Vision New England Blog


The general blog of Vision New England dedicated to equipping and encouraging New England Christ followers to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly and make disciples.

The Parent

The Parent


I’m about to discuss a subject that I usually tend to avoid, because I generally believe the topic can’t really be articulated very well within the confines of human language. Nevertheless, this theme keeps popping up in my life, and I’ve been feeling very pulled to write about it lately, so I’ve decided to stop resisting.


Today I want to talk about one of the only things that I really get (even if it’s hard to explain) about life and how we should live it: unconditional love.


Jesus teaches that we should strive to love one another unconditionally. Because we are human, though, this is often close to impossible for us to do with most people, many of whom we probably don’t even like. Even so, we should still try to achieve this feat in one form or another, even if it's less a matter of "love,” so to speak, and more a degree of acceptance – relating to others humbly, and showing people mercy and justice regardless of their situation, and what they may or may not have done to/for you.


While Jesus is the quintessential example of unconditional love in The Bible, in all honesty, I've learned the most about this quality from the modeling of my own father, Bruce, who I've seen exhibit more profound and moving displays of love than any other person I've ever met. I could provide seemingly endless examples, but unfortunately, as with most personal anecdotes, without a certain amount of lengthy context (much of which is too sensitive and intimate for this sort of article) their real force and meaning would be lost. Therefore, I'm mainly going to omit these illustrations, and rather just focus on what, specifically, I've learned about the nature of unconditional love from my dad, and explain why I believe that reaching for this ONE quality is the most important thing we can do in trying to live lives of mercy, justice and humility.


Unconditional love is not about an outcome. It's not about someone loving you back, or gaining anything from your relationship with them. When you love someone regardless of if they love you - despite whatever horrible things they may have done to you - and whether or not they are even in your life at any given moment, this is the most magical, beautiful, and powerful gift that we can give to someone. This sort of love is how God loves, and if we can find this for even a small number of people, it's a truly incredible thing.


It can be really hard to manage this sort of love as a human, with all the instincts, emotions and volatility with which we experience life. Jealousy, anger, fear, and desire, all have an annoying ability to obscure the real meaning of love. These feelings leave us dissatisfied, wanting more, or wanting better. Often we try to make people into something they aren't, and change them, or we try to force them into a role that they don't want or aren't ready to adopt. When we have these expectations associated with what we think is love we can get so hurt, and go so far astray because none of this is actually what love is really about.


My dad will sometimes say to me, "I love you anyway," rather than, merely, “I love you.” What he means is that he loves me even though I'm not perfect - even though I sometimes disappoint him, and even though he sometimes doesn't agree with things I say and do. While I would never do it, I could say the most hateful things to him, and he would love me anyway. I could storm away from him in anger, and never speak to him again, and though it would hurt him and make him sad, to say the least, it wouldn't destroy him because he'd love me anyway. That's part of the wonder of unconditional love. It sustains you even when people fail to live up to what you may want from them. Of course we are going to want things, but when we can love without the necessity of these hopes being reality, we gain a special kind of peace that's hard to find, because we have that love in us, no matter what, and that love is from God.


In addition, loving unconditionally is the purest way to understand and learn justice, mercy and humility, and to recognize how to put these qualities into practice, because love is, simply, all of these things. Like God, love is the parent of these three qualities.


When we can set aside our own self-interest for the sake of helping and supporting someone; when we make time for them, and work to understand them, even when it’s inconvenient, or show them patience and encouragement, even if it’s a challenge, we learn true justice. Through unconditional love, we learn that sometimes justice requires sacrifice and suffering, and that we don’t need to resent these parts of life, but can embrace them as being used for something greater.


When we see people for all that they are - mess and everything - and we can treat them with love, respect, and kindness, this is true mercy. These people may have hurt us, and they undoubtedly have the potential to hurt us more (because love requires vulnerability) but we can overcome the fear of this pain, and the scars it may have already caused, with forgiveness and acceptance.


And when we can finally internalize that our own plans, hopes, and desires aren't the most important thing in our relationships we can experience true humility, where we finally acknowledge that there is something much bigger than ourselves at work in the world. When we surrender to loving others in the way that God loves us, this is sufficient. It is through unconditional love that we learn how to cast off the selfishness that can be so hard to overcome, and in doing so we further perpetuate our ability to do justice and show mercy, both with those we truly love, and to others in general.


Essentially, this is my less eloquent way of paraphrasing the classic 1 Corinthians 13 passage. Of course, it’s a great collection of verses, both beautifully written and also incredibly meaningful, but I think people often reference it more because it’s poetic than because they really appreciate what it says. In reality, the message is incredibly challenging, and mercy, justice and humility often don’t come easily. However, this is perhaps the most important reason why we need to use the few sources of deep and meaningful love in our lives to refine and practice these qualities, so that they may permeate the rest of our life. It is within this context that we graduate from an intellectual (and ultimately insufficient) understanding of love – one which can be discussed in words – to a complete understanding of love, which cannot.

Monty Williams and Mercy


As Christians, one of our primary responsibilities is to “love mercy.” As an individual who admittedly struggles with forgiveness and holding grudges (as many people do), this statement alone presents a daunting task. Still, the task may seem even more daunting when we see Jesus model it to such an extreme in various Bible stories. In fact, I think I’ve occasionally convinced myself that since Jesus is the extreme example of a characteristic (such as mercy) I am not really expected to live quite up to his standard; he is, after all, Jesus, and I am not. This reasoning, of course, is a major cop out from forcing myself to do something difficult, and I try to challenge myself when this thinking emerges. True, I can’t ever live up to Jesus’ standard, but I have the obligation to do the absolute most I’m capable of doing, and to try to meet the standard as closely as possible.


Even for people who may naturally have more merciful inclinations than I do, however, there are undoubtedly challenging situations and events that make mercy and forgiveness difficult. In the news recently, I read that Ingrid Williams (the wife of Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach, Monty Williams) was tragically killed in a car accident, when her car collided head-on with a vehicle that crossed into their lane. The driver of the other vehicle was speeding at 92 mph. The limit was 40 mph. Three of the Williams’ five children were also in the car, and they sustained serious injuries, as well.


I think that most of us can agree that if we found ourselves in the situation Monty Williams faced, we would feel some level of animosity towards the driver of the other car. Astonishingly, though, in the powerful eulogy he delivered for his wife only days later, Monty exhibited no such bitterness. In fact, he modeled true mercy, asking those supporting him and his family to also pray for the family of the other driver.


As I watched Monty Williams deliver his speech with genuine sincerity, I was really moved by how his trust in God was able to help him let go of any possible anger, resentment, and blame that he may have had, instead replacing it with kindness, forgiveness, and love. Of course, what happened was terrible, and he was in pain, but I saw an amazing peace in him, as well, and I was blown away by his message.


I think that a lot of times when we hold grudges, and resist letting go of the offenses people have inflicted upon us, we lack trust that God has a greater purpose, and that a mishap or tragedy in our lives indicates that God is wrong, gone, or not big enough to solve the hurts of this earth. The truth, however hard it may be to see through our despair, is that God’s plan is bigger than all of us. Despite the horrific event that happened to Monty Williams and his family, he has managed to touch peoples’ lives with his words.


There’s no doubt in my mind that he is imperfect. He is simply a man, not Jesus. Yet he is a man that understood the standard Jesus set in regards to mercy, and he delivered in his responsibility to demonstrate it. I would find it totally understandable if he had chosen, instead, to accept that he wasn’t Jesus, and rationalize that he had no obligation to forgive the woman driving the car that killed his wife, and risked the lives of three of his children, let alone pray for her family. But Monty Williams refused to cop out, and his example of mercy is one that I think we can all learn from. When I think of God using people to spread his light and love, I think that Monty Williams, amidst the darkness of death and loss, did just this.