing this world from the inside. In Jesus, we see that God’s promise of salvation is not an escape option for true believers. It is an invitation to participate in the healing power of God’s love.

Jesus told his followers once that they are like leaven. (Matthew 13:33) Richard Rohr explains it this way: “They are the leaven who agree to share the fate of God for the life of the world now, and thus keep the whole batch of dough from falling back on itself.” (The Universal Christ, p. 148)

When Rohr says that followers of Jesus share the fate of God, he means that Jesus-followers choose to be in solidarity with the suffering of the world. Being faithful, then, is not about waiting for God to show up and fix things for us. Neither is it a decision to draw on our own willpower to push through difficult circumstances.

To use Brian McLaren’s phrase, following Jesus is about faith expressing itself in love. (Faith After Doubt, pp. 159-172) And for that kind of life, perseverance is a much-needed virtue. That’s because love is all about the long game, not the quick fix.

In a passage often read at weddings, Paul tells us this about love. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

In other words, love is about the long game. It’s about planting seedlings and helping them grow, and acknowledging that some will wither. Many that do rise to maturity will do so long after we are gone from this earthly scene.

It is easy to grow weary when love takes so long and faces so many setbacks. But we are not in this alone. God is with us. Not merely alongside us but within us and among us as a source of strength.
When the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon for fifty years, the prophet Isaiah told them this:

“[God] gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31)

Don’t give up. Keep going. Love is about the long game. And love wins.

This essay originally appeared at Looking for God in Messy Places. Reprinted with permission.

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