I teach freshmen. I am into the tough love. Once, at the inner-city school of my teaching youth, I saw a teacher interrupt a student bragging that they had never once got a whoopin’ with a roll of the eyes, a point of the finger and a “see that’s your problem.” And it was. Not the lack of corporal punishment at home, but certainly the lack of boundaries.
I remember when my dad used to spank me. I would, in his words, get my back up about something and there was nothing else left to do. I don’t remember the spankings, but I do remember when he would come back into my bedroom after I had calmed down. He would cry too. “I’m really sorry I had to do that,” he would explain, “but people who hit people go to jail.” It is the parents job to teach that. Both of my girls have inherited my penchant for the tantrum. I know how hard it is to enforce those boundaries and I pray that the love is as evident in me as it was in my dad. Even when I was getting punished I never doubted his love for me. That love was tough for both of us.
The Bible has a lot to say about tough love but not like we talk about it.
27 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who [o]mistreat you.
I am 14 and I don’t like her. She is rich, popular, blonde, and mean. Looking back I wonder if I was just a little too sensitive. I may be still working on that. I was comfortable in the group of gifted kids who I joined in the fourth grade and I am unsure of why they added some to this eighth grade English class, but there she is. She is mean and I don’t like her. She makes me feel even more insecure than I already am.
I go to a conference where they tell me to choose three people to pray for every day. The speaker tells me to pick my enemy. I pick her. I write the three names down, hers included in blue paint marker on orange construction paper. I put Jesus fish in the corners. I hang it on the inside of the hoosier cabinet that was once my changing table and now holds my sweaters. I pray those names on and off for the entirety of my high school career.
4 years later, second semester senior year we are lab partners. I still don’t know how it happened. She has her varsity letter in track, some sort of sprint. I have mine in speech and marching band. She admits to me as we are dissecting worms, that she is a little jealous of the easy camaraderie of the nerd-gang I run with. She longs for the safety of my friendships. My friends seem to actually like each other. We strike up an unlikely if not close friendship. I find myself genuinely rooting for her, a little sad we weren’t better friends.
I am driving through town distracted. I took the baby to the doctor in the morning and we are supposed to drive to Orlando in the morning. We are headed to the perpetually necessary pre-trip Target run and I am making the list in my head. I don’t see the pedestrian and her two kids waiting patiently at the cross walk. The law says I should stop, and I do. But a little too close to the line.
“You’re supposed to stop!” she yells at me from the street, a little hand clasped in each one of hers. She is right, but her anger stings. I am doing the best I can. That just isn’t very good right now. I take a deep breath and roll down my window. “M’am” I call, “You are right. I should have stopped.” I mean to say I am sorry, but her eye roll cuts me off. I feel like I have been smacked all over again. Tears spring to my eyes. From the back seat I hear a very serious voice, “Mommy,” the peanut tells me eyebrows furrowed, “that’s not you business.” Out of the mouths of babes indeed. I continue on.
30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.
I know I am not supposed to keep score, but my estimation is that I am way ahead. I am still waiting on the loan to be returned and trying not to be mad when I find out that I am eating ramen while she is dining out. I am furious. That money belongs to me. I would have told you that our friendship was worth more than a couple hundred bucks. I would have been wrong. It never recovered. A decade later I am not even positive we are Facebook friends. I wonder for the first time what part of the rift do I own.
The Bible has a lot to say about love, how tough it is. Turn the other cheek, give what is taken, forgiveness multiplied. But lately, when hearing about tough love, those aren’t the things we say.