I find myself singing along to Billy Joel’s “Just the way you are” thinking it’s a song about accepting the other radically, unconditionally.
I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from my heart
I couldn’t love you any better
I love you just the way you are.
But then as I actually tune into the lyrics I realise it’s actually completely the opposite, it’s not a song of radical acceptance, in fact it’s an entire song praising all the things I work so hard to uproot in both Christian culture and societal norms.
This song perpetuates the idea that once we fall in love with a person that person somehow magically freezes in time and stays just the same, stays the same person we met and fell for. Not only is it wrong and naive it also becomes a source of trouble later on in any serious relationship. “I don’t even know who you are anymore…” is such a common line in domestic arguments after one spouse has found something out about the other, the other has changed in some way and is no longer the same person (or at least not in my opinion the same person) anymore.
Billy Joel sings …
Don’t go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore
I would not leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are
Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care
I know that in the beginning he also sings don’t change for me, which is a noble notion, but then he goes on to say…
I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
So don’t change for me, in fact don’t change at all, I need you to stay exactly the same as you where when we met, or rather I need you to live up to the transfigured image, I had of you when I first got so infatuated with you.
Ed Sheeran points this out so clearly in “Photograph”
We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
Times forever frozen still
And this is the problem, time does not stand still. Life is not static and love is not static. When we say yes to someone, we cannot just say yes to this ideal image we have of them when we meet, the tidy and polished image we have projected of ourselves while dating, being on our very best behaviour.
When we love someone deeply, we create this safe space, for their shadow to emerge. My friend and mentor Bruce Lyons says that:
When love is present the shadow comes up to meet it.
When we say yes to someone to enter a real relationship, we say yes to all of them, their darkest shadows and desires, the person they will become in the future. It is a scary thing to say yes to the unknown. It is also what will keep a relationship alive after 10, 15 or 20 years, the fact that we change and transform. We are infinitely complex beings all part of the divine source ever changing and dancing in the great dance, the perichoresis of the divine.
So radically accepting and loving is not only accepting who they are, it is also accepting who they are not, who they are deep inside and not showing you, who they will become. We have no right to try to control another human being, we are called to love them, to love them unconditionally and without reserve, just the way they are, have been and will become.