Love in relationships — the idea of safety, equality, and mutual respect — is all about recognizing and equalizing any power differential that exists.
For one basic example, men typically (though not always) have physical power over women. Men who are inclined to use this power also have a temperament that exerts power.
What this means is that if we wish to love a person, in other words, serve them and be there for them, being kind, patient, and respectful, we need to establish where we have an advantage over them and cater for that inequality so that they are not disadvantaged.
This is essentially what Jesus did in every interaction with women in the Bible. Women in biblical times were incredibly disadvantaged culturally — more than even nowadays; they had no rights, even though biblically God gave them rights — and yet Jesus took every opportunity to elevate them to his level or even treat them as if they were more precious.
This is not to say that he lowered himself morally; shudder the thought. No, he ensured that he did everything needed, and more, to make sure that they were protected and kept safe. Jesus did this to the extent that he made himself the vulnerable one.
When I was trained to counsel children there were two principles reinforced. One was that we were to depower ourselves, get down to the child’s level, and cast off everything that made us powerful — being adult and counselors for starters! But the second principle was necessary also. We had to accept that we had supreme responsibility for the relationship. In other words, to keep the child safe at all costs.
This principle holds in all human relationships:
Get to their level and do them no harm!
The very best of love in all relationships is the care that ensures the weaker person, the more vulnerable person, the less-resourced person, is elevated and GIVEN the power that they lack. The heart behind this is, “Look, we are both human, no matter how privileged or better-off I might seem. There is only humanity and God. As humans, you and I, we are equal; God calls time on both of us at God’s behest.”
Think about this. How important is it that someone is seen and heard and felt and understood? When we notice that a person in our midst has a social disadvantage compared to us, and we raised them to our level, we give them the compensation they could’ve only dreamt of. We give them something that their hearts desired, but they had no way of requesting it.
It is incumbent on each of us if we desire enough to be like Jesus, to elevate everyone who is lower than us in terms of power and influence to the level we are at.
If only the person who doesn’t feel as experienced or as competent or as well-positioned as we are can be lifted in our sight to the level of equality, and we can be people together, that person feels loved. They feel respected. They feel seen, valued, appreciated, safe in our presence.
Perhaps there is no greater gift we can give to another person than to see them as we want to be seen.
What about when it’s you who lacks power?
What can you do to ‘love’ the more powerful, the more resourced, the richer person?
The idea that we’re all equals gives every one of us equal standing and we need to stand in that equality. If we don’t, we can expect that some others will feel better than us and that they will exploit that advantage.
Whether they feel better or worse than us indicates something. The reality is, none are better or worse than any.
When someone insists that they are more powerful, better, better positioned, wealthier than us, we can love them by insisting by our quiet confidence, that we’re equals.
And yet, if their ‘betterness’ means they think they can treat us poorly, our commitment to equity means we can resist them with our boundaries, our feet, our silence, our lack of engagement with them, whilst they maintain that attitude. It is a God-given capacity in us all to keep ourselves safe.
Most of all, when we lack power in the realms of love, the more powerful one has the opportunity. If they cooperate with God and align with the divine will, they will assuredly do all they can to make us feel safe, valued, appreciated, respected.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Tribework