From “The Question of God” by Dr. Nicholi, Jr., Chapter 8 – Pain
“Lewis warns we must not confuse God’s goodness or love with our concept of kindness. He writes, ‘Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness…There is kindness in love: but love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness is separated from the other elements of love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object and even something like contempt of it.’ Lewis points out that ‘love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere ‘kindness’ which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love.’h our concept of kindness. He writes, ‘Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness…There is kindness in love: but love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness is separated from the other elements of love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object and even something like contempt of it.’ Lewis points out that ‘love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere ‘kindness’ which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love.’
Kindness, when one thinks about it, may sometimes interfere with love: for example, our kindness may keep us from sending a child to the dentist to spare her pain, while our love, our wanting the best for that child, will insist that she confronts the pain no to prevent more later.”
First of all, I had to look up the word “coterminous”. I’ve never seen it before! “Being the same.” is the meaning, which is what I thought it might mean. Love and kindness are not the same things. They can be part of one another and should be, but they aren’t individually interchangeable.
Several things came to mind when I read this. First was to continue the analogy in light of how “radical unschooling” or “peaceful parenting” works. Out of our love for the child, we would insist that they confront the pain of going to the dentist because we know it needs to be done but we’d be there to ease the pain as much as we could and to be the support and comfort the child needs to be brave and get through. We’d have already been establishing a strong, loving relationship before this, or it wouldn’t work. Through this experience they’d learn a valuable lesson, that bad things can happen but there will always be someone there looking out for them, loving, sympathizing, and supporting them. They are not alone. Someone understands. It’s much like we hope our relationship with the Lord is.
Which brings me to my second point. We should be able to look to God as our child looks to us for real love, not just kindness. Screaming at God that he is mean and won’t give you what you want in this life, is much like a child screaming that they can’t have the peanut butter that they are deathly allergic to. God protects us and guides us and, because He loves us, He cannot hurt us. It does feel unkind at times because, like the small child, we can’t see the bigger picture and we haven’t learned to trust that we may be uncomfortable at the moment but He has our best interests at heart.
I have to add one small thing here. We need to be lovingly kind to our children for them to trust us when things seem bad. Most of our answers should be yes and most of our time should be spent supporting them and not dismissing their pain and suffering as unimportant, especially when they are younger and have so little tolerance for anything other than their own feelings. The older they get and the more support they’ve felt, the easier it gets for them to look outside themselves and be sympathetic to others. I don’t mean give a child everything they want. I mean help them to satisfy their needs and sympathize when they really can’t have what they want. This is how we build strong adults.
The term “tough love” is my next thought. I’ve never really been happy with the term. To me “love” is not “tough”. The words just don’t go together. Hearing the difference between love and kindness confirmed that feeling. What some people refer to as “tough love” is what they believe they are doing when they feel they have to do something someone may not like but is for the best. It isn’t tough love someone needs, it’s kind love, strong love. The kind of love that only works when a relationship of trust has been built over a long period of time. To use the same analogy, you can’t forcibly take a child to the dentist, kicking and screaming, dismiss their fears with “This is for your own good.” or “It won’t hurt. Stop being such a baby.” That is tough love. “I love you but I’m going to hurt you and I’m not going to sympathize.”, gets no one anywhere. A better version would be to ease their fears as much as possible, understand and sympathize with their pain, being kind to them before and after, reminding them that you are there to keep them safe even if it hurts, all the while being strong and fearless for them while being confident that everything will be ok. That is what builds relationships, strong love and kindness together.
And how would I relate this to my current life? The pregnancy clinic I volunteer at came to mind the instant I read this part of the book. Real love and not just kindness is what we hope to offer these men and women that come in for pregnancy, birth, and parenting classes. Unloving kindness is what we would be giving them if we just opened the door and offered free things to keep them going, diapers, baby food, and other supplies. What we do offer is love. We offer the loving counseling of experienced mother’s, not perfect ones that think they know what’s best but good ones that know we’ve all been in the clutches of stress while raising our children and know that what all mom’s need most is a kind, listening ear. We offer prayer, guidance, and support. We offer a word of warning and our experience. Sometimes, like the child that is afraid of the pain a dentist might cause, they don’t appreciate our love. They push it away in fear and anger. They don’t trust us. The relationship isn’t strong enough. Hopefully, we can continue to express love and understanding at these times and show them that we are ultimately here for them and want to help them be the best parent they can be. We also hope to be an example of God’s love, so that when they look at us they see the relationship we have with Jesus and want that for themselves. We hope they look to us and see us pointing to Him.
I’ve digressed a bit, so I might as well go the whole way! I just thought of another interesting analogy. An adoptive family. One couple adopts a child. They build a relationship with that child and the child feels loved and safe, happier than they’ve ever been. The couple decides to expand their family and brings a new child into the home to eventually adopt. The new child is wary of the adults. Adults haven’t proven very trustworthy in the past. But the new child does see the first child as an equal and grows close to them. That first child pulls the new one closer to the adults she calls her parents because she has experienced real love there. The new child looks to the first adopted and the first adopted points to the parents. A new bond begins to form. More humans are saved.