Greek mythology tells the tale of Narcissus, a young man who, upon seeing his own reflection in the river, fell in love with his own beauty. So entranced was he by the sight, he could not bear to draw himself away. So eventually he died... gazing longingly at the river's image of himself.
Of course, it's only a story - a myth - but as you probably know this is where we get the term "narcissist" from. And since my last post about the church and its understanding of love, I have been wondering if the type of 'love' the church offers too much of the time is actually a pretty narcissistic love. A love that says, "I will love you for so long as you look like me." Too often, we don't love the person who is actually in front of us, we love the idea that this person can be conformed to our own image.
For example, we might hold specific ideas about 'sexual purity', so if this person behaves according to our ideals, we will love them.
Maybe we have strong opinions about submission to authority, so as long as the person falls in line with our thinking, we will love them.
Or perhaps we are convinced that all true christians should believe in a certain doctrine. So as long as others subscribe to that doctrine, we will love them.
But what happens when the people we tell ourselves we love, behave in a way that falls outside our approved list of behaviours? How do we respond when they challenge our pet theologies? Where do we turn when they stop looking like us and start looking like themselves?
I believe that this is the acid test of whether we ever truly loved them, or whether what we loved was the image of ourselves reflected in their compliance.
The sad thing is that this immature, self-serving love is the only one many people have experienced within the church. The love that you can only count on as long as you hold up your end of the bargain. The sort of love that uses the words, "I love you", but says with every action and attitude, "You're not acceptable unless you look like me."
When we say we love someone and yet insist they conform to our way of thinking and behaving, we actually only love ourselves. And 'loving' like that means we simply want to stare at our own reflections until we die of our own self obsession.