Nearly everyone has a ratio. A certain weight of good deeds to bad deeds that we feel is the minimum threshold to qualify as a “good person.” Many of us aren’t really conscious of this, but it’s how almost all of us learn to view good vs bad over the course of our upbringing.
It’s an awful way to live.
My ratio was about 90/10. I felt that to call myself a good person, I needed about 9 points in my favor for every 1 against me—and additionally, I needed to avoid having any “biggies.” Of course, I never did measure up to that standard, and for a long time as a child and young adult, I was nearly crushed under the weight of my guilt because of that.
Then there’s my wife, Hope. Now, the thing you have to understand about her is that she’s as straight an arrow as you’d find in a lifetime of looking. When we got married, she could remember doing exactly one bad thing. One mark against her. Any guesses what that was?
As a child, she once stole a small, brown paper bag from a store—the kind they give out for free to anyone who asks. I know, how can she live with herself, right? Believe it or not, that was a genuine concern for her because her ratio was 100 percent. A lot of that was the way she was raised, which was even more strictly legalistic than mine, but incredible as it sounds to me, she too thought of herself as a bad person. And since her ratio demanded perfection, she could never become a good person, either. At least my 90/10 thing allowed for a possibility of redemption, even if I wasn’t up to the task.
We’re both much happier today (thank you God), and it’s not because I managed to “make the grade” or because Hope found a way to go back in time and un-steal that little penny bag. It’s because we realized, slowly, over a number of years, that the ratio was always a lie. There are two kinds of love—two forms of love—that you can choose in your life. The first is what we inevitably teach ourselves growing up, almost regardless of the actual belief system in which we’re raised, because it just makes sense. Reaping what you sow is the way of the world, after all, every action has a reaction, every cause has an effect. Everything in the natural world follows this pattern, so why not love, life, and happiness?
Yet in the end, it never seems to work out. However hard you try, there’s always something missing. Either you fail to live up, and it overwhelms you with guilt and shame, or you do, and you find your ego holding those around you at arm’s distance. Fortunately, there’s another form of love, and the form of love you choose determines the form of your whole life.
Here’s one way of thinking about it: the kind of life that demands you “make the grade” is all about end-results. It’s about using actions to produce specific reactions, controlling your circumstances to yield things like pleasure, money, sex, and independence—which we think are the things we need to make us happy.
The trouble is that all that isn’t really true. I’ve worked with plenty of people who have all those things, who are extremely outwardly successful but were miserable regardless. So what is it that we really need to be happy?
In the past few weeks, I’ve been repeating that life is a kind of battle between our belief in love and our fear of death. I believe this is another form that battle takes—because that first kind of love isn’t really founded in love at all, but in fear. Fear of not measuring up. Fear of being vulnerable to others, or reliant on them. Fear of pain, or the absence of pleasure. That’s why we end up treating love like a lesser thing, like something that has to be earned and negotiated. “I’ll do this if you do that. I won’t do this as long as you don’t do that.” We create expectations, even unconscious expectations, and when they’re not met, this “business-deal love” fails. Except that real love doesn’t fail, because it’s not dependent on other people’s behavior.
Now, that doesn’t mean circumstances can’t change. If you’re in an abusive relationship, for example, I’d be the first to tell you that you should get out of there as soon as humanly possible. I’d tell you that’s the loving thing to do since staying would be bad for everyone. Sometimes loving a person doesn’t mean being around them, sometimes it just means wishing the best for them in spite of their failings, as you would for yourself.
The funny thing is that when we’re pursuing happiness, we generally try to maximize pleasure, money, independence, and the rest while minimizing pain, dependance, and uncertainty. But I’ve come to realize that the best kind of life, one full of meaning and love, requires those things. The greatest, most meaningful lives are made that way by love, and love can’t become all it should be without being tested. For that, you’ve got to have pain. You’ve got to have uncertainty. And you’ve got to have time to endure them and go through them. Ancient manuscripts say to treat it as joy when we go through hardships, and I think this is why. It’s an opportunity for love to grow.
In fact, these manuscripts go a lot further. They talk about how, by choosing to live in Christ—which I believe primarily means living in love as best you can—you are declared righteous. Declared right and innocent and even happy! Furthermore, it even means that this righteousness is literally, physically manifested in our bodies. How exactly that works is one of the great mysteries of the ages, but we’ll go a bit deeper into the material in this week’s YouTube video. I hope you’ll join us there.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!