On Beloved Community: When Loving is Hard

By: Dr. Awa Jangha

One component of a thriving beloved community is the decision and commitment to love.  When I think of beloved community, I envision people coexisting with one another in ways that honors difference, sees the beauty in uniqueness, and recognizes core similarities of what it means to be human. ‘Being human’ also indicates that we are not perfect and that our imperfections may collide with or disturb those imperfections of others.  These collisions of imperfection provide opportunities for growth and it is in these spaces where the decision and commitment to love is so essential.  In a beloved community, we are called to love not only when things are easy (such as when all is well and there is no strife), but we are also called to love when life is hard.

The question on my heart that I ask you to reflect on today is: How do you love when loving is hard? As you are reading this, I encourage you to pause for a moment and give yourself time to consider your response.  As you engage in reflection, I invite you to journey with me in the exploration of this question and of the following additional questions: How do you love others when loving pushes you past your comfort zone towards the limits of your personal boundaries?  How do you love yourself when loving is hard?  

How do you love when loving is hard?

Understanding the ‘why’ behind a decision to love when doing so is challenging gives us motivation and fuels persistence in loving.  When pursuing a challenging goal, you may hear the encouragement to identify the ‘why’ behind what you are doing.  This is often because knowing one’s ‘why’ sustains you during frustrating or slow progress towards success in striving for that goal.  When we can identify the value that we hold for our beloved community and the part we play in it, we can better articulate our ‘why’ for loving when loving is hard. 

There are many things that I value about beloved community, such as connection, encouragement, communal thriving, and comfort. These values highlight the fact that I want to both give and receive as part of a beloved community.  In community, not only is there importance to receiving those life essentials, but there is also responsibility to give those same essentials to others.  Participating in this community requires of us to be present, pour into others when they need support, ask for support when we need it, rejoice with others when community members experience joy and success, and hold space for uncomfortable emotions (such as anger or grief).  

Holding and navigating uncomfortable emotions is a great example of loving when love is hard.  For instance, loving can be hard when we are asked to show up to support others who are suffering, sit with them, and truly see them without denying their pain.  This can be hard because often our initial reaction to difficult emotion is to ignore it or immediately bypass it for a silver lining. At times our well-intentioned optimism as the first thing we share with someone in the bowels of their suffering can come across as a rejection of their present experience.  Invalidating the suffering by glossing over it is more for our own comfort than for the person suffering who may need you to simply be present and sit with them. In addition to ignoring uncomfortable emotions, we may find ourselves feeling the need to run or defend ourselves.  I believe this response is normal and checking in with ourselves about what we can realistically engage in can bring discernment around how we love in times of suffering. 

Remembering ‘why’ we love when it is hard can put into perspective that not only do we want to receive support and an accepting space when we are the ones suffering, but that we also want to be the type of people whose character consists of loving others in the midst of challenging emotions.  In fact, a bonus to being present with others is that the experience creates closer connections.  The development of our own character is fortified by our rationale for loving when it is hard because we value belonging to a beloved community where we offer the best of who we are to each other.

How do you love others when loving pushes you past your comfort zone towards the limits of your personal boundaries?  

Loving when loving is hard may also manifest in our process of growing as a community.  Within our own life’s journey, each one of us may be in different places within our intrapersonal (within oneself) growth and interpersonal (between self and others) growth.  Part of loving can include having hard conversations and holding each other accountable to core values such as respect, kindness, and peace.  In helping each other grow, it can be an act of love to state the hard things: articulating when someone has crossed a boundary, helping to bring to awareness when someone has hurt another person’s feelings, and inviting others to broaden their perspective and recognize that there is more than one way to engage in the world.  

This type of loving can push us out of our comfort zone.  For instance, shifting out of our comfort zone may require building up the courage to love one another by having uncomfortable conversations that invite growth.  During challenging conversations, how one says things is just as important as what is said.  The motivation behind our words is nonverbally communicated through our tone of voice, facial expressions, and other body language.  When that motivation is one of love for the betterment of the community, often the conversation is received more openly. 

Another example of being pushed out of our comfort zone occurs in caregiving for others whether they be children, elders, or persons who are ill.  Caring for our community in instances where physiological changes in their body impacts their mood, words, and actions to an extent that may negatively impact you as a caregiver is a life experience of when loving can be hard.  During these times, we grow as we learn to offer love that expands our patience, seeks moments of humor, and welcomes support from others.

Recalling the ‘why’ behind the decision to love when things are hard can help one recenter and engage from a place of empathy and compassion for the person whose actions or lack of action has resulted in an opportunity for growth.  It is also important to know the limits of your personal boundaries.  While I do believe that loving when it is hard can help us expand beyond areas of comfort, I do not believe that loving when it is hard pushes us beyond our personal boundaries.  Loving does not require us to remain in places where we experience abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, or self-neglect in the effort to help others grow.  

Ideally, within beloved community, the person in need of growth takes on the responsibility of the work they need to do after the hard conversation.  We can extend the invitation for someone to see their areas of growth and can help them identify support within the community towards their growth, but ultimately the responsibility of doing that inner work is theirs.  When on the other side of the conversation, where we are the ones receiving the invitation to see our imperfections and work toward our growth, we can accept that support knowing it comes from a loving place. Being held accountable provides a mirror for ourselves to see the work we need to do so that we can be the best we can for ourselves and our beloved community.

How do you love yourself when loving is hard?  

When loving correction is offered to us and the invitation is given to see our own shortcomings or mistakes, this is an example of when loving is hard to provide to ourselves.  Often defensiveness and blaming others can be our initial, very human response.  Yet, when we take time to receive the information shared with us in love, it provides us time to reflect on whether there is truth to the correction shared and our responsibility as it pertains to the change and growth needed.  Becoming responsible may also open the door for shame or guilt to creep in.  These emotions are often at the heart of identifying when loving ourselves can be hard.  When we do not feel worthy or when we feel like a failure to our expectations of perfectionism, we can be encouraged by the fact that this experience is a common one that others in our community have experienced and overcome.  

Normalizing the thoughts and emotions that arise along with insight on where we need to grow, where we have not been our best, and where we might have hurt someone else is important.  Recognizing this as part of the growth process allows us to consider that the beloved community is not perfect and that each of us have humbling moments.  Varying thoughts and emotions that arise can include: a) thoughts such as ‘I blew it’ or ‘I made a mess of that situation’ and b) feelings such as sadness, disappointment, and guilt.  These thoughts and feelings can more easily become transitory when we normalize the response and seek and accept support to make changes.  Changes could include seeking forgiveness (of self and/or others), committing to becoming more self-aware, identifying other effective ways to engage difference, and offering loving kindness to oneself as we are all learning and growing.  

Remembering our ‘why’ can aide us in the perseverance needed to seek change and grow.  Knowing that our choices contribute to the life and health of the community can inspire us to work to be our best and to give ourselves grace during the growth process.  We can also be encouraged by the fact that the support we seek expands beyond our neighbors and includes our spirituality.  Our personal relationship with God, can provide spiritual support to sustain us as we grow, love, and live in community. Through spiritual practices (such as prayer, meditation, and sacred fellowship) we might also find inspiration, solace, and self-compassion when reflecting on how loved we are by God.  May life’s moments of ease and of challenge foster personal growth, strengthen our personal spiritual walk with God, and bring us together as imperfect members of beloved community who can love when loving is hard.

Additional reflection questions:

What invitations have you been given to grow as part of the beloved community?
In what ways can you give love to yourself as you engage in the work of growing?
How do you describe beloved community and what is your ‘why’ for engaging and cultivating it?

This fall, Sowing Holy Questions focuses on beloved community.

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