In my previous post on love, I took a jab at the idea of “tough love.” The post does beg the question of whether there is a place for “tough love.” To paraphrase a friend of mine, “Does showing love mean that the person will always ‘feel the love?'”
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
He then compares the Lord’s discipline to that of earthly fathers and finishes with a beautiful description of the purpose of discipline.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
So is someone being unloving if a person doesn’t “feel the love?” Of course not. However, there is a version of “tough love” where a person sees someone doing something they believe is wrong and acts in a tough and firm way. The idea of intentionally showing love does not come into the equation because the purpose is simply showing the person how they are wrong in order to get them to change or conform. Love becomes boiled down to “showing someone the error of their way” instead of the depth of care and long suffering that is fleshed out in I Corinthians 13. It is this version of “tough love” that I was pushing back against.
Is there a focus on showing love and restoration in your supposedly tough version of love? Would someone observing be able to see that you are showing love as you work towards long term restoration? Is their an end goal of training and bringing about righteousness, or just showing guilt?
I’d like to share a story in which someone was undeniably tough but still loving. A good friend of mine was fired by his boss. It was a hard day for him and he cried, but he was regularly late for work and underperforming. While a boss would be fine leaving it there, he chose instead to invite my friend to meet regularly for coffee to talk about things. Through that choice to proactively reach out, a deeper friendship was developed that became very important to my friend. Through showing love and care while being tough, a relationship was built, and an individual was influenced.
For some the love in “tough love” seems to be just the love it took to point out where someone was wrong. However, through showing love to an individual while being tough, more can be accomplished. This was how my friend was blessed, and I would argue as well it is part of God’s loving discipline. Is your “tough love” simply tough, or is it intentional to show love as you are working to help the individual grow through it? If your just being tough and not intentionally showing love, that’s fine. Just be willing to admit that and just call it being tough.