Tough Love

Tough Love

By Steven Farrell & Diane Alden
August 4, 2000

A close friend of ours suffers from a common human malady--the inability to give tough love.

Tough love, as most of us understand it, is having wisdom enough to withhold expected or demanded help from a friend or family member not because you fail to love them, but because you do love them. It is to say my permitting your suffering for sin, your lumps for misjudgment, your financial set backs for plain bad luck, is the far more intelligent and compassionate thing to do. It is to refuse to rob a loved one of the benefits of a lesson learned in the school of hard knocks.

Tough love does a few other things, too. It affirms to those who are its recipients that natural law exists, that actions have consequences, and that it is in the theater of thought, toil, and prayer, not in mindless pampering and protectionism, where children become men. It is to believe that through the struggle comes the glory.

Tough love is a Godly attribute. Some will discount that, but they shouldn’t.

The first account we have of God’s tough love was in his handling of Adam and Eve. To the two of them he set down some general rules which gave them a lot of freedom (they could for instance partake of all of the fruits in the garden), but disobedience to one “thou shalt not,” would circumvent their comfort and cause both spiritual and physical death to enter into the world.

When Adam and Eve chose to transgress, law and order prevailed and tough love began.

They were cast out of the garden and from God’s presence - which was spiritual death. Next, a change occurred in their bodies which would eventually cause physical death. And finally, they were introduced to a rough existence which required labor for survival. Adam was told, “by the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat thy bread all the days of thy life.” And Eve was informed: “In sorrow thou shalt conceive,” children.

That was certainly tough love, but time and experience has taught us that it was wise love. It was the casting of man into a world full of opposites and challenges not a world full of safety nets and guarantees that opened the door to his personal progress.

Warmth without cold, peace without war, freedom without slavery, life without death, or forgiveness without the painful wrath of sin, gives way to a lack of appreciation of these goods. Adversity is important. How shortsighted, then are we, to believe that we must prevent or alleviate all suffering.

Not that charity is wrong. Benjamin Franklin remarked: “To relieve the misfortunes of our fellow creatures is concurring with the Deity; it is godlike.”

“But,” he added, “if we provide encouragement for laziness, and supports for folly, may we not be found fighting against the order of God and Nature, which perhaps has appointed want and misery as the proper punishments for, and cautions against, as well as necessary consequences of, idleness and extravagance?

It is a good question.

He goes on to warn us: “Whenever we attempt to amend the scheme of Providence, and to interfere with the government of the world, we had need be very circumspect, lest we do more harm than good.”

More harm than good is precisely right.

We began by stating that a friend of ours suffers from the inability to give tough love. This friend’s daughter is a drug addict, but for these many years he has paid for her drugs, paid for her lawyers, bailed her out of jail repeatedly, failed to warn others of the dangers she poses, become a liar to defend her against other family members and litigants, divided the family as a result, undercut his personal integrity, and fought an endless and expensive war to keep a child under his daughter’s stewardship who is abused and neglected as a result. His intentions, are sincere, the results, are devastating, because he allowed himself to be inspired by a misguided compassion which subsidizes failure and shields individuals from the brunt of their errors. His daughter has never made an effort to change, because the father eliminated all incentive to do so. If he continues on his course, it is not just she, but he that will be left penniless and naked against the unfeeling harshness of Nature.

Many parents with the best of intentions have made the same error, but the fortunate ones, have discovered, before it was too late, that love is not just gifts and protection, but at the right times, the withholding of both.

While parents often learn, governments most often do not. They rather institutionalize their mistakes, and at best, reform irredeemable ideas in order to secure votes from the weaker elements of society; all the while knowing that they are only making things worse.

If only individuals and nations could apply a little bit of common sense, and a little bit of faith. Holy Writ declares “be not deceived, God shall not be mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that he shall also reap.” And again it tutors: “in the furnace of affliction I shall refine thee.”

Learning how to truly love a person or a people requires that we abandon schemes which shield loved ones and collective society from every bruise, bump, storm, or roadblock along the road of life. For complete love is not blind, and not stupid, but accepts people as they are, and administers to their needs with wisdom; a wisdom which dictates that sometimes the most compassionate answer to a plea for help is a firm and unflinching, no.