Love the Sinner, not the Sin

All of this work I have done in learning my identity, and through that identity finding my untouchable, unchangeable worth, has led me ultimately to realize that if that is true for me, then it must also be true for you….even if I don’t like you.

Now that sounds harsh, but I think we all have people in our life that get under our skin. Anyone who lives in a community of some sort finds individuals who they just can’t understand, who always seem to say the wrong thing or are just generally irritating. The old adage “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” used to be the golden mean of the world, but this is not Christian love, and what grinds my gears almost more than that person, whoever they may be for you, is that I am supposed to love them for who they are NOT what they do – and this is where I get stuck.

I don’t know how to untangle the doer from the deed. I see someone who has hurt me and I think of them as a person who causes pain, but deep down, when all the layers are peeled away, this is not what you will find. You will find a person, made in God’s image, to be restored to his divine likeness. I caused some damage acting as if this truth was one sided, but if I want this for me, then I must want this for them. I find this even more obnoxious than my latest trial of learning to advocate for myself, which is still a work in progress, because it forces me to have to toe the line between honoring their dignity and honoring my own. 

The first problem here, however, is that this process must start first with me – separating the doer from the deed. I have done many things for which I still feel shame – I don’t see myself as God sees me, telling Mary Magdalene to “look up”. I keep my head downcast, living in unforgiveness. Some part of me thinks I deserve the punishment or that I won’t learn my lesson if I don’t linger in the pain, but in fact this just keeps me a prisoner to the pain, it holds my heart hostage, and I never grow beyond the moment. 

“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Pope Saint John Paul II

I  have done lots of research in knowing “who I am”, but to know it in your head is not to believe it in your heart. I know this conversion has not taken place yet in my own heart because I still become defensive when someone doubts my goodness. I want to defend  instead of just knowing and resting in the goodness from which I come and for which I was made. I marvel at the saints who could smile or chuckle in the face of defamation because they were so good with God, it just didn’t matter! They knew that they were “the sum of the Father’s love for [them].”

So before I can start loving others well, I have to learn how to do it for myself first. “You can’t give what you don’t have,” and as long as I continue to hate or berate myself for the “bad” things I do, the longer I will continue to struggle with these difficult relationships as I undoubtedly do the same to them. I am unable to see their innate goodness just as I cannot see my own. I am more and more convinced that to love someone separate from what they do, good or bad, is an act of the Divine. It is something I don’t know how to do and do not feel capable of doing genuinely. I’m all out of human answers, and thus enters prayer and ,as they say in the Big Book, “action, action and more action.”

I hate this answer. It’s slow, it’s painful, but this is what causes lasting change. Crash diets notoriously fail, but persistence, little change after little change, inches me toward this Divine ability, this gift of genuine love. So I’m asking, I’m begging, God, to please help me love this sinner. To peel away, layer by layer, all the faults I believe I am, all the victories I think I am, and get down to the root, to the woman He made me to be. He loves me for who I AM, not what I do. This is still a mystery to me, but I can go to Him and ask Him to show me how. 

Maybe you can too.

3 thoughts on “Love the Sinner, not the Sin

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