To Choose to Love

Nearly 10 years ago, I had forgotten how to be loved well. I have heard it said that we accept the love we think we deserve. It may, to an extent, be true. But I hadn’t always believed that I deserved to be where I was. It was a slow degradation; the result of many bad choices and unkind people, some of whom I allowed into my life and some who forced their way in. However, those led me to enter a span of time where I came to believe that everyone leaves: they leave marks, brokenness… and me.

But then came Moose, this shelter puppy who seemed as broken as I was.  And he chose to love me a LOT. He would panic when he couldn’t see me. Break cages to get to me. Try to dig through doors and bust through fences to be where I was. I’m not saying he was 100% stable; his need was sometimes exhausting. But it also revealed to me that to this little (now giant) guy, I was beloved. I was valuable. I was preferred. I’d never felt loved like that before.

Tonight I realized that Moose represents the first time I really believed any creature in Creation could choose to love me. Every day, in every moment, for his whole life. Even when he was destroying things, killing creatures, digging through doors, breaking cages. Even when I lost my patience or got frustrated at our inability to understand one another. Usually, his purpose in those moments was solely to find a way to get to me and get my attention, my comfort or my care.

This reckless love forced my hand… I made a choice to love this neurotic and somewhat uncontrollable dog right back. I decided to love him as relentlessly as he loves me, without restraint and against the sound advice of my veterinarian and friends who said this young pup was just too much. Somehow, his love slowly moved me and mine him. Moose taught me how to love again, and just as important, how to receive love. He taught me to give and receive affection and comfort. He revealed to me that love didn’t always have to hurt. At least, that’s what I thought.

But as Moose has entered the geriatric phase of his life, I find myself bargaining with God. Because I know sometime, Moose is going to leave. Not because he wants to but because such is the nature of this world. And I find myself in a tug-of-war within my heart to love him well and harder. I fight to resist the instinct built over decades of practice that tells me to distance myself, to harden my heart.

I really don’t know how I can bear the loss of him, and that moment seems to be drawing closer. I recently experienced the loss of my dear Grandma, and that loss has triggered some things I’ve managed to ignore for a really long time. I prayerfully ask God to bless Moose and I with a little more time together; that one devastating blow would not follow right behind the other. It’s freaking hard to just be right now. To allow myself to grieve and mourn in a world that thinks pain and sadness are things to avoid and medicate. It’s even harder to love fully when Death hovers right at the edge with the promise of heartbreak. I wish we knew how to deal with “hard” as a community…

So in this raw and vulnerable state, I’m going to call my heartbreak good because it meant there was tremendous love there. I’m going to continue to love Moose well, even if it is tearfully. I will give thanks to God that I can love so deeply and completely as I do, and that I have received that same love in return. I praise God for giving me the strength to bear the weight of loss. The fatal misstep I see so many make in this time is to believe Loss when she tries to convince us that Love makes us weak, vulnerable and guarantees suffering. Some of the best lies are the ones that are mostly true. Love is all those things; but in these very things I am reminded of Christ, and my desire to grow in Christ-likeness. He LOVES us. He loves us in a way that our ability to love only hints at. He reminds me that those who love do not flee from suffering, but bear it in the most intimate and vulnerable of ways. He reminds me that His greatest victory and manifestation of the strength and might of God was only revealed through His humility and weakness, to the very point of death. But most critically of all, and the one we often fail to see when the veil of Death hangs over those we love, is that Death is not the end. Nor is Death the victor. We are all more than conquerors through Him who loved us… (Romans 8:36-39)

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A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Four)

I’m clearly getting a lot from this since we are in Part 4. I encourage anyone reading this to start at the beginning with Part 1.

Chapter 5 is called ‘Love Is,’ but I think the best way to describe this chapter would be, ‘Love Does.’ When you think about all the Disney stories, fairy tales and (again) romantic comedies that are ever so popular, the understanding is (whether stated or not) that everyone lives happily ever after. Those who scoff might be called realists, or skeptics, perhaps even cynics. But one thing that is abundant in life is trials and tribulations: generally only children believe that happily ever after happens in this life. Paul wrote on love in I Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” In order to be a man (or an adult), you must put away your childish understanding of what and how to love.

“Think about it. Aren’t you amazed at how immature adults can be when it comes to love and relationships? Immature, as in childish. Childlike. Why is that? When it comes to their relationships with women, why do grown men revert to acting like teenaged boys? And why do grown women play along? …We all know that approach to romance never ends well. So why is it repeated so often?” (74)

But if that doesn’t work, what does? How do we love as mature adults? If we seek the answer within the bible, Paul provides the context of love as a verb. And verbs, being actions, naturally have effects. In other words, “When both people are willing to do a little causing, both experience a little effecting. Perhaps affection would be a better word. When two people choose to put the other first, powerful things transpire.” (76) What exactly are those verbs? Check out I Corinthians 13:4-8. This, in essence, ought to be our “Become List.” Find someone that has mastered these or is at minimum actively working at them on their “Become List.” Why? Because impatient people don’t suddenly become patient when they fall in love; it is a skill that is built over time. But on to the list.

  1. Patient: Rather than a means to an end, “Patience is the decision to move at someone else’s pace rather than pressure him or her to match yours.” (78) Counter to idea that life is about getting ahead and being first, this calls us to match pace. “It is a decision to pause rather than push.” (78) Impatience, on the other hand, is an emotional response that you feel. So patience is a choice, impatience is a feeling. What effect do they have? Patience, unnaturally shifting your pace to that of another, isn’t natural but it is an act of submission, of putting another first. It is an expression of love. Meanwhile, being impatiently pushed by someone you love can cause you to feel less loved (because they aren’t showing love).
  2. Kind: I am a BIG fan of kindness. Kindness is at the top of my list for desirable traits in a man. Super attractive. Kindness isn’t soft or weak: “To be kind is to leverage one’s strength on behalf of another. When we’re kind, we put our strength, abilities, and resources on loan to someone who lacks them… Kindness is love’s response to weakness.” (80) It is a choice and in it’s highest form, it is unconditional. Andy Stanley notes that it is likely the most important attribute in any romantic relationship! Conversely, unkindness brings death to romance: consistent acts of unkindness will end any relationship. Like patience, it is not a means to an end. Paying attention to how a person reacts to people either in a difficult situation or to whom they are under no obligation to be kind to will be a strong indicator of how they will end up treating you.
  3.  Doesn’t Envy, Boast, and is not Proud: Manifestations of insecurity, these three are expressed through sarcasm, criticism and public disrespect and they also kill romance. Think of relationships where one person could hardly say a nice or kind thing about the other person. Rather than celebrate the successes and strengths, they celebrate failures and cut their teeth on one another’s weaknesses. Envy is not rooted in the relationship; it’s roots spread deeper and farther than the expanses of any one relationship. Envy establishes it’s roots in a person and influences all relationships; envy is a problem smuggled in. “Is your initial response to celebrate or denigrate? To add or subtract from? Are you comfortable allowing the spotlight to remain on other people? …Envy is next to impossible to see in the mirror. But if you pay attention, you may see it mirrored in your relationships… you’ve got to own it and dethrone it.” (83) How? Celebrate, lift up, encourage. Instead of you telling a better story, you celebrate theirs. Lastly, pride prevents celebration because rather than pouring praise and encouragement, we remain silent.
  4. Doesn’t Dishonor: A rarely used term, some might think that honor is antiquated. “But honor is at the heart of every great relationship. In fact, if you fall in love with someone who has prepared to, and is committed to, honoring you, you are one lucky individual. In some ways, honor is the epicenter of a satisfying relationship.” (84) Picture your most prized possession, the thing you would choose save if there was a fire. How do you treat that possession? How do you care for it? How would you feel if it was mishandled by another person? Your instinct is to protect those things which you value. “Protecting is an expression of honor… Honor defers. Honor yields. Honor gives way… Interesting thing, Paul doesn’t present honor as something to aspire to. He presents it as something we should never deviate from.” (86) Why? Because love is choosing to give honor to another. Honor is, in a way, also an act of submission. Conversely, dishonor is dangerously comfortable. Treated that way long enough, one can begin to believe that is their truth. Resting in the fact that we are all created in the image of God, we must recall that our honor is not reliant on what we have done but on that which we innately are: created and loved by God.
  5. Not Self-Seeking: If love is about putting another before yourself, than it is a necessity that you not put yourself first, and it’s also a great test. “If you give and give and give and the other person takes and takes and takes, then you’ll know to run and run and run. But if you choose not to be self-seeking and your love interest returns the favor, then you’ve made a valuable discovery.” (87-88)
  6. Not Provocative: Modern translations have this as “not easily angered,” but Paul was likely referring to being ‘fired up,’ if you will. It’s having a short fuse, assigning blame. “…you may be tempted to respond, ‘That’s easy for you to say because you don’t know (name of person who stirs you up).’ That’s true. Here’s something equally true. Stir-ees always blame the stir-ers.” (88) This doesn’t change the dynamic though. If you provoke others, you are not acting in a loving manner. If you allow yourself to be provoked, you are equally not responding in a loving way. It is best to seek one who is not easily provoked, and doesn’t thrive on provoking others.
  7. Not a Record Keeper: While they can totally be into vinyl (the sound quality is better, right?), NASB translates this part as “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” We all know people who, in the midst of a disagreement, pull up past sins to be used against the other person. If someone is a record keeper with others, undoubtedly that tendency will eventually turn towards you. This can bring the same reaction out in you as a means of defense with an increasing likelihood to continue responding in the same manner. “The challenge for record keepers is that they are right… The problem isn’t their accuracy. The problem is the damage it does to a relationship.” (91) Why? It doesn’t foster love; forgiveness does. Even if you can’t forget, the best option is to pretend you have until you do. Keeping records is about keeping others down. Love is about lifting others up. This is often justified through the fact that it’s truth, but this kind of truth is best left to friends, counselors, etc. Truth served up by a record keeper will just lead to isolation and pain.
  8. “Love chooses to see the best and believe the best while choosing to overlook the rest.” (94) This summary from Andy Stanley is based on I Corinthians 13:6-7 which says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Always. Sound impossible? It is making the choice to always trust that they are putting you first. It is to always hope. And it is choosing to persevere in the face of things which could drive you apart. “Every time your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or friend-friend makes a promise or sets an expectation and doesn’t come through, he or she creates a gap. Whether you realize it or not, you choose what goes in the gap. And there are only two choices: trust or suspicion… when there’s a gap, love does everything possible to protect the integrity of the relationship rather than undermine it with suspicion.” (96) It is choosing love, when everything says otherwise. This inspires the other person to be their best self. If we always believe the best, they carry that with them. If we always believe the worst, it can end up leading them to believe that is who they are. It is, in a way, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That’s it. None of this comes naturally, they are all something we choose, something we cultivate, and according to Paul, they’re all non-negotiable when it comes to the love Christ calls us into. The question is, are we ready to put our childish view of love away and focus on becoming the person God calls us to be?

Want more? Check out A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Five)

Steady Heart

I am constantly in the process of being humbled and amazed, and it is wonderful.

Do you know how much, in my journey from my life before God to a life lived with God, I petitioned him to know the end game? To reveal to me the places where we were going together? And I was given hints but the majority of the time it was one step at a time. Infuriating, frustrating, and aggravating.

But so, so good. It revealed God’s faithfulness. It deepened our relationship. I was shown my vast capacity to trust in God and to rest in love. I found myself as I was seeking God and discovered what I was made of: love, compassion, empathy and hope. I found freedom in becoming the person I was designed to be and found healing and restoration in my body, heart and soul. I discovered faith is less a destination than a journey, and the beauty in it is astounding.

 

I Thessalonians Reflections

Paul begins his Greeting in I Thessalonians 1:1 “…to the church… in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…” and this speaks deeply to me. It reminds me that a church is in God and Christ. My church being in God, enclosed and surrounded by the Trinity is a great comfort to me and is not the imagery I usually have of a church. The other imagery I like which shortly follows in I Thessalonians 1:3 is in the Thanksgiving and is where Paul ties actions to things that people often associate with thoughts or feelings today: “…calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father…” Paul appears to remind us in every sentence that we show faith, love and hope through our actions.

In I Thessalonians 2:9-10 Paul remarks, “You recall, brothers, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” This selfless integrity that Paul points out, that they worked while continuing to spread the gospel, that they labored “night and day” so that they would not burden believers, is not a bragging point. I believe it is meant as a reminder of who Paul was but also that if you are a believer, you should be setting an example.  Your behavior and actions should be speaking for you and Paul firmly believed that if you could work you should as he demonstrated repeated in his letters. He even loops back to this again later, warning against laziness or idleness because of the imminence of the Parousia in I Thessalonians 4:11-12, “…and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your [own] hands, as we instructed you, that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders and not depend on anyone.”  Although this might sound as if it advises against charity it does not. It is only laziness in believers it speaks against. Paul wants those who are capable of working to work but to understand that they are all responsible for each other. In I Thessalonians 4:9-10 it says, “On the subject of mutual charity you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. Indeed, you do this for all the brothers throughout Macedonia.”

Freedom comes up a lot in Paul’s letters, and it appears to be something that is both liberating and misunderstood in Paul’s time and ours. While the start of his General Exhortations focuses on holiness, I wonder if what Paul addresses stems from a misunderstanding of the freedom they have received in the crucifixion of Jesus. One example that sounds like they interpreted the freedom in Christ as the freedom to do as they want can be found in I Thessalonians 4:7-8 “For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who [also] gives his holy spirit to you.”  In this, it sounds like Paul is trying to remind them that God did not call them to freedom from the Law so they could do impure things but instead so that they could receive the Holy Spirit and be in relationship with God.

I particularly like that he circles back to what he began with in his Thanksgiving at the end, changing the actions into armor in I Thessalonians 5:8-10, “But since we are of the day, let us be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation. For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him.” Lastly, the final directions that Paul gives are beautiful if not challenging. It perhaps emphasizes again that the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice was a reorientation and restructuring of all existence, our own and the worlds. God was countercultural then and is countercultural now.  It is not about doing our own will but the will of God.

I Thessalonians 5:14-22 “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good [both] for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Jesus Christ. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterance. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.”