All posts tagged Love

What Belongs in Love?

What is love? Am I really in love? I love you, but I’m not sure I like you right now. Looking for love in all the wrong places. Agape. Phileo. There are many things we say and ask about love. Hopefully this post does not muddy already murky water.

I frequently have conversations with people whose definition of love is about to exhaust them (physically, emotionally, or financially), but they feel incredibly guilty if they “love less.” How could that be loving, Christ-like, or God-honoring?

Unless we answer this question many of us will become burned out and/or bitter by trying to do what we believe God calls us to do.

Let’s start with an image. Picture love as a basket and begin listing the actions, motives, and dispositions that belong in the basket. Service. Protection. Sacrifice. Joy. Pleasure. Forgiveness. Benefit of the doubt. Etc…

If we are not careful, we will end up saying that “love is everything.” But as with any word, when it means everything; it means nothing. Even the fact that love could require almost anything (moral) should not push us to say that “love is everything.”

So, how do we begin to take things out of the basket? We can start by recognizing that we are finite lovers. That means that my ability to love is limited by a 168 hour week. Nothing that requires more than the time I have to give can be placed in the basket. I also have a limited financial budget over which God has placed certain instructions (i.e., tithing, saving, avoiding debt). Nothing that love requires should cause me to live outside those instructions.

This begins to change the questions. Before, we might ask, how could I be loving and not do [blank] for my spouse? Or, how could I be loving and not give [blank] to my kids? I would have wanted those things, and I am called to love them as myself. They would be in a better position for life if given this opportunity.

These questions are rooted in guilt, because they are rooted in the assumption of an infinite resource. They could be applied to any good thing and with a little emotional tug result in everything going in the love basket.

The new question becomes, what is the best way(s) to love [name] with the blessings God has placed in my life? This recognizes that God blessed me in order that I might be a blessing (Gen 12:2). It also recognizes that to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48). So love is challenged to be sacrificial.

However, it also recognizes that there are limits to what we can put in love. The widow could only put in two copper coins (Luke 21:2). When we try to put more into love than God has given us to give, this is one way to define what is often called codependency.

When parents buy things for a child they cannot afford in the name of “sacrifice.” When a friend “protects” another from the consequences or revelation of substance abuse. When a spouse “forgives” physical abuse without contacting legal authorities or demanding counseling. In these cases, sacrifice, protection, and forgiveness do not belong in the basket of love (at least as defined in these examples).

But as long as we define love as everything nice, we will feel guilty when we “love less” by taking things out of the basket of love that were never ours to put in the basket.

C.S. Lewis on Savoring Temporal Pleasures

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage (p. 137).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

How should we treat temporal pleasures? There seems to be very little balance in the way we live out the answer to this question.

Some people live for temporal pleasures and try to find life in ways that resembles chasing for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow – lots of effort, but with inevitable failure.

Other people respond to temporal as if it were a synonym for bad, evil, or wasteful. To them a lack of permanence is the equivalent of a complete lack of value.

Lewis’ quote calls for a balanced response and makes me think of how my wife responds when I buy her flowers. She knows the flowers will not last. She likes them better when I buy the “clearance” flowers, which means she really knows they’re not going to last.

The fact that the flowers will wither does not detract from her enthusiasm for the gift. She gets out a vase, fills it with water, and places them prominently in our kitchen. She comments on them frequently and always looks at them as she walks through the room.

But she doesn’t mistake the flowers for my love, of which the flowers were only a representation. There is no fear in her that when the flowers fade my love is failing with the collapse of each petal. She gets the message of the flowers, so she can embrace the flowers for what they are.

I believe this captures God’s intent for temporal pleasures. They are meant to be a love gift from Him to His children. A good meal, a stimulating conversation, health, a vacation to a beautiful location, or a nice home are all good, temporal gifts.

If we accept them as signs of God’s love and do not mistake them for the substance of God’s love, then we can enjoy them and let them fade without fear or despair. We receive the joy they were intended to give and our affection for the Giver grows.

How would your perspective on temporal pleasures change if you treated God’s blessings like my wife treats my flowers? How would it influence your anxiety and insecurity? How would it affect your sense of gratitude and joy? To whom would these changes be most noticeable?

Do you feel guilty right now? That is another misuse of the gift—further guilt only extends this misuse. If my wife (hypothetically speaking) became too attached to the flowers and missed the love they represented, her repentance would be best expressed through rejoicing in my love—not sorrow.

If my wife (hypothetically speaking) under-appreciated my flowers to protect herself from being disappointed at their fading, her repentance would be best expressed through vulnerably receiving my love—not beating herself up.

If you have not responded well to God’s temporal pleasures through over-indulgence or under-appreciation, repent now by embracing the message of His love that He sent in the form of temporal pleasures. He will rejoice as He sees His purpose for creating those pleasures fulfilled.

C.S. Lewis on Savoring Temporal Pleasures

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage (p. 137).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

How should we treat temporal pleasures? There seems to be very little balance in the way we live out the answer to this question.

Some people live for temporal pleasures and try to find life in ways that resembles chasing for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow – lots of effort, but with inevitable failure.

Other people respond to temporal as if it were a synonym for bad, evil, or wasteful. To them a lack of permanence is the equivalent of a complete lack of value.

Lewis’ quote calls for a balanced response and makes me think of how my wife responds when I buy her flowers. She knows the flowers will not last. She likes them better when I buy the “clearance” flowers, which means she really knows they’re not going to last.

The fact that the flowers will wither does not detract from her enthusiasm for the gift. She gets out a vase, fills it with water, and places them prominently in our kitchen. She comments on them frequently and always looks at them as she walks through the room.

But she doesn’t mistake the flowers for my love, of which the flowers were only a representation. There is no fear in her that when the flowers fade my love is failing with the collapse of each petal. She gets the message of the flowers, so she can embrace the flowers for what they are.

I believe this captures God’s intent for temporal pleasures. They are meant to be a love gift from Him to His children. A good meal, a stimulating conversation, health, a vacation to a beautiful location, or a nice home are all good, temporal gifts.

If we accept them as signs of God’s love and do not mistake them for the substance of God’s love, then we can enjoy them and let them fade without fear or despair. We receive the joy they were intended to give and our affection for the Giver grows.

How would your perspective on temporal pleasures change if you treated God’s blessings like my wife treats my flowers? How would it influence your anxiety and insecurity? How would it affect your sense of gratitude and joy? To whom would these changes be most noticeable?

Do you feel guilty right now? That is another misuse of the gift—further guilt only extends this misuse. If my wife (hypothetically speaking) became too attached to the flowers and missed the love they represented, her repentance would be best expressed through rejoicing in my love—not sorrow.

If my wife (hypothetically speaking) under-appreciated my flowers to protect herself from being disappointed at their fading, her repentance would be best expressed through vulnerably receiving my love—not beating herself up.

If you have not responded well to God’s temporal pleasures through over-indulgence or under-appreciation, repent now by embracing the message of His love that He sent in the form of temporal pleasures. He will rejoice as He sees His purpose for creating those pleasures fulfilled.

C.S. Lewis on Loving Myself

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated these things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things (p. 117).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Is the primary problem of the human condition that I don’t love myself enough (low self-esteem) or that I love myself too much (pride)? That is a question that can stir a great deal of debate.

I would contend that the fervor of the debate itself reveals that the scales tip toward pride. If low self-esteem were really the core human ailment, then we would timidly defer to one another and our disagreements would be mousy.

When reading the larger works of C.S. Lewis you will find that he sides on the pride side of this debate. However, here he is discussing self-love in a way that is distinct from pride. He does not seem to denigrate the self-love he describes here as pride (nor do I think he should).

Lewis describes this healthy self-love as hating the sin in my life because it destroys something that was intended to be good – namely self.

This points helps to answer one of the strongest points made by critics of the self-esteem movement (and I count myself in that number) – self-esteem assumes that we are basically good people who only do bad things because of negative outside influences. Scripture clearly teaches the opposite. We are people marred by sin who naturally love darkness instead of light (John 3:16-21).

Yet Lewis’ depiction of healthy self-love allows for a fundamental moral brokenness in the human race. His take on self-love still allowed him to admit, “I was the sort of man who did those things.” No silly, illogical excuses like, “You know I didn’t mean it,” or “I only behaved that way because…,” or “That wasn’t really me who did/said that.”

I believe it is instructive to see how Lewis got to this view of self-love. He got there by thinking of others. He wanted to know how you could hate the sin and love the sinner. Taking the Second Great Commandment seriously led him to consider the one example where he already obeyed it. Coincidentally, it was the example Jesus said to use – love others “as” (implying something that is already naturally occurs) you love yourself (Matt. 22:39).

It was from this example that he got an answer to his question: how do you hate the sin and love the sinner? Answer: You are grieved for how sin destroys the life of the sinner. Even when the sinner gets an advantage or pleasure from his/her sin, you are grieved that sin’s addictive roots are being reinforced.

How is this love? It is love, because all grief is rooted in love. You will only grieve after you have loved. You are saddened because of an obstruction in a desired joy. In this case, another person’s good.

So let us realize that we love ourselves naturally even when we are made miserable by our actions. Our misery actually reveals our love for self – we genuinely desire our good. After realizing this let us love others with that same desire for their good. That is the only thing that will prevent a healthy self-love from becoming pride, self-centeredness, or self-preoccupation (insecurity).

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Self-Esteem” post which address other facets of this subject.

Forgiveness Made Easier: Part II

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“And secondly, we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbor as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself (p. 116)?… [Lewis was using a war illustration] Even while we kill  and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves – to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not (p. 120).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

In a politically correct world where we must say that every one is “nice” or “good” even “when he is not,” it makes it harder to love our neighbor as ourselves and, thereby, harder to forgive. I’ll try to follow Lewis’ logic from each point.

First, Lewis connects a forced attribution of niceness as an impediment to loving our neighbors as ourselves. When we cannot declare bad to be bad or foolish to be foolish, then we are prematurely forced to extend grace by the abolition of negative words.

When this happens, a basic form of loving others is taken away. We are no longer able to want “good” for them, because we have been forced to declare what they are doing “good.” Because of this we are forced to a higher level of relational involvement – from wanting their good to appreciating what they are doing.

This brings us to Lewis’s second connection. Now their offense against us not only has to be forgiven, it must be enjoyed. Forgiveness must mean more because love means more. If I cannot merely love them by wanting their good (because all things are good), then I must agree with their offense as being acceptable.

Think about one of the most common modern sayings given in resistance to forgiveness – “I’m not going to say that what they did was okay.” At first it may sound like a leap, but in light of Lewis’ assessment, it makes more sense.

Now let’s work Lewis’ logic backwards. If I am allowed to say that an offense or even an offender is bad (which Scripture holds to be universally true; Romans 3:23), then forgiveness would be made easier. I can now desire their good – being delivered from the moral condition that resulted in their offending me.

This is actually the same sense of regret I feel for myself every time I become convicted of my own sin. I desire my good – that I would be delivered from the moral condition that makes sin so deceptively tempting and illogically appealing. I now want for them what I would want for myself in the same situation.

When I can love them by wanting their good, I can see how forgiving them does not mean condoning or approving of their offense. Forgiveness, by definition, must declare something wrong before it can be enacted. Declaring everything good, neutral, or a matter of personal preference makes forgiveness an illogical exercise.

To summarize: wanting someone’s good is the foundation of love and allows us to see that loving them is not a contradiction to the moral infringement we feel when they offend us.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Forgiveness” post which address other facets of this subject.

Being “In Love” and Promises

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The idea that being ‘in love’ is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made… As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy. The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do (p.107).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It is an interesting question. If being “in love” is the pinnacle experience, then why have we added marriage to it? You might begin by asserting that “we” did not add marriage to love, but it was God’s design. I would agree, but that rebuttal does not address the audience who would ask the question.

We find that even those who reject God (at least as defined in the Bible, interpreted by author’s original intent) fight fervently for the right to be married because they believe that it would add something to their experience of being “in love.” I reference the gay-marriage debate here, not for political purposes, but merely as an example.

As I have observed these debates (admittedly from a distance, I am not a highly politically-motivated person), my impression is that their motives are larger than, “You told me I can’t so I’m going to prove I can.” They sincerely want to be married. Why? If one should be free to exit marriage because “I fell out of love” would those not seeking to follow a particular religious code (like the Bible) want to add marriage to their experience of being in love?

We make vows for a reason that is beyond pragmatic. We make vows because we are made in the image of a covenant-making God. There is something higher than being “in love,” namely reflecting the image of the God we were made to glorify.

We do not serve a temporal God. Therefore a temporal experience of being in love is not the ultimate expression of the character of the God who is love (I John 4:8). What is more in keeping with God’s character is when that state of being in love is sealed within a self-sacrificing covenant.

As Lewis notes that Chesterton pointed out, even secular love songs from all cultures and time periods testify to this. True romantic love longs to seal itself in promises of fidelity, exclusivity, and sacrificially finding joy in the joy of the other.

What difference does this make? I would contend that it undercuts one of the primary decision making criteria in our culture. Consider, how many harmful decisions are made based upon the justification that “I am in love” or “I am no longer in love”? If that standard were removed from its place at the pinnacle of decision making, how many life tragedies would be avoided?

As a final addendum, please do not hear this as a condemnation of being “in love.” I firmly believe that being in love is one of the most blissful blessings that God has bestowed upon the human race. It may be one of the purest foretastes of Heaven’s perpetual worship. This reflection is merely a warning against one of the most basic human tendencies – trying to replace God with one of His gifts to us.

Good and Bad Desires Do Not Exist

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“It is a mistake to think that some of our impulses—say mother love or patriotism—are good, and, others, like sex or the fighting instinct, are bad… Strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses. Think once again of a piano. It has not got two kinds of notes on it, the ‘right’ notes and the ‘wrong’ ones. Every single note is right at one time and wrong at another. The Moral Law is not any one instinct or set of instincts; it is something which makes a kind of tune (the tune we call goodness or right conduct) by directing the instincts (p.11).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I think we too often treat good and bad as qualities (like hot and cold or sweet and sour) instead of directions (like East and West or high and low). In terms of what Lewis is saying, if good and bad are qualities then particular impulses inherently have a particular quality. For instance, mother love would be good in the same way that a jalapeño is hot. The definition of jalapeño necessarily includes hot.

Yet mother love can be both good and bad. Mother love is at the root of fond childhood memories and the negative cliché’s associated with the title “mother-in-law.” This is where the metaphor of direction (towards or away from God) is helpful. If I am traveling North to New York City and reach Canada, then I have gone too far North. North was originally “good” but the excess now makes South “good” and continuing North “bad.”

The movement of the “direction” is love.  Too often we try to think of sin as hate and holiness as love. But in actuality all sin is love and holiness is also love (just in the opposite direction). Consider the Great Commandment passage:

And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).”

If the command to is to love God first and neighbor second, then I break this command by loving something or someone else first and second.  Therefore, all sin is love (in the wrong direction or order). Hence, Paul would warn Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim. 6:10).”

Hopefully this will help us in our battle with sin. Too often we have turned to God and His Word asking, “Tell me what I should and should not do; should and should not feel; should and should not think.”  This is a request for labels; not direction (or a tune).

Now, as we turn to God and His Word we can ask, “Tell me where my love should go; what should it sound like; what is the outcome I should strive for?” The answer to this question is not primarily rules, but outcomes.

A young pianist memorizes notes (and this is good for the novice). An experienced pianist reads the music, understands how the music is to “move” the audience, and delivers a song. As we read God’s Word and learn to follow it, let us begin with memorizing notes (learning good from bad), but let us not be content until we allow the Word to “move” us in the rhythm and direction of God’s heart.

What If My Needs Are Not Being Met?

Let’s start by acknowledging that this question can be asked in many different contexts and can mean many different things.  The focus of this post is to examine the person who asks this question when in a legitimately difficult circumstance that leads them to want to do something they know they should not do.  For example:

  • A wife with a distant husband who wants a divorce
  • A husband with an unresponsive wife who wants to look at pornography
  • A teenager with a chaotic home who wants to escape through drugs
  • A victim of sexual abuse who wants to cut to escape the pain
  • An employee with a harsh boss who wants to fudge a report

These are situations that are “easy” to answer until you are in them.  The longer the real suffering continues the more it seems to justify the sinful response.  The common cultural refrain is to say, “After all I need affirmation (affection, stability, peace, or fairness).”

We should not assume the refrain is spoken by hard-hearted, backslidden Christian or unregenerate souls masquerading their identity as “Christian.”  Often these words are spoken by sincere followers of Christ who are trying to articulate what God’s compassion would look like for their situation.

In light of this, let’s look at I Corinthians 6:12-13

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

Paul starts by saying it is lawful to pursue any legitimate desire/need (affirmation, affection, stability, peace, or fairness from the discussion above).  Paul even illustrates his point with the example of an absolute physical need – food.  In context, Paul has just discussed overcoming life dominating sexual sin and is about to discuss food in chapter 8.

Paul’s main point is, “I will not be enslaved to anything.”  When we want/need something so badly that we are willing to sin to get it we have become a slave. We have surrendered our freedom to choose to the availability of our central want/need.

But that seems so harsh.  It appears to be void of compassion.  If you read the next several chapters of I Corinthians, you probably would not change your mind.  Paul continues to call the Corinthians to resist being enslaved to any want/need. In chapter 10 he labels this slavery as “idolatry.”

When you keep reading you find the compassion starting in chapter 12.  Paul begins to point to the Body of Christ, the nature of love among Christians, life in the church, and the impact of the resurrection.

God never meant for us to live as dependant on one or two earthly relationships as we so frequently do.  We might ask, “Why has the ‘need’ teaching become so prevalent in our day?” Among many other reasons, we could point to the mobility of our culture, the privatization of our faith, the closedness of our casual relationships, and the centrality of our work environment.  With these factors in place, it only makes sense to ask one or two central relationships (spouse, parents, or children) to play the role God intended the entire church to fulfill.

With that said, I think we can reach two conclusions. First, the absence of a need/desire does not give us a license to sin.  Second, the presence of suffering should call us closer to God’s people for support during our suffering.