That time I learned a positive life lesson from counselling
Memories are important to helping me understand what Gods Kingdom will be like.
So if you’ve been to a number of weddings in your life, chances are that if a Bible quote is used, you will have heard someone use 1 Corinthians 13. I don’t know if Paul realised that his words would become synonymous with fancy suits and dresses, speeches full of corny jokes or drunk-dancing to ‘Come On Eileen’, but thems the brakes. And why not? They’re good words that tell us a lot about what love should be like in an ideal relationship (I am using relationships in a general sense, not specifically romantic ones). I may end up writing a little bit about each one for the blog, I may not; but today I’ll focus on one specific section in verse 5: ‘it is never self-seeking’.
Too Hot to Handle
As much as we all pretend to be high cultured, i’m sure all of us enjoy a bit of trash tv. I am not immune; one of my favourite YouTube binges is Kitchen Nightmares. I love trash TV as a social experience too; shows like Love Island and Naked Attraction are hilarious car crashes of TV that make you wonder how this ever got made and why people would agree to go on them!
Lockdown is leading some of us down strange roads, and it lead me to Netflix’ new show Too Hot to Handle. The premise of the show is a typical dating show set up; put a bunch of single people in a tropical resort and see what happens. The twist to this show is that in order to win $100,000, they must all collectively abstain from sex, sexual touching and even kissing! If any of these rules are broken, the group as a collective is fined (a single kiss costs $3,000). This sets up the shows objective – to teach these people how to have more meaningful relationships by removing the physical aspects.
The show is equally frustrating and hilarious as all of these shows tend to be. One of the frustrating things is how some of the group treat the prize money as something to be spent rather than kept. The phrase ‘its only money’ is repeated over and over again by these people, which is fine when thinking about dropping £5 by accident, but not when talking about $100,000! What kiss is worth three grand?! That’s a life-changing amount of money! If I’d have been there it would have rapidly devolved into a hostage situation with me holding the contestants at gunpoint to run out the clock! However, it does lead to the hilarity that ensues as all of these people are just useless at keeping it in their pants! Six grand is spent within the first twenty-four hours, and half of that was out of spite! This is even more hilarious as Lana, a sort of Alexa pod that communicates to the group, will often read out the rules broken in excruciating detail!
Now you might be wondering “David, what is the point of all this?!”. Well young grasshopper, lets discuss!
The show’s objective, aside from forcing people to blue-ball themselves for our enjoyment, is one of personal growth. The people who are selected are people who have a lot of casual sex, but never get any further with relationships. Its intimacy at its most superficial; one based on money, appearance and the number of Instagram followers you have. The goal of the show is to help these people grow by allowing them to develop more intimate relationships based upon emotional connection, rather than banging. All of the young singles are stunted in some way, whether due to emotional trauma or just because they cannot do one thing; compromise!
The people on Too Hot to Handle are to a person bad at this fundamental concept. Its a shame we don’t find out more about their backstories because they might clue us in to their thinking in this way. But they are almost always unable to control their urges for the sake of the group, with some of the rule-breakers becoming outright hostile towards the rest of the group for being upset. A few individuals are incapable of seeing their actions as being hurtful, not just to the money, but to the cohesion and trust within the group and amongst couples. Or they don’t care that their actions may hurt others, because who cares as long as I get what I want right?
We’ve all seen or heard people like this. Someone who is unable to compromise on the littlest things and cant understand why people have a problem with that, because why should they delay their gratification for someone else? Its a fundamentally selfish thing to be, and that’s why Paul says that love isn’t self-seeking. You choose not your own gratification, but to put others needs before your own. I think this has been brought home to a large extent by people’s reactions to the lockdown around the world. We have all seen the videos of backyard BBQs, sunbathers in the park or even larger protests in cities across the United States; all people who think that their ‘freedoms’ should not be compromised because of a deadly pandemic. Its the ultimate f*** you to everyone else; why should your safety matter more than my ability to get a haircut?
Its Not a Dirty Word
All of us have things we want out of life. These are the things that if accomplished will make you feel fulfilled, such as dreams, goals, wants and needs. Ill refer to them collectively as your stuff. Your stuff will encompass a wide variety of different things, such as your dream job, place to live, the kind of partner you want, kids, you name it. Its part of our DNA to want things, so there’s nothing wrong with having goals in life.
And were you to go through life alone, then you would be free to pursue your goals to your hearts content (legality and ethics permitting). But no man is an island and you will have to travel along with a collection of people, such as your family, friends and romantic partner(s). All of them will also have stuff, some of which may coincide with yours, some of which might put them at odds with you. The question is, what are you going to do about it?
I think in a lot of ways our cultural time and place is setting us up to fail at this. we live in a highly individualistic society, where you have to pursue your own happiness to be happy and fulfilled in life. You can probably imagine the crappy Instagram life advice posts that say things like “follow your dreams” or “live for you”; I hate these things not only because they are normally posted by people who have a lot of advantages to pursue their dreams to start with, but they also promote the self over other people. My happiness is the supreme importance over everyone else, and anyone who disagrees is a hater!
Now, this is not to say that I think we should give up on all of our stuff. Being in relationships with people is all about the negotiation of our various needs. Sometimes, you should definitely not compromise on your goals! There are definitely situations where you need to have hard boundaries, and if people cross them, you mat need to cut them off! There are relationships not worth maintaining if this keeps happening! But a lot of the time, we have to discern which of our stuff we need to keep, and which we can discard.
All the people in Too Hot To Handle are trying to learn this valuable skill. The show’s goal is to help them find love, not just sex. For many of them, this means sacrificing some things they wish they’d rather keep, things like independence, or the ability to sleep with whoever you want. And some of them do develop some self-awareness, becoming better individuals through it. They stop holding others at emotional distance by sacrificing the things they want that they think make them happy.
In all our relationships we will need to compromise on some things. If you like scary movies, but your friend doesn’t, maybe you decide mot to watch scary movies with them. Or maybe instead of going out you stop to chat to someone who needs an arm around their shoulder. Or maybe you choose to change jobs so you can help support your partner while they study. Obviously this should work both ways, but you need to be willing to do it in order for things to work.
God made us because He wants a relationship with us. He gave us free will so that we wouldn’t be blind robots, but would freely choose to love Him. But we have abused that free will through our sin. we think we know better, or should chase our own desires first, not caring about how we abuse God or abuse each other.
So what did God do? He sent us His Son. Jesus’ whole ministry shows a love that is not self-seeking; he got down into the dirt with the lowest of the low, the people none of us would care to so much as look at, and chose to help them first. he preached sermons about not seeking glory, power or riches, but seeking honesty, compassion and patience. His parable of the prodigal son shows what God will be like for us, welcoming us back with open arms with feasting and joy despite the hurt we have caused him. And most importantly, Jesus died on the cross, Gods ultimate compromise, allowing His Son to take our place, defeating death.
As a Christian, I have chosen to compromise some of my goals for a life with Jesus. This hasn’t been anything major, but has made me reconsider what is actually important to me, and has allowed me to adjust my goals so that I have new ones. Currently, my number one goal is my church family, but I have to prepare myself for a day when God might choose for me to be somewhere different. I hope that doesn’t happen, but someday it might.
We all need to learn to compromise. Without this skill, we will eventually be left alone as no one will want to know us. Compromising on some of your goals allows you to build something greater; deeper and more meaningful relationships of all types with the wonderful people in your life.
This is something I am trying to be better at. I am trying to make sure that I don’t always just follow what suits me best, but to listen to my friends and loved ones, in order to build better friendships with them. And more importantly, build a better relationship with God.
As I have discussed in previous posts, being able to love often requires us to be able to remove the masks and clothing that keep people out. This can be very difficult to do, especially when we worry that others may not like us for who we truly are. It ultimately boils down to one thing, that revealing your secrets, especially the ones that paint us in a negative light, is to expose yourself to potential injury.
We are all familiar with the expression “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”. It’s taught to us as children in order to tell us that we shouldn’t worry what others say about us because the words cannot cause you pain.
What a load of crap!
We should all be aware of the damage words can do! Just look at the damage social media can do to someone, especially the young, when they cannot escape their tormentors. Words have a power sticks and stones do not have because they can cut right to the core of you as a person. Someone can zero in on an aspect of your personality or appearance and slowly destroy you.
This is where the armour comes in. Wearing armour protects you from these attacks, allowing you to continue functioning. It protects the core of your being from being damaged. This is something I learned to do at school because I am quite sensitive, so jibes at my person often hurt me quite badly. Or at least I had the appearance of not being able to care, because armour still has weaknesses.
Armour doesn’t just protect us from strangers though. Far more dangerous is the power the people we love have to hurt us. When we let people in, and they can see all of you, your foibles, flaws and damage, you are giving them access to ammunition that can hurt you really badly. When someone you love insults you, they have access to a far wider range of points to attack you for. It also hurts so much more because a level of trust has been broken in the attack; you let them in, and then they did this?! So putting on the armour prevents this kind of damage being inflicted because people never get close enough to access that kind of ammunition.
Rebuke and Weapons
“Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favour rather than one who has a flattering tongue.”
Proverbs 28:23 NIVUK
We often like to focus on all the nice things Jesus said and did. It’s easier that way. A cuddly Jesus with a warm, benevolent smile, perhaps a small child on his knee telling nice stories to an adoring crowd. And that part of Jesus is definitely real, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the whole story.
In Matthew 23, Jesus takes the Pharisees to task. The Pharisees were the religious elite, the establishment power. They were venerated because of their apparent holiness.
But Jesus saw through all of it. In Matthew 23, he describes them as “whitewashed tombs”! What an insult! It cuts right to the core of their hypocrisy! On the outside, they look completely clean, but on the inside is still a dead, decaying corpse.
This seems really harsh, and it is. But crucially, Jesus wasn’t saying these things to be mean or to try and hurt feelings. Jesus was rebuking out of love, wanting the Pharisees to change their ways and realise their faults.
The chink in the armour
Armour is useful but is also flawed. The more armour you put on, the more you can protect yourself, yes, but it also renders you unable to distinguish between personal attacks and genuine criticism. Imagine a medieval knights helmet, one that covers your whole face. I’ve no idea how they could fight anyone, you can barely see out of them! And that’s a problem because your perspective becomes blinkered. You cannot recognise when someone is criticising you from a place of love.
I was and still am really bad at this. As I said earlier, I am quite a sensitive person, so any attack causes my walls to go up and for me to go on the defensive. But this also means that I fail to tell the difference when someone is telling me something that I do actually need to work on. I get too locked in to a mindset of defence I cannot improve.
I have slowly been trying to work on this. The past year has taught me that this reflexive defensiveness is a serious flaw, one that prevents me from growing. A lot of the time, my friends aren’t saying things to hurt my feelings; they are merely being honest with me about things I need to work on. It’s hard to change an instinctual response, but I hope I can keep doing it.
Having friends willing to rebuke you to make you become a better person is a gift. Don’t squander it.
Life’s been stressful lately. When I think back to the past year or so, there have been very few periods in that year where I haven’t felt slightly panicked or … Continue reading Peace, Perfect Peace: Nottingham Walking Weekend