TRA Wordtalks

Tough Love for Soft Hearts.
Matt: 25:31-46. 1 Cor 13

TIME magazine this week has as its cover story: "EVERYTHING YOUR KIDS ALREADY KNOW ABOUT SEX *BET YOU'RE AFRAID TO ASK." It reports rampant sexuality among children and early teens. Sexual harassment among children in the earliest grades of USA high schools is endemic. Can you believe it?

Troubled parents point to the bad influences of other kids, television and videos, and the constant social exploitation of sex. But do you think, work pressures on both parents and the increase in single parent families mean children have a great deal of un-supervised freedom? School human development courses in this country are often met with derision. Kids talk knowing more than teachers. In many cases they have had wider experience. Same sex experiences are increasing. Parents are caught in a dilemma. Many are fleeing the conversations. They prefer not to know. Many ministers avoid the issue. The result is that children know a great deal about sex and not much about love.


"Love is the medicine for the sickness of the world," said Dr Karl Menninger, a great figure in medicine and psychiatry today. Dr Menninger tells his staff that the most important thing they can offer a patient is love. For when people learn to give and receive love, they recover from most of their illnesses, whether physical or emotional. Dr. Menninger likes to repeat: "Love cures. It cures those who give it and it cures those who receive it." This is the secret behind the amazing success of the Menninger Clinic in Kansas, USA. Other psychologists and psychiatrists agree with Dr Menninger.

Dr Erich Fromm believes loneliness and the inability to love are underlying causes of emotional disorders. Dr Paul Tournier talks of the need to remove our masks and to discover and be discovered by others. For love and honest friendship can bring healing. Dr Hobart Mowrer, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Illinois believes emotional illness results from a barrier between the conscious self and other people. It is our inability to love and be loved, to have friends and be a friend, that makes us ill. Honesty and sharing aids healing.

Dr Carl Rogers, founder of the nondirective school of counselling, says he can quickly train psychotherapists who come to his University who have what he calls "love". He says there is no other word to describe the quality which makes a good counsellor. Without "love" no amount of training can make a person effective. The evidence mounts in medicine and psychology regarding the therapeutic need for love to be given and received.

Celia Haddon, in "THE POWERS OF LOVE" rejects the Freudian theory that sex solves all problems. She says true love is what we need. "We need love. Literally. Over the millions of years that our species has developed, the need for love has been bred into us." Celia Haddon complains that most place too high a value on romantic love - that instant sexual attraction which the Mills and Boon people have made a fortune describing as "love at first sight." "So highly is this particular folly valued that it is what first springs to mind when the word 'love' is mentioned. It is prized beyond the longstanding love of partners, the comfort of friendship, prized far above the truly lasting love of families".

For the sake of this romantic love, normally sane men and women break up families, damage their children emotionally and betray their friends. "What causes the suicide rate to increase, the number of drug addicts to rise, or the number of murders to soar? I think these problems have one thing in common: these problems are failures in love. Sometimes it is the failure of the victim to care for himself. Sometimes it is the failure of the perpetrator to care." The price of ignoring the human need for love is loneliness and unhappiness. Without ordinary caring love the world suffers from the hostile reactions of deprived people.

Professor Alfred Adler, the great psychiatrist, said "all human failures are the result of a lack of love". People unable to sustain a love relationship are ten times more likely to be chronically ill and five times more likely to be psychiatrically ill. The command of Jesus that we love one another seems to be a human imperative rather than an option. "One in every five lonely people goes to see a doctor at least once a month. Unmarried people are more likely to be lonely, hence more likely to fall ill. Loneliness takes its toll of their health. Studies of mental illness show that the single, widowed and divorced have higher rates of mental illness than the married. We need love to stay alive - literally. Premature death comes more frequently to those who have not married, or those whose marriages have broken down. Unmarried men are more likely to die of tuberculosis, cirrhosis of the liver, pneumonia, syphilis, accidental fire or explosion, murder, accidental falls, suicide or car accidents. These sorts of deaths are particularly likely among divorced men, next to the widowed." Good health needs love.

Good marriages do marvels for most human beings, far more than most of us married people ever give credit to our spouses. "Living alone is a health hazard to which men are particularly vulnerable. A study of 10,000 Israeli men showed that a loving supporting wife could act as protection against the husband developing angina pectoris. The joys of marriage, indeed, are often taken for granted by happy couples, who seem to feel that their mutual and lasting love is something so natural that they need not explain it" writes Celia Haddon. The right kind of love conquers all.


I have made two important discoveries in my lifetime about the right kind of love. Both discoveries were liberating to me. The first was that we are called to love people, but not necessarily to like them. I thought you would have to like people to love them. But C.S.Lewis in one of his books opened my eyes. There are many people that we may not like because they are evil, vicious or cruel. We do not like an abusing man. Nor the person who mis-treats animals. We do not like that behaviour and we do not like the people who do those things.

But Jesus never asked us to like them. He asked us to love them. Love means to have a deep care for their welfare and future. I can care about people I do not like. General Idi Amin murdered thousands of people in Uganda. He tortured, raped and plundered. No one could like him. But his secretary, a Christian woman, told me on my radio program: "I love Idi Amin." His secretary did not mean she loved him in an emotional, romantic or sexual way. But as a deeply committed Christian she cared for his soul.

The second discovery was we should practise tough love, not soft love. We were taught that soft love changes tough hearts. We heard many stories of a little child who won her way into a tough man's heart thereby changing him. Ministers constantly preached to long-suffering people that they should continue to love no matter how hard it might be. Those sermons brought no comfort to the battered wife. It brought no comfort to the abused girl whose father sexually assaulted her. It brought no comfort to the parents whose teenage son dominated them. It brought no comfort to the adults who were manipulated by a older parent wanting attention. Soft love rarely changed tough hearts.

Then sometime in the early 1970's I read Dr James Dobson's book "Dare to Discipline" where he introduced the concept of tough love which could change a soft heart: yours! With tough love the abused wife stood up to her husband and laid down some ground rules or left. The parents took control instead of the children. The teenager was told his limits in the home. The middle-aged adults became firm with the aged parent. They each found that tough love was a new way of relating to each other; a way that built self-respect, confidence, and enabled people to keep control. They discovered this love is 1 Cor 13:4-8 "patient, kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 (But) it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails." Since that time groups helping parents have grown up all over North America called TOUGHLOVE groups.

Founded by Phyllis and David York out of frustration with their own teenager's behaviour, TOUGHLOVE is a self-help, support group for parents troubled by their children's behaviour. They now number over 2000 world wide. Their aim to stop destructive behaviour and empower adults and teenagers. They believe that drug and alcohol abuse, family violence, teenage pregnancy, suicide, family breakups, school drop-outs and youth homelessness are problems created and sustained by our culture and ideas. By changing people's ideas and surrounding culture a TOUGHLOVE approach can over-come the problems and promote a positive and realistic image of parents, teenagers and children. Thus kids are helped to become responsible adults.

A TOUGHLOVE approach does not throw children out of home, or use violence or verbal abuse. But it does believe that soft love will not change tough people. But, tough love can change soft people into becoming people of self-respect, strength and confidence. Tough love makes changes in their behaviour and of those they love.

I recently made a study of the opposite end of this problem. Not what caused people to physically and emotional degenerate when so deprived; but what was required for people to be rehabilitated from brokenness, alcoholism, vice, negative self-esteem and be restored to wholeness and happiness. I studied sociological research in the history of rehabilitation. I learnt what was required to lift people from the very depths of brokenness and despair. It was nothing new. The history of rehabilitation is that the one ingredient required is love! That is why Christians have been so successful.

One successful rehabilitation program was seen in the work of S.H.Hadley who worked from 1872 in the Water Street Mission, New York. He told of the many down-and-outs who came repeatedly "to beat us out of anything they could. In response, we offered no word of reproof, not even a suggestion, affirming instead that the tough heart is broken by the glorious principle of love." Repeatedly these workers asserted that this love alone would reach the hard, empty life.

John Wesley stressed that God's love was a love that held us accountable. Ideas of love today include little accountability and makes no calls for change. This makes a call to repentance and confession of sin seem antiquated and narrow minded. Some say, "If you really loved us, you would not judge us". Wesley would respond, "It is precisely because I do love you that I call you to repent of your sins and align yourself with the will and way of God". The Wesley way is the way of God's love. He treats us as responsible and accountable people who confront sin and who change our ways. Love accepts us as we are, but it does not leave us as we are. God knows the seriousness of the human predicament. He knows we are powerless and ungodly, yet He loves us enough to die for us.

The great love of God, seen in the death of Jesus upon the Cross is powerful medicine for the sickness of the world. It is the only remedy for the terminal disease in each heart! Tough love is designed to reach your deepest need: the forgiveness of sin and your reconciliation with God. Tough love can change even soft hearts. You can be loved even when you are not liked and changed by tough love.

Gordon Moyes 1999

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