Tag Archives: Love

Don’t Put Me On Display…Christian Love

There’s an old song from the 1960s called You Don’t Own Me, by Leslie Gore.  It’s been covered by other artists and used in movies as well.  One of the lines in the song says, “Please, when I go out with you, don’t put me on display.”  This line came to mind recently when I was thinking about how Christians are supposed to love each other.  Scripture says that the world will know we are Christians by our love for one another.  The world is supposed to see us and remark, “See how they love each other!”

The girl in the song is upset because her boyfriend uses her to put on a show.  He displays her as a trophy.  His public affection for her is designed to make him look good to others.  What others see is not real but a display.  It is an illusion.  Contrast this scenario with couples that genuinely and obviously love each other.  Their concern is for each other, not for how others perceive them.  They are in love.  They are friends.  They treat each other with respect and kindness even when they disagree or feel angry.  Upon observing such couples, one naturally notices their deep love.  Many will remark, “I wish I had that.”  Those around them notice the love, not because the couples tried to be noticed, but because the love between them is real and desireable.

Christians don’t need phony displays of affection towards each other.  We don’t need the “kiss of peace” in public and the “kiss of betrayal” when backs are turned.  We don’t need a false ecumenism.  Don’t pretend to love each other because it looks good to others.  Don’t pretend to love others so people will think you are a great Christian.  Really love each other even in the midst of disagreements.  Really love each other and it will automatically have an appeal to the world because the world is thirsting for genuine love.  The world has a void that only the love of God can fill.  Christians are called to demonstrate that love.  Don’t put your Christian sisters and brothers on display.  Love them, even when it hurts.  Seek unity.  Where there is division, there is sin.  Where there is sin, there is disobedience to the faith and to the love of Christ.

“If You Love Me”…A Knight’s Tale

One of my favorite movies is A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger.  There is a part of the story where the knight’s love interest asks him to prove his love for her by intentionally losing the jousting tournament, a tournament he desperately wants to win.  He begrudgingly acquiesces to her request.  Just as he is about to lose the tournament she changes her request and demands that he win to prove his love, which he does.  When the knight’s sidekick remarks on the things one does for love the knight says, “Yes, but now I hate her!”

Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  I used to think of his words as being like the knight’s love interest.  In other words, I had to make a concerted effort through my behaviors to “prove” to Jesus and to everyone else that I love him, in some cases, begrudgingly.  It is true that love is an act of the will that is not always “easy.”  Yet, if loving Christ results in a begrudging attitude, something is amiss.  Resentment and love don’t go well together.  For example, Jesus tells us to love our enemies.  He does not mean that we approach our enemies like school children being forced to begrudgingly apologize to each other after a fight on the playground.  He means love them the way he loves them, as souls that he died for.

Eventually, I learned to hear the words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” in a different way.  At first, it was, “You will do certain things and say certain things to demonstrate that your love for me is genuine.”  Now I hear the words of Jesus saying to me, “A genuine love for me will transform you into a new creature that naturally desires to keep my commandments.”  An analogy might be, “If you are a woodpecker, you will peck wood.”  “If you are a fish, you will swim in and breathe water.”  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” because doing so will be a natural result of who you have become.

Christians do not always love Jesus.  That is what sin is all about.  Concupiscence is that part of us that does not completely go away with the new birth.  It is the tendency to revert back to our non-transformed state of being and refuse to keep Christ’s commandments.  That’s what sin is.  It is non-love for Christ, others and self.  But, when we love Christ, we are not sinning, we are keeping his commandments.  Repentance and conversion do not happen in one moment.  They happen over a lifetime and only reach completeness when we are in Heaven with God who is love.  We need the Sacraments to sustain us and restore us.  We need the Holy Scriptures and the teaching authority of the Church to guide us by the Holy Spirit.

Hearing the words of Christ in a new way refreshed my Christian walk.  It helped me to focus less on my performance (a self-centered perspective) and more on loving Jesus (a Christ-centered and other-centered perspective).  I’m far from perfect at it, but I’m grateful for the new perspective.  I want to love Christ and to be naturally and continually transformed by him.  That’s what makes following his commandments an “easy yoke” and a “light burden.”

Want A Happy Marriage? Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!

For the most part, people get married these days because they believe it will make them happy, and that’s ok.  Marriage is supposed to be a joyful relationship.  But, a lot of folks discount a very important piece of marriage that makes it a joyful experience.  They underestimate, or completely ignore, the formative aspect of marriage.  That is, they expect to settle into a relationship where they are loved and coddled and not expected to make any changes.  Growth cannot take place without change.  Change is not always easy or fun.  People generally want their marriages to be fun and easy, not challenging or something to work at.

When working with couples, I sometimes use a vegetable garden analogy.  I ask the couple to imagine that they decided to start a big vegetable garden in order to enjoy fresh veggies that they both like.  The garden will be of a size that requires the work of two people.  Then I have them list all the things that would be required to keep the garden healthy.  They will need to provide water, sunlight, and fertilizer.  The ground must be tilled (hoe, hoe, hoe!).  Weeds, insects and animals will need to be kept at bay.  The vegetables will need to be harvested, cleaned and prepared before being enjoyed.  In other words, it takes a lot of consistent work to reap the benefits that are so pleasurable.  One person cannot do it alone without part of the garden withering.  Want a great garden?  Expect lots of work from both of you!

So, marriage takes work.  We hear that often, but neglect to embrace it.  We don’t want to work, we want to be loved and coddled.  This is where the formative part comes in.  Work builds character.  Individuals with character have a better chance of a happy marriage.  There are lots of unhappy marriages because people lack character.  They want to eat the vegetables, but they don’t want to work in the garden.  They have not discovered their innate love of work and character-building.  Humans are not naturally opposed to work when it yields a reasonable reward.  Work is a healthy, fulfilling aspect of personhood.

We do not usually hear someone say, “I can’t wait to get married so that I can learn to love the work involved and build my character!”  No, people want the romance and the sex, but not the work.  They want the unconditional love, but they don’t want to love unconditionally.  They want their spouses to sacrifice for them, but they don’t want to live sacrificially.  They want respect, but they aren’t respectful.  They look at marriage with a “what’s-in-it-for-me” attitude instead of asking, “What’s best for this marriage God has given us?”  They scrutinize or covet other marriages instead of working in their own “garden.”

To “grow old together” implies that some growth will take place.  Growth means change and change can be difficult.  “For better or for worse” is not just a romantic notion.  It means that you are choosing to enter a relationship that may challenge you in ways you never could have imagined.  These challenges may be emotional, spiritual or physical.  You will need to mature and grow as an individual.  You will need to be accountable to your spouse and hold your spouse accountable when it comes to nurturing the marriage.  You will need to bend your will to God, the institutor of marriage (as in Ephesians chapter 5).  You will need to forgive and ask for forgiveness.  You must swallow your pride and seek genuine, godly humility without degrading yourself.  You must not try to thwart God’s total design for marriage, including the procreative aspect.

The better you become as a person, the better your marriage will be.  Focus on the changes you need to make, not things your partner needs to improve.  God is the potter, and we are the clay.  Let it be!  God will surely use your spouse to mold you.  Some of it will be fun, and some of it might be grueling.  All of it will find an ultimate reward in this life or the next.  Marriage is a vocation.  The goal is for spouses to help each other and their children on the road to sainthood.  Faith, hope and love; the greatest is love (a godly, sacrificial charity), and that is where true happiness abides, for God is love.

Captain Jack Sparrow’s Compass

When training to be a pilot, I was taught that there is more than one navigational “north.”  Magnetic north is oriented to the magnetic field of the earth.  True north is oriented to the pole on which the earth rotates.  Magnetic north and true north do not line up with each other.  The closer one navigates to the North Pole, the more “off” the magnetic compass will be.  In other words, if you want to get to the North Pole, don’t follow your compass unless you have taken into account the difference between magnetic north and true north.  One must also consider other forces that can influence the accuracy of a magnetic compass such as metallic structures of the aircraft and other electronic equipment.

The ability to distinguish right from wrong is often referred to as a moral compass.  A person with an accurate moral compass is better able to navigate through a world of complex moral decisions.  A moral compass might be likened to one’s conscience.  To follow one’s conscience, then, is to follow one’s moral compass.  Like a magnetic compass, a moral compass can lead in the wrong direction if not properly calibrated.  As there is only one true north based on an unmovable, fixed axis, there is only one true, fixed morality.  The accuracy of a moral compass can be influenced by many factors.  To “follow your conscience” may or may not lead to a truly moral decision.

Has your moral compass been calibrated?  To what fix was it calibrated?  Who calibrated it?  What is it really pointing to?  The moral compass of human nature tends to be like the compass of Captain Jack Sparrow.  It points to what is most desired.  Morality becomes rationalized and subject to desires rather than to truth.  Society is relativistic.  In a world where “all things are relative” a moral compass becomes obsolete since there is no moral “North Pole.”  There is no standard, unmovable, absolute truth in a relativistic society.  There is no point on the map, no North Star, no fixed morality upon which to get one’s bearings.  Anything goes.  Go wherever you want to go, do whatever you want to do, and please, don’t judge the behaviors of anyone else.  They are all just following their own compasses, after all.  Who are you to judge?  Don’t be a hater!

The only quasi-standard that seems to remain is the mantra, “As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.”  This view presumes to know the future consequences of every action.  Furthermore, there are some moral actions that do hurt people.  Whether or not “someone gets hurt” is a flimsy point on which to fix an entire system of morality.  It is really just another gimmick in the rationalization bag of tricks.  “Well, I guess it is fine for me to do this as long as no one gets hurt.”  This is the response many parents receive from a disobedient adolescent caught throwing a wild, destructive party.  “What’s the big deal?  No one got hurt!”

A properly calibrated moral compass can also be called a rightly formed conscience.  There are many influences competing for the formation of conscience such as Hollywood, the music industry, politics, religion, feminism, communism, socialism, hedonism, capitalism, conservatism, liberalism, conservationism, etc.  Where is the moral “North Pole?”

Many will respond, “The Bible is the standard of morality!”  Yet, people interpret the Bible in many different ways, usually to support their own desires, beliefs and agendas (hence, the problem of “Sola Scriptura” or “The Bible Alone” as a standard of authority).  Whose interpretation of the Bible is the standard?  Furthermore, how many people actually check their behavior against the standard of the Bible?  When faced with a moral issue, how many people even know where to look in a Bible for the answer?  Ultimately, people tend to lean on what their particular church or pastor teaches about the Bible rather than the Bible itself.  In other words, they are not using the Bible as the standard for morality, but a particular interpretation of the Bible as the moral standard.

Some say, “Just follow Jesus!  Do what Jesus would do!”  Again, as with Scripture interpretation, there are differing opinions on who Jesus is and what Jesus would do.

Some may say, “Love!  Love is the standard for morality!  All you need is love!”  But, what kind of love are they talking about?  Is morality based on brotherly love (philia), erotic love (eros) or godly, selfless love (agape)?  Seldom are those who cry, “Love!” willing to pay the sacrificial price required for a true expression of godly love when it comes to making moral decisions.  Often, doing that which is moral requires great personal sacrifice.  If one’s moral compass is calibrated so as to navigate around and avoid great, personal sacrifice, then it is not calibrated according to love.

There are teachings of Catholicism that I find difficult to accept.  Yet, my difficulty in accepting them does not make them untrue.  In fact, when placed against the wisdom of 2000 years of global experience, my own life experience pales by comparison.  Even the short, collective experience of the great nation I live in pales by comparison.  The Catholic Church and her teachings have outlived every empire.  As the world ebbs and flows and shifts on shaky sand, the Church remains rock solid in her official teachings on morality.

When choosing a fix by which to calibrate a moral compass, the Catholic Church has the right stuff.  The Church has the biblical interpretation and traditions handed down from the apostles.  Throughout history, the Church’s teachings on morality have reflected and demonstrated sacrificial, agape love (even if some of her members have not).  Jesus is in the Church spiritually and physically.  By following the Church I am following Jesus.  God is love.  Jesus is God.  The Church is the Body of Christ, authorized by Christ himself.  Who am I to set my moral compass to any other point of reference?  Who am I to relocate the North Pole?

Can You Give And Accept An Apology?

One thing that often comes up when counseling couples is the issue of apologies.  I often ask spouses, “Do you apologize to each other,” or  “What is it like for you to apologize?”  A follow-up question is, “Are you able to accept apologies?”

A sincere apology requires humility because pride must be swallowed.  Some people have such an aversion to being wrong that it obstructs their empathy towards others.  They assume a defensive stance as they think only of self.  It’s hard to embrace someone through a suit of armor or a castle wall.  Apologies require vulnerability.  The armor must come off.  Knights wear armor for fear of swords and arrows.  When the armor comes off, vulnerability increases and so does the fear.  Apologizing can be difficult because one must drop the defenses.

Some folks apologize incessantly.  This is usually a sign of an insecure, passive type of person and/or an abusive relationship, not a healthy relationship.  There’s no reason for a genuine apology unless there has been a genuine offense.

Accepting an apology is another matter.  It’s even harder to drop the defenses and apologize to someone who can’t accept an apology graciously.  Some people use the apologies of others as opportunities to “twist the knife,” as in, “Darn right you shouldn’t have done that, you big jerk!”  A sincere apology is a gift.  The proper response to a sincere apology is, “Thank you, I accept your apology.”  The acceptance should then be followed up with genuine forgiveness.  One who holds a grudge, pouts or gives “the silent treatment” has not really accepted the apology.

I saw a quote once that said, “Marriage is an adventure in forgiveness.”  Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive someone seven times.  Jesus told him, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:22)  Of course, the point is not to forgive a person 490 times and then quit.  The point is to always be forgiving.  Forgiveness is not necessarily a onetime event.  Often we have to say, “Oh yeah, I forgave them for that yesterday, so I need to stick with it.”  Similarly, marriage is a choice we make every day, not just on our wedding day.

Forgiveness is not the same as trust.  If someone whacks me with a stick when I walk past, I can forgive that person.  That doesn’t mean I have to trust that person to cease the stick-whacking.  “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  If the person displays sincere remorse and proper behavior over time, however, trust may be reestablished.  One forgives in order to avoid carrying around a cancerous grudge, not in order to “let the person off the hook” of responsibility.  I can forgive someone for stealing my car, but the car still needs to be returned and/or jail time must be served.  This, by the way, relates to the Catholic understanding of penance, indulgences, Purgatory and the temporal punishment for sin that remains even after we have been forgiven of our sins.  Of course, Christ forgives our sins.  We are still responsible to make amends wherever we can.  That’s the fruit of true repentance.  Scripture tells us to avoid the altar until we have made amends.

So, if a marriage is rocky, each spouse can benefit from asking, “What am I not forgiving my spouse for?” and “What am I not apologizing for?”  Making amends is a sign of true friendship, spiritual humility and a happy marriage.

Part 6: Grant Me The Grace To Desire It

The last section of The Litany of Humility takes the desires from the first section and shows that it is not enough to be delivered from them.  Once we are delivered from a self centered desire we could easily slip into a state of self satisfaction and miss the point.  We are delivered for a reason beyond seeking our own comfort.  We are delivered for service to others.

A true servant places a priority on the needs of those being served.  We all have experienced good and bad service at a restaurant or some other establishment.  Some servers put their hearts into it and leave their customers feeling well cared for.  Other servers just go through the motions to get a paycheck.  They really don’t care about customers.  Christians are called to service to God and to others.  Are we placing God and others in a place of priority?  Or, are we placing priority on making sure we are comfortable?  Godly humility seeks to be delivered from certain desires and fears in order that we may set self aside and prioritize others.

For example, “Lord Jesus, deliver me from the desire to be esteemed and the fear of being forgotten so that others may be esteemed more than I.”  All three parts go together.  The humility is a prerequisite for Christian service.  None of this can be accomplished apart from God’s empowering grace.  Therefore, the litany includes, “Grant me the grace to desire it.”  We won’t even want to seek humility without the prompting of God’s grace.  We must pray for the desire to even begin to seek true humility because it isn’t natural.  True humility is spiritual.

Part 5: The Fears

A recurring theme in Scripture is, “Be not afraid” or “Fear not.”  Yet, fear is often a powerful driving force in our lives.  Fear can often be traced to one or more of the desires the Litany of Humility asks deliverance from.  If any given desire does not have dominion over us, the fear of not meeting that desire will fade as well.

For example, consider my own experience mentioned earlier of being picked last to be on a team.  When my desire of being preferred was not satisfied, I felt humiliated.  The fear of humiliation and the desire of being preferred dovetail together.  If I am delivered of the desire, I am delivered of the fear and vice versa.  If I have no fear of being humiliated, I won’t have the desire of being one of the early picks for the team.  If I’m unconcerned about when I am chosen, I’ll have no fear of any humiliation by being picked last.

The fears mentioned in the litany, like the desires, place a focus on self interest.  Self preservation is human nature.  What the prayer seeks is a spirituality that transcends the natural human tendencies.  We are not simply animals motivated by natural drives and instincts.  We are both material and spiritual, a trait not shared by the animals (material beings) or the angels (spiritual beings).  We are created to bridge the gap between the natural and the spiritual (and will continue as such in the resurrection).  We are unique.  Therefore, it is not asking too much of us to seek a spiritual holiness that transcends mere natural drive and instinct.  In other words, we are designed to confront our natural fears with spiritual solutions.  This also means we can seek and find the ability to regard others over and above self rather than life being “all about me.”

Rather than address each fear in the prayer one-by-one, suffice it to say that fear is an obstacle to humility.  Fear prevents us from truly knowing God and placing complete trust in Christ.  Some fear is good and healthy, like the kind of fear that prevents one from stepping in front of a moving bus.  However, much of our fear gets in the way of knowing God and knowing each other as God would have us.  Our fear prevents true humility and godly love.

So, what fears are keeping me from true humility?  Deliver me from the fears, Jesus.  You who intimately knows both our material and our spiritual being, deliver us.

Part 4: The Desire To Be Preferred, Consulted and Approved

Pick me!  Pick me!  Don’t pick them!  Don’t pick them!  The desire of being preferred means that others must be passed over to make room for me, and I’m happy about it.  It is the competitive streak of the sore loser.  It manifests itself in poor sportsmanship and arrogance.  It is quite possible, however, for an accomplished athlete to be competitively successful while simultaneously exhibiting humility.  Pride and arrogance must not be confused with confidence.

There have been times in my life when being picked last to be on a team was disappointing and humiliating.  But it was the wrong kind of humility I was experiencing.  I was experiencing a self-defilement of sorts, feeling sorry for myself and placing my worth in the hands of other people rather than in God’s hands.  In other words, being picked last hurt my pride, and I thought I needed that pride to be worth something.  Additionally, focusing on my wounded pride caused my performance in the game to suffer.  It was a kind of self fulfilling prophecy.  But even if I wasn’t at all skilled in that game it had nothing to do with my worth in God’s eyes.

The desire to be consulted is another challenge.  I’m a therapist.  I’m supposed to want people to come to me for consultation.  I’m supposed to be good at what I do and take pride in my work.  So, why get rid of my desire to be consulted?  I think it has more to do with wanting to be a know-it-all.  No one knows everything.  Even consultants need to consult with others for information and continuing education.  I may have lots of answers, but only God has all the answers.  An unhealthy desire to be consulted makes it hard to say, “I don’t know.”  The person who knows it all has nothing to learn, and that can be very dangerous.

The desire to be approved is another attempt at stroking the ego.  Like the other pitfalls in the prayer, approval can be just another way of focusing on self at the expense of others.  There have been occasions when people approved of me just to be manipulative.  “Buttering people up” is a great way to influence them.  Be wary of people’s approval.  Sometimes they just want something from you.  The desire for approval can backfire very quickly.  It can also become addictive.  Know that you are loved by God regardless of other people’s approval.  There will always be people that disapprove of you.  God may disapprove of some of our actions, but God never disapproves of us.  God is our biggest cheerleader.

From the desire to be preferred, consulted or approved, deliver me, Jesus!

Part 2: The Desire of Being Loved

Don’t we all desire to be loved?  Love is a good thing, right?  Why would anyone want to be delivered from this desire?  The prayer is not asking for deliverance from love, but from an unhealthy desire to be loved.  People do all sorts of destructive things to themselves and to others in an attempt to be loved.  I can recall times from my own life where this desire got me into big trouble, including choosing the wrong people to attach to and doing bad things in order to feel their so-called love.

There is nothing wrong with loving and being loved by others.  The problem is that sometimes we use other human beings to try and fill a void that can only be satisfied by complete trust in God.  Also, the desire to be loved can supersede the desire to love.  In other words, it becomes all about me.  I see this frequently in my clients when their relationships revolve around the question, “What’s in this marriage for me?”  I also see it in church goers when the emphasis becomes, “Jesus is mine!” or, “What can God do for me?”

Even the desire to be loved by God can become an idol.   God doesn’t want us sitting around soaking up his love.  We are called to take that love and spread it around to others, not hoard it for ourselves.  The goal of a Christian is not to search around looking for a church where we feel the most loved and accepted.  The goal is to love as Christ loves.  Look at the cross.  Jesus empties himself when he loves.  Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow me,” not “Go find the softest pew and most accepting congregation.”  Giving love is the goal.  A desire to be loved gets in the way of giving love.  Imagine Jesus throwing down his cross and saying, “Forget this, you people are too mean and you’re not loving me.  I’m out of here!”

From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus, so that I may love as you love.  This is not easy.  I need your grace.

Dealing With Anger: Water or Gasoline?

The issue of anger comes up frequently in my practice.  Whether it is a low grade irritability, prolonged resentment or full blown rage, it shows up in many relationships.  In dealing with anger it may be helpful to make a distinction between two different kinds of anger, good and bad.

Good anger is sometimes called “righteous indignation.”  Essentially, it is anger that is directed at an injustice.  It is a constructive anger because it seeks the good of another.  It can be used to improve the lives of people.  Suppose you saw a starving child and the sight angered you.  You know in your heart that children should be cared for and nurtured, not starved.  Your anger would be directed at the injustice.  Hopefully, you would be motivated to assist starving children in some way.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving is another example of good anger being used as a positive force.

Bad anger is basically a temper tantrum.  The self is usually the focus of bad anger.  This type of anger is not constructive.  It tends to promote the destruction of relationships, people and property.  People of all ages have temper tantrums of varying degrees.

Anger is often thought of as an emotion that “just happens.”  What is often overlooked is that anger is largely a choice we make.  It is really a secondary reaction to a primary emotion such as frustration, embarrassment, guilt, disappointment, etc.  When people do not deal with the primary emotion effectively, anger is the next recourse.

The primary emotions of anger can be placed into two main categories: feelings of being emotionally hurt and feelings of being put in danger.  The “fight or flight” reflex kicks in and people respond either by wanting to distance themselves (flight) or by wanting to lash out physically or verbally (fight).  However, once the anger begins to show up, we then have to make a choice.  This is when we decide either to pour water or gasoline on the flames.  Many folks don’t realize they have a choice at this point.  They just let the feeling take them for a ride rather than managing the feeling.  They claim they were “made angry” rather than admitting they chose their own reactions.

Road rage is an example of unmanaged emotions.  Being cut off by another driver may trigger feelings of being emotionally hurt (“How rude!  Can’t he see I’m in this lane?”).  It may frighten you and trigger fears that you are in danger (“I could have wrecked the car!”).  In any case, those primary feelings may lead to the next step of anger.  Then you make a choice: take a few deep breaths and let it roll off your back (water), or tailgate the other driver to get back at him (gasoline).

In relationships the same principle applies.  We need to take ownership of our own emotions and manage them.  Otherwise, we end up blaming others for our bad behavior while relinquishing our own power of self-control.

Watch this video and notice which person has control of his own anger and which person lets his anger take him for a ride.