Dubai, UAE
Photo courtesy of Natacha Marie Photography

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
(1 Corinthians 13, NRSV).

Though this passage is attributed to Paul, it echoes the radical love we see preached by Jesus in everything attributed to Him in the Bible. We’re told to love unconditionally, to give everything and then everything again, to take hatred and turn it around by offering the other cheek.

I believe in the uncompromising love of Christ’s message. I believe in forgiveness and reconciliation and unconditional care.

I’m also really struggling with how that looks in a way that’s healthy and sustains self in my own life.

As Progressive Asian-American Christians, we approach our faith from within the Christian tradition, from within progressive principles, and from within the experience of being people of color in America. All of these parts bring value to the table, and they don’t necessarily contradict – but I still don’t know how to balance all of these twin truths.

For example: I’m not required to give unlimited emotional time to people who continually defend their racist actions as “just an opinion.” It’s true. And that truth has set me free. But change often happens because of people’s willingness to engage at their own cost. That’s also true. Neither truth undoes the other.

For example: It’s okay to take care of myself and say no. I can recognize that as an important truth. But I also have so much that I feel overwhelmed with the incredible wealth and safety and privileges I am lucky to have. How can I say no to people who have so much less? Neither truth undoes the other.

For example: God is not neutral – God is always on the side of the poor, the downtrodden, the misused. I deeply feel the truth of this. But if I don’t live without attempting to be at least *somewhat* evenhanded, aren’t I in danger of only seeing the need in those who I’ve already determined to be worthy of help? I see how easy a trap that would be to fall into. Neither truth undoes the other.

For example: I am called to be understanding of those quirks that are outside of a person’s control because of disability or neurodiversity. That’s a truth. But what about when their behavior is so draining that you feel nothing but dread at the thought of contact? I deserve to be happy too. Neither truth undoes the other.

How do you manage to love God, love neighbor, and love self all at the same time? It often feels impossible.

About a year ago, it really threw me when a fellow PAAC said to me the following about self-care “After all, Jesus periodically took time away from everyone to go out into the desert.”

Her comment stunned me. I knew the Biblical stories, but I always interpreted them as time Jesus spent in contemplative prayer – in short, in loving God. I never saw them as time for loving self as well. It’s amazing how we get ‘stuck’ on one way of seeing things and continue in that vein. 

To put it bluntly, He could have healed a lot of sick and fed a lot of hungry in the time He took to scamper off and get away from it all. He did it anyway. Frankly, I’m not even sure what to make of that…

I’m slowly building an understanding of how to reconcile all the things I believe about unconditional love with my belief in our right to healthy boundaries. It involves a lot of nuance and constant self-doubt as to whether I am living up to my principles or simply excusing my own weaknesses.

I’ll be writing here on Living Justice about my struggles on this delicate balancing game, and I look forward to the conversation with all of you.

  • Surani (she/her) is a progressive Christian, a Quaker, a child of immigrants from Sri Lanka, and just completed a PhD in math education. In her spare time Surani likes to read, write, craft, argue, and wear out her teeth enamel and stomach lining worrying about American education and the future of democracy.