Seeking to be transformed into the image of Jesus

Love

26 Things I Love About My Wife

This past week Angie and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary. In honor of this momentous occasion and to honor my amazing wife I offer you (in no particular order) twenty-six reasons I love Angela Halaby Schupp…

1. She is the most intentional person I know. Everything she does has a purpose.

2. She is learning to have fun and not be so serious. She recognizes that it’s ok to relax and is learning to do that too…on purpose!

3. She is the most selfless person I know. She is not about ego or reputation or promotion. She loves people and lives to serve God and others.

4. She has a great sense of humor. She will admit that telling jokes isn’t her strongest suit (one might say she lacks comedic timing) but she understands good humor and knows how to laugh at life and things that are just plain funny.

5. She is extremely good-natured. Related to her sense of humor is a thick skin that is able to take playful ribbing. She often finds herself outnumbered in discussions and when the jokes are flying at the dinner table but she takes it in stride and does it with grace.

6. She says what she means. Angie is a straight-shooter. She is h0nest and straight forward and you rarely don’t know what she means or thinks.

7. She is growing in grace. Despite being a straight-shooter, she recognizes that words can harm and has grown incredibly in being able to say hard things in tactful ways.

8. She is a prayer warrior. If you want to know for sure that someone is praying for you, ask Angie to add you to her list. She is the most faithful pray-er I have ever met. Every day she prays for many, many people and she delights to pray for specific needs or whatever the Holy Spirit lays on her heart. It’s exciting to see the ways God answers too!

9. She is an avid learner. Angie reads a lot. It has always been a hobby of hers and she is good at taking time to read books that encourage and edify her. More than that, she is always wanting to learn – about her faith, her family, her profession, life.

10. She is incredibly supportive. Angie has always been a wife who supports and encourages me – even when she wasn’t sure about what it was I was pursuing (for example, training to run a marathon). She has always been a mother who supports her children selflessly as well. She is an encouragement verbally and she is willing to help by doing the legwork, picking up slack around the house, or whatever the situation calls for.

11. She is a gifted and capable woman. There isn’t much Angie can’t do if she puts her mind to it. And there isn’t much she doesn’t do well.

12. She is willing to ask for help. While she has always been independent, she has learned what she can and cannot do. She knows what she needs and what she can’t do on her own and is willing to ask for help and to depend on others.

13. She is honest about who she is. Angie is unpretentious. She is honest about her weaknesses as well as her strengths and is willing to ask for help when she needs it.

14. She makes people feel valued and significant. Angie remembers peoples names. She remembers things about them. She asks good questions. She listens. People know she cares and they feel important around her, because to her they really are.

15. She is an encourager. This is not something natural to Angie. She has always been an “actions-speak-louder-than-words” servant. But over the years she has learned to speak words of encouragement to people. She notices what they do and try and is quick to praise and affirm.  She also recognizes when things don’t go so well and has an apt word ready to spur the person on. She’s a great cheerleader…and it comes from the heart.

16. She is a “homemaker.” I don’t mean this in the traditional sense – because she isn’t a stay-at-home mother or wife, but she treasures her family and her home and works hard (despite her busy schedule) to make our house a home. We have almost always eaten dinner as a family. We often have game nights. We do things together and try to keep control of our schedule. Our house is a home and it is because of Angie’s commitment to keep it that way.

17. She is generous. Angie regularly gives sacrificially of her time, her possessions, her expertise – or anything God has given her. She desires to be a blessing to others so she holds all she has with open hands.

18. She is a good steward. Angie is also very thrifty and careful with what she has. She tries not to waste her time, her possessions, her expertise – or anything God has given her. She wants to use the gifts she’s received wisely and not waste them.

19. She is a traveler. She has traveled extensively, but that isn’t what I mean. I mean Angie is on a journey. Her life is about walking the path God has laid before her and she is pursuing Him. Her desire is to walk faithfully and obediently so that one day He will say to her, “Well done.”

20. She is faithful. Angie is faithful in her walk with God – reading the Word and praying each day. And more than that she is faithful to honor her promises and to her family, friends, and calling.

21. She is loyal. If Angie is your friend, she will stand with you through nearly anything. When others might walk away, she is true. I have rarely seen a person so loyal.

22. She is hospitable. Not only does she welcome people into our home and make them feel welcome, she creates space for others to feel comfortable and loved being themselves.

23. She is joyful. Life has not always been easy for Angie, yet she always has a song in her heart and on her lips (and if you have heard her sing, you know that’s a good thing!). She has chosen not to be defined by circumstances but to choose to be joyful despite the challenges and the hard things.

24. She is affectionate. Angie is ready to give a hug (or kiss where appropriate!). She is warm and loving and not afraid to show it.

25. She is human. All of these things I’ve listed are true. Angie is amazing! But she isn’t perfect. She makes mistakes. And she isn’t invincible. She has bad days and days her feelings are hurt or her pride is bruised or she barely makes it through. She experiences life’s just hurts like all of us. She faces them physically (in fact she has dealt with chronic pain issues for many years) and emotionally (she has struggled with depression even longer). And each morning she wakes ready for a day full of new challenges.

26. She admits her mistakes and asks forgiveness. Angie owns up to things when she is at fault and she isn’t afraid to say “I’m sorry.”

These twenty-six things just scratch the surface of all the things I love about Angie. I know that as soon as I hit post I will think of so many I should have added or put instead…but wait a few years and I’ll make a new list and try to include those as well!

Thank you, Angie, for twenty-six amazing years! I look forward to many, many more! I love you!

~ Rick


Freedom

Recently with the kidnappings of Christians in the Middle East and the martyrdom of many of them I’ve found myself wondering, “What if I was taken? What if I was in their place…how would I respond?” My reflections have led me to two conclusions: 1) Death is not the worst thing that could happen to me (a thought for another blog perhaps)! 2) There is a true freedom that is so liberating, even captivity can’t quench it (the subject for today’s blog).

When I talk about “true freedom”, I don’t mean the kind of freedom we might have because we live in a certain country or the kind of freedom that comes from one’s status in life or anything of that nature. I’ve been mulling over the concept of “inner” or “interior” freedom. I’m sure there are many more educated people than me who have a good definition of inner freedom is. In my mind, when I think of true freedom – inner freedom – I think of how so many people are afraid to let others know who they really are – their struggles and failures, their faults and their foibles – and as a result spend a lot of time and energy projecting the person they wish they were or the person they think people want them to be.

You may remember the song Me and Bobby McGee (written by Kris Kristofferson and taken by Janis Joplin to number one shortly after her death in 1971), “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” In the song, the singer has hit rock bottom and has lost everything and in some sense is free because she’s got nothing left to lose. No one and nothing can hurt her because there’s nothing she’s holding onto; she has nothing to protect. But many of us live life fearing we will lose things – our reputation, our image, our comfort, our children, our jobs, our marriage, our health, our lives. It’s hard to imagine any good that could come from losing these things –  our identity and our security are tied up in these masks and these things we cling to. We spend our time and effort trying to protect ourselves, the masks we wear, and the scaffolding we need to “prop” them up.

The “me” in the song may just have a point. We don’t necessarily have to hit rock bottom emotionally or physically to get to there, but it is possible for us to get to a place where we live from our true self, unafraid of losing the things around us that give us security and identity. I believe inner freedom comes when we experience the deep love of God in such a profound way we realize we are genuinely, deeply, unconditionally loved. Finding security in God’s amazingly deep and profound love frees us from masks and the things that we let define our lives. Henri Nouwen speaking of freedom and God’s love wrote:

“The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world–free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless…. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.” (Nouwen, Reaching Out)

I would echo Nouwen’s thoughts and take them further. When we are convinced of God’s love not only are we free to speak and act even when our words and actions are not received well, we are also free to be silent even in the face of false accusation; free to turn the other cheek when insulted; free to go the extra mile even if someone is taking advantage of us; free to love regardless of how the other person responds; free to die knowing that what lies beyond is better than what we experience here and now.

In recent years I have found this to be true in my own experience. For many years I projected a “Rick” I wanted everyone to believe I was – godly man, good pastor, loving husband and father – and I sought to live that out. But the reality was I often fell very short. I was insecure and afraid of letting anyone know what was really going on inside me. I would go through patches where I wasn’t a very good husband or father or I didn’t feel my life was all that godly and I was afraid people would discover the sham of my hypocrisy. At that time, I would have affirmed the theology of God’s deep love for me. I would have told you that I was free because of that love but I was living in bondage to my fears and insecurities. I was living like I had to earn God’s love or live a certain way to maintain it.

I remember vividly one morning as I met with God. I had read in the Word and prayed and was taking time to read a book for my own growth. That morning I experienced God’s love in a way I never had before. It was a moment in which my heart was transformed in profound ways I had long desired. And for the first time I had an interior freedom that I had never had before. I was free to be myself and to love others without fear.

Such freedom requires maintenance. Like a garden needs weeding and watering, so does interior freedom. We need to feed on God’s Word; worship; pray; fellowship with like-minded friends. We need to drink deeply of God’s love and constant presence walking with us through life. We also need to weed our hearts; to protect them from drifting back into hiding behind masks and trying to earn or justify the love we already have or trying to find it in imitations. We can do this through regular times of self-examination and reflection where we pay attention to the things stirred within us and list our concerns and worries.

 


Who’s Keeping Score?

As a parent, I love each of my three children. If you asked me which of them I loved the most, I wouldn’t be able to pick. In my heart I believe I love each of them the same. But, as most parents will tell you, that doesn’t mean I treat them each in exactly the same way. I have to know my children and I have to love them in a way that will communicate love to them as individuals. Bethany responds to words of affirmation and encouragement. I often tell her how proud of her I am. Joshua responds to hugs and physical contact. I still speak words of encouragement to him – and I think they do show love – but I had to learn to make physical contact (even though this is not my natural way of showing love) because it is something that affirmed him. Jonathan responds to quality time. He likes being with people and when he has spent time with you he opens up and will share his heart. It isn’t so significant what the activity is, it’s the time spent together.

But our children didn’t always think we loved each of them the same. On more than one occasion “You love her more!” or “That’s not fair!” were heard in the hallowed halls of our home. Sometimes our kids were convinced we played favorites. “I didn’t get to do that until I was thirteen!” “You told me I couldn’t go there but she gets to!” “Why can’t I stay up? They do!”

I suppose it’s human nature to keep score in relationships. In our minds we tally the points for different things people have done. We have this idea that relationships are fifty-fifty propositions. I do my part and you do yours and everything is fair and we’re all happy. The problem is, what I think is a loving thing to do may not seem loving to you. I’ve given myself a point, but you’ve taken one away or just not noticed. And it works the other way too. Things you’ve done don’t count by my standards and vice versa.

In relationships, when we keep score everyone loses. Rarely does keeping score in relationships end well. More often we feel hurt, unloved, under appreciated, neglected, resentful, alone. We think we are loving well and more than doing our part but the other person isn’t trying as hard or doing as much and we can’t understand why he/she sees it the other way around.

A better approach is to give one hundred per cent in relationships and assume the best about the other person’s effort. Even if he/she is slacking, we’re still called to love well. Paul wrote that we should consider others more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). This doesn’t mean we become a doormat to let people do whatever they want to us, but it does mean that we seek to love unconditionally and selflessly. We stop worrying about what the other person is or isn’t doing to love us and we focus on how we can love him/her better. In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus (quoting Leviticus 19:9 and 19:18) told us to love others as we would want them to love us. I can’t speak for others, but I would prefer someone not be judging my acts of love to determine their value or worth. I would prefer they love me well and accept my love in return.

I’m glad God doesn’t keep score in our relationship. If He did, I would be in big trouble! God’s love is one hundred percent and it is unconditional. The love I offer God is a fraction of what He has shown me. There is no way I could even approach a fifty-fifty split with Him. But in his grace and mercy He still loves me well. Love doesn’t always mean He does what I want or when I want or how I want. He wants the best for me and so sometimes his love is discipline or no or wait. But I know his character is perfect and his heart is for me and I never doubt, even in the most challenging circumstances, that He loves me. Jesus in teaching about God’s character and about prayer wrote that if earthly fathers know how to give their children good gifts how much more does our heavenly Father know how to give not just good gifts, but the very best gifts (Luke 11:11-13, see also my previous post discussing this passage)

When we stop keeping score or worrying about keeping score and focus on loving with all our hearts, we are set free to truly love well. It is an opportunity for us to imitate God and his love for others. It is not always easy. Human beings can be fickle and don’t always respond the way we want or expect. But when we love others well, we not only honor God by obeying his call to love, we scratch a deep itch everyone has – to be loved for who they are, warts and all. As Bill Mallonee says, “to be loved well is the best of all” (from the song “This Time Isn’t One of Them”).


How to Love People You Don’t Like

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a group of 5th-8th graders. In mulling over what to share I was drawn to one of the hardest truths Jesus taught: Love your neighbor. On the face of it, this doesn’t seem like a hard truth. I mean, it’s easy to love my neighbor, isn’t it? My neighbors are people just like me, right? They’re my family and the people I like and spend time with. Right? I believe Jesus goes and sets the bar higher than that. When asked by “an expert in the law” who was his neighbor, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan and basically blows his listeners’ minds. You can read the passage here.

There are so many cultural and religious dynamics going in the passage, but I will save most of them for another day! What I want to pay attention to is that this teacher of the law wants to justify himself. He wants to break down his duty before God into a neat box. How does he inherit eternal life? Love God and love his neighbor. In his mind loving his neighbor is loving the people like him. It’s loving the people near him. It’s loving his family and his close friends.

Jesus tells a story that shatters that illusion. The priest and the Levite walk by this man who lies in a heap bloodied and beaten. Most people of that day would have felt they were justified. They don’t know who it is. They might make themselves unclean and unable to worship in the temple or to conduct their duties before God. And if the person is already dead? It would have made sense in a way that seems foreign to modern day, western readers, that these people walked on by.

But it shouldn’t and that’s why Jesus tells the story. The Samaritan is clearly not this man’s neighbor in their minds. He was considered a half breed – part Jewish and part Gentile. His religion was heretical holding to only the Torah and not the other books of the Old Testament. Their place of worship was not Jerusalem at the temple. The Samaritans were hated by Jews. If you needed to walk to Galilee, you almost always went around Samaria to avoid its people.

And yet, it is the Samaritan who stops; who binds the wounds; who takes the man to an inn; who shows mercy and serves this stranger. When Jesus asks who was a neighbor to the injured man, the teacher of the law can’t even say “the Samaritan”. He answers, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus tells him to go and do the same.

Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” His answer is unexpected. Essentially he says our neighbor is anyone who has need and that everyone, even the people we don’t know or we don’t like or we consider half-breed heretics, fall into that category. Love your neighbor and, by the way, everyone is your neighbor.

We love our neighbor when we don’t treat them as they deserve. We love them by showing them mercy. This is the first way we can love people we don’t like: We serve them.

I think there is a second way we can begin to love people we don’t like. We get to know them. This idea comes more from my experience of serving people in church and in outreach over the years. We often don’t like people because we don’t know them. We see the way they dress or we think based on their religion or nationality or the place they come from what they are like. We make judgments and assumptions and imagine we know what they are like.

When we take time to listen to other’s stories; when we honor them by listening and asking questions; we often discover that 1) they aren’t so different from us and 2) they are actually very likable. Now I realize this is not always the case. There are people who the more we get to know them the less we like them. We are called to love them anyway (They are still our neighbors after all and even if we hate them, we still have to love them…see Matthew 5:43-48 if you don’t believe me). But more often than not in my own experience, when I hear people’s stories I find respect and understanding for them that I lacked when I was stuck in my prejudgments and assumptions.

Surely getting to know them is harder. It takes time and it can be uncomfortable. But Jesus rarely took things at face value. He was always asking good questions which helped to reveal people’s hearts and motives. As we get to know the people Jesus calls us to love, we may actually find we like them.

One other way we love people we don’t like is we tell them the truth (in love). Speaking the truth in love is a non-negotiable for followers of Jesus (see Ephesians 4:15). The most loving thing we can do for anyone is point them toward the truth. We point them toward their heavenly Father who loves them more than we ever could!

I think speaking the truth in love points people toward Jesus, but I think we need to go beyond that. Most of us like for people to think we have it all together and have things figured out. The reality is that we have struggles and challenges. We have needs and frustrations and issues. Being willing to share our needs and our hurts and struggles can invite others to be a neighbor to us. It can move our relationship from being me offering from my abundance and expertise to a true give-and-take as we journey together. It can actually create better opportunities for us to tell our stories and to let others see how our faith is lived out.

Loving people you don’t like is not easy. But I believe these three ways make it practical and livable. I invite you to take time this week to ask God who might be a person you know you need to love but have been struggling with because you don’t like them much. Ask him to show you specific things you could do to begin loving that person better. How could you serve him/her? How could you get to know him/her better? How could you share the truth in love?


Ruth: An Example of Grace Gone Viral

ImageWhen I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I was blessed to have Dr. Dennis Magary for several of my Old Testament classes. His passion for the Old Testament was infectious.  Following his class covering this diminutive book, I fell in love with it…so much so that when I became pastor of Amman International Church it was one of the first books I preached from was the book of Ruth. Recently I had the opportunity to do the part of the narrator for a “readers theater” through Ruth at our church. Reading and reflecting on the book reminded me why I love it…

1. The book of Ruth is about taking risks

Ruth is a Moabite woman. She’s a gentile. She has no standing in Israel at all. But she leaves her people and her family who could provide for her and she goes with Naomi back to Bethlehem. She loves her mother-in-law and she loves the God of her mother-in-law. She knows that Naomi has no one and she will need someone to care for her. She is determined to be that person.

That sounds normal to us, but Ruth has no guarantee that she will be accepted by the Israelites in Bethlehem; no guarantee that a woman in a male-dominated society will be able to provide what they need to live on; no guarantee that anyone will let her glean in their field; no guarantee that she won’t face abuse, prejudice; violence; name-calling…who knows…But none of that stops Ruth from doing what’s right and seeking Naomi’s best.

Naomi takes a risk when she sends Ruth to the threshing floor. If Naomi marries, who will take care of her? There’s no guarantee that if Ruth marries Boaz they will continue to provide for her. But that doesn’t stop Naomi from doing what’s right and seeking Ruth’s best.

Boaz takes a risk when he agrees to both marry Ruth and redeem the land. To redeem the land, Boaz will have to pay a hefty sum. If he and Ruth have a son and he is considered Elimilech’s heir, he will have to pay the redemption price a second time. This is why the first kinsman-redeemer refuses to redeem. It really could bankrupt him and put his own estate at risk. Boaz has no guarantee it won’t be financially difficult for himself. But that doesn’t stop him from doing what’s right and seeking both Ruth and Naomi’s best.

2. The book of Ruth is about how infectious love and grace are

Ruth shows loving-kindness to Naomi by returning with her to Bethlehem and going out to glean and provide food for them both. She brings all she gleans and even what she has left over from her own lunches back to Naomi.

Ruth really wasn’t required to do this. And Naomi’s bitter spirit certainly didn’t make her very lovable. But Ruth shows grace and love to her grieving mother-in-law.

While gleaning, Boaz notices Ruth. When he’s told who she is he blesses her verbally but also makes sure that she will be able to glean and gather more than what she needs. He has heard of her kindness – it’s the talk of the town – and now he has seen it. Ruth’s loving, gracious behavior moves him to show loving-kindness to her.

And then something happens…Naomi utters a prayer of blessing for Boaz. She begins to recognize that she hasn’t come back to Bethlehem as empty as she thought. God hasn’t been so hard on her after all. And then she sends Ruth off in the middle of the night to seek Boaz as a husband. She stops thinking only about herself and thinks of Ruth! She didn’t have to do that! But Ruth’s loving-kindness and Boaz’s generosity have infected her and she acts lovingly and gracefully too!

3. The book of Ruth is about how small choices can make a big difference…

Throughout the book, as we’ve already seen above, people make small choices that end up providing big blessing for others. But another way we see this truth is when we consider that Ruth is one of four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy. Ruth, a gentile woman, becomes one of the great-grandmothers of the Messiah. King David was her great-grandson. She is, without a doubt, a woman worthy of such an honor! It is a reminder too that it isn’t where we’re from or what language we speak or what we look like that is most important, it’s our heart and our character and our love of God and others.

Even in this blog I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of the book of Ruth’s riches. It is a small but powerful book that speaks practically to how we live our lives daily. May we be the kind of people who live lives filled with grace and loving-kindness for God and his glory!


A Lesson from “Les Misérables”

One of my favorite books is Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. If you’ve read it, you may remember the first part of the book introduces us first to Bishop Bienvenu Myriel. While he is a fictional character, when I grow up I want to be just like him. He serves as bishop but does not have the typical attitudes of a bishop.

When he first becomes bishop, Bishop Myriel has a magnificent home while the hospital next door was too crowded with patients. Recognizing the hospital’s need and the extravagance of his home, he says, “There is some mistake, I tell you; you have my house, and I have yours.” His salary of fifteen thousand francs was given almost completely to the the poor. When he discovers that he has an allowance for a carriage and pastoral visits, he takes that money and gives it away as well. All that flowed in went to those who had need. He saved for himself only what was needed for his “bare necessities.”

I love Bishop Myriel’s attitude toward those most in need. “The most beautiful of altars,” he said, “is the soul of an unhappy creature consoled and thanking God.” And later we learn that “he respected learned men greatly; he respected the ignorant still more; and, without ever failing in these two respects.”

He never locked his door. He said, “There is a bravery of the priest as well as the bravery of a colonel of dragoons,– only,” he added, “ours must be tranquil.” When faced with the need to take a ministry trip to a remote and dangerous area under his care he said, “Let us never fear robbers nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murderers. The great dangers lie within ourselves. What matters it what threatens our head or our purse! Let us think only of that which threatens our soul.”

Eventually we are introduced to Jean Valjean. He is a criminal who stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her seven children. After serving his sentence – lengthened for attempting to escape on several occasions – he is finally released. He wanders into Bishop Myriel’s village and after being refused lodging at the towns inns, he comes to the Bishop’s home for shelter and food.

Bishop Myriel does not turn him away but welcomes him as a brother. Valjean is stunned at the Bishop’s kindness. The Bishop tells him,

“You could not help telling me who you were. This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door doe not demand of him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief. You suffer, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And do not thank me; do not say that I receive you in my house. No one is at home here, except the man who needs refuge. I say to you, who are passing by, that you are much more at home here than I myself. Everything here is yours. What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me you had one which I knew?”

“Really? You knew what I was called?”

“Yes,” replied the Bishop, “you are called my brother.”

Here is a character who loves with the heart of Jesus. He gives generously and loves liberally. He trusts God to care for him completely and welcomes even a hardened criminal into his home.

The Bishop has only one possession of value – genuine silver knives and cutlery as well as two silver candlesticks. During the night while all are asleep, Valjean sneaks into the Bishop’s room and steals the knives and cutlery. He then runs out into the night.

In the morning, Valjean is arrested and brought to the Bishop’s home. As soon as the door is opened, Bishop Myriel cries, “Ah! here you are! I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?”

Only Valjean is more stunned than the gendarmes. Valjean is released and the Bishop does give him the candlesticks. Before Valjean leaves, the Bishop says to him, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

This is the spirit of Jesus. To give all we have to those who need that they might discover the incredible love of God and in turn love and serve others. Reading these words, I think of Scripture like Micah 6:8 and Matthew 25:31-46 and Isaiah 58 and so many others and I long to be one who loves like Jesus. I long to walk so intimately with my Savior that I understand how to truly “do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God.” I want to be like Bishop Bienvenu Myriel…loving and respecting my fellow men and women in my actions, not just my words.


Love and Suffering – Two Sides of the Same Coin

This week in my reading for class I came across a concept I’ve probably heard before, but it struck me afresh.  C. Michael Thompson writes, “Love and suffering are inseparable companions, though in our addiction to need-love we so wish to believe it untrue.  You simply cannot be radically open to gift love without being radically vulnerable to suffering.  They are two aspects of the same experience, two sides of the same coin…”[1]

So much of what we define as love is based on an unspoken “law of reciprocity”.  I’ll scratch your back; you scratch mine.  But true love offers itself not expecting or needing anything in return.  It is giving of oneself for the other person or the greater good or whatever it might be without thought of “what’s in it for me.”  Any time we lay down our own agendas and our own desires for the sake of someone else, there is pain.  Thompson writes, “To sacrifice one’s own personal ego-needs in the service of larger purposes is inevitably to suffer.”[2]

So much of what passes for love today is “need-love”.  It’s so easy to say “I love you” to someone and then when life gets hard or they aren’t quite we expected or we’re bored or the feelings have worn off we move on.  Relationships often take far more work than we’re willing to invest.  Even if we don’t end the relationship, we may decide it’s not worth the effort and withdraw or hide a part of ourselves so as not to be hurt any more.  I question if this is truly love at all. 

True love is willing to suffer for the sake of the other person.  Jesus is our model in this.  He went to incredible lengths to show his incredible love for us.  Mocked, beaten, falsely accused, and ultimately crucified for us…for me.  And I am called to love with that same self-sacrificial love.  I am called – at times – to suffer as I love.  Love requires sacrifice.  It takes its eyes off self and puts them on another.  It offers itself even if rejected; even if exploited.

The Apostle Paul wrote in the great “love” chapter, 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).  The characteristics of true love are sacrificial.  it isn’t easy to live this way.  It means we have to stop expecting to be served and be willing to serve someone else.  It means we must be willing to forgive and let go; to assume the best and give the benefit of the doubt; it means we need to be willing to humbly look to others’ best interests, not merely our own.

The degree to which I am willing to suffer for another is the extent to which I love that person.  This is not something we can do in our own strength.  Thompson writes, “When we are able to disengage from our own selfish little gaggle of needs, when we can truly spend and be spent in the service of others, the little space we thus empty out in the center of our psyche becomes a space that can now be filled by the spirit of God.”[3]  We need the power of God to work in us.  Such love is only possible as we learn to live and love like Jesus through deep, intimate connection to him.

Imagine how the world would be different if we were able to love like this!  It is the example Jesus set and the kind of love he calls us to.  As U2 singer Bono said, “If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed.”[4]


[1] Thompson, C. Michael in The Congruent Life, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2000, p. 200.

Thompson, discusses how C.S. Lewis distinguished between “need-love” and “gift-love”.  He says, “Need-love is “that which sends a lonely or frightened child to its mother’s arms,” and recurs countless times in our lives as we seek to get our very human constellation of needs met through the people and things we unabashedly use for that purpose.  We’re probably no less susceptible to loneliness and fear than we were as small children; we just find grown-up substitutes for our mother’s arms” (p. 198).

Gift-love is “when we deeply care about others, their life, happiness, and future; when we wish for them the same personal growth and material success that we would want for ourselves and contribute to that in any way we can; when we deeply respect their humanness, treasure their uniqueness, and believe in their potential – we are in fact expressing one of the purest forms of love that we can hope to achieve” (p. 198).

[2] ibid p. 202.

[3] ibid.