Is it possible to love too much? It may seem an absurd question, but it is still worth asking. More importantly, it is a question worth struggling to answer. And if we are honest, the answer may cause us some discomfort. So, I invite you to join me in that uncomfortable place for few moments …
When we go through an especially difficult time (illness, divorce, financial stress, death of a loved one, etc.) we need to know that people care about us. We appreciate knowing they are praying for us, thinking about us, ready to help if needed. Being surrounded by the love of others is a rich and welcome blessing. It gives us strength and hope when we need them most; it is the comfort of God around and beneath us. You, the people of Bethany, do an amazing job of expressing and offering that support, and I commend you. I know that it is deeply appreciated by all who receive it.
Sometimes, however, our love and support can be less helpful than we intend. Sometimes, we “love too much”, and there are two ways in which that may happen. (Entering the uncomfortable place now …)
1) Requesting, sharing, assuming information. When we care about people, it is easy to feel as if we are entitled to know details and updates about their situation, and to share what we know (or think we know) with others. Please remember:
- There is a clear line between sharing with others what we have permission to share, and participating in gossip. Knowing something does not mean we have the right to share it. It is wise to ask ourselves, “Is this my story to tell?” Most often, it is not.
- The fact that someone answered a question from us, doesn’t mean they were comfortable doing so; it may mean they didn’t know how to refuse. (If you are asked a question you prefer not to answer, it is OK to say so: “I’m not ready to answer that” or “I’d rather not talk about it” are two acceptable statements. There are many others.)
- Sometimes, we gather or share information to satisfy our own curiosity, or to make ourselves feel more important. We must be cautious about our motives, conscious or not, before we question or speak about others. Again, it is wise to ask ourselves “Is this my story to know?” before we press one another for details.
2) Re-entry during or after a difficult time. As much as we appreciate and need the support of others, it can sometimes be overwhelming. In 25 years of ministry, I have heard countless people say that returning to church after a time of stress or loss is intimidating. No one means for it to be, but it just is. Coming back to over 100 people who each ask “How are you doing?” or express sympathy or ask about personal updates can be exhausting. They know that people ask out of love, but sometimes they don’t have the energy to face that much love! What else could we do / say to make it a bit easier?
- Instead of asking, “How are you?”, simply say: “I’m glad you’re here!” or “It’s so good to see you!” or “I’ve missed you!” Offer a hug, talk about the weather, comment on the latest Red Wings game, invite them to sit with you, brag about your grandchildren, describe your pet’s newest trick, etc. If someone wants to tell you more, they will. If not, let it be. Remember: it’s not your story to know / tell.
Okay, we can leave the uncomfortable place now. (Whew!) Thanks for being brave enough to make it to the end of my letter. It’s important for us to recognize that even our best intentions may not always be best for someone else. It’s good to learn new ways of expressing the love we genuinely hold for one another, and to improve the ways we offer welcome and hospitality to others. So, keep on loving … just not too much!
Shalom, Pastor Cathi