The Incarnation: Somebody Loved You

A good friend who wanted some advice asked me this week how I handled Dawn’s struggles with anxiety and depression.

Without hesitation, I offered a one word answer: love.

What I Meant by That

I didn’t mean that I feel romantic, warm-fuzzy feelings for Dawn (though, I have them a-plenty) that counter-balance whatever personal loss I might experience (which, I don’t at all) by having her in my life.

I meant that I handle her issues by actively loving her. I think of love primarily as a verb – an action, a decision, a commitment; not as a noun – a feeling, a state of being. Our culture typically defines love as the happy, warm-fuzzy feelings another person makes us feel, or worse, as the erotic passion another person makes us feel. (Have you noticed that no one is pretty, or elegant, or handsome, or cute anymore? Everyone is “hot”? But I digress…)

A better, more biblical understanding of love is this: love is committing oneself to act in a way that benefits someone else. Take, for example, the story of the Good Samaritan. The hero in that story was the hero because he actively loved someone else.

Love is committing oneself to act in a way that benefits someone else.

What Love Can Cost

Noun-love is self-centered; verb-love is other-centered. It is costly to the self, though it often comes with personal rewards, too.

I try to love Dawn this way. I want my life to be a series of actions intended to make her life fuller. I admit though, that in my case there is so much I admire and enjoy about Dawn that my commitment to love her (it’s a verb) makes any personal cost I might experience invisible to me. I never feel like I’m losing anything.  It’s easy to love her.

But what if she had less I could admire and enjoy about her? And, what if her “issues” were a thousand times worse? Would I still find it so easy to actively love her? Would I be as committed to her welfare?

All I can say is, I hope so. I’m only an average man. I have issues, too – pretty complicated, nasty, ugly ones, actually. As a result, I probably don’t have the capacity for great, great love. I would need to tap into Someone else’s supply.

What God Meant by That

And that brings me to why I’m writing today. My friend’s question reminded me how wonderful it is that God wasn’t content to feel a cosmic warm-fuzzy toward me. Instead, He loved me so as to benefit me, in spite of my issues, and He never gave the cost a second thought. The incarnation of His Son was an infinitely costly, supreme act of love toward an unremarkable me. That act of love will ultimately free me from my issues, and empower my own capacity to love Him and others.

God looked down on me and you, a mass of average people with nothing admirable to recommend us, and He verb-loved us anyway…

with the best He had to offer.

How has God’s verb-love made a difference in your life?


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The Trust Hormone: When Being Whole Puts You in Danger

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Ever hear of Williams syndrome? – Me neither, until a few months ago.

I was driving to work listening to an “All Things Considered” story on NPR. The narrator told the story of a little girl who has Williams syndrome, a condition in which a person’s brain indiscriminately produces too much of a hormone called oxytocin.

Her symptoms? – She trusts too much. She trusts everyone…anyone…always.

Let that sink in while you recall all the creepy people you’ve tried to steer your kids away from when they were little.

The Trust Hormone

Your brain generates oxytocin after you’ve had a positive encounter with another person. It creates feelings of trust, safety, friendship and affection. But her brain generates oxytocin more or less all the time. She will tell perfect strangers she loves them. She wants to hug them. She wants them to hold her. She’ll climb into their cars and buckle up. She loves people unconditionally, and she is a tragic scenario waiting to happen.

Her parents live an anxious life. They hope medical science can find a “fix” for her.

What’s really broken?

As I listened with sympathy for these parents, it occurred to me that maybe their little girl isn’t actually broken. Maybe she is a uniquely whole person. Maybe some part of her that is normally broken in others isn’t broken in her? What if she’s more “normal” than the rest of us? Maybe it’s not normal to distrust, to dislike, to dismiss.

But in a broken world, where the lust to exploit through sex or money or physical strength or social rank is the norm, this little girl will always be at risk.

How sad.

How sad that this un-average, uniquely whole person is uniquely at risk in our, dare I say, average world.

What’s happened to us?

Adam knows. Abel, the son of Adam, murdered by his brother Cain, knows. And most of all, Jesus, the Son of God knows. He knows but is not repulsed. He knows, and yet is so moved with compassion for our condition that He became a uniquely whole person, and placed himself uniquely at risk in our midst.

We grab at power to exploit others – we all do, even if in small, subtle ways we can easily rationalize – but He abandoned His power to rescue those who would kill Him.

Unconditional love

I hope science can “fix” this one little girl and others like her. But ultimately, the fix we all need can only come from the God who put himself at risk  – and arose to overcome it – to become our Savior.

At least, that’s where this average man’s trust will remain.

You can read the NPR story on the trust hormone here.

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Preparing for the Battle

Thankful for the respite

This spring I cycled out of what always feels like a very long depression. As the flowers blossomed and the trees unfurled their new leaves, I felt alive. The spring breeze would caress my hair and I would close my eyes, breath in deeply and just “feel”. Lon would catch me with my eyes closed and a smile on my face, ask me what I was doing and I would answer, “Just feeling. It feels so good to feel…good.”

Sharpening my sword

I embrace this time wholeheartedly and try to steward it well because I know it won’t last. I begin to “sharpen my sword”. That phrase comes from when Lon and I were dating. While I was living in Minnesota and he in Massachusetts, he wrote me a letter stating, “A soldier always sharpens his sword before going into battle.” This was referring to us as Christians staying in God’s Word and making it a part of us before the battles of life ensue. I’m taking a long, deep look at what feeds the depression in my life so I can begin applying God’s truth to it.

Using the sword on my heart

One particular area I needed to apply the truth to concerns a significant, personal  relationship (I need to be anonymous here). This person does not like the choices I have made for my life, which means I do not have this person’s approval. I crave that approval and allow the lack of it to shadow the joys in my life. But the Bible teaches me that through Christ I have my Heavenly Father’s unconditional approval and that is all I need. Zephaniah 3:17 says that He sings over me and rejoices over me. As I revel in this, my craving for that person’s approval (and my fear of their disapproval) diminishes and it no longer has the hold on me it once did. My heart is awed at how applying God’s truth to my life can so free me from an inappropriate need for approval.

How do you prepare for your spiritual battles?

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