Last summer, for a variety of reasons, was not fun for me. One was the intense stress of having to submit my Masters Dissertation at the end of August, but … Continue reading Being Thankful in 2020
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.
You’ve probably all been there: the tingling sensation down the back of your spine as all the hair stands on end; the way you catch your breath when they walk in the room; the way the smell of their perfume catches your nostrils and makes yous stomach flip; the feeling of rising heat as they look at you and perhaps even smile. Then, if you’re lucky, so many more experiences come after, like the first time you hold hands, the first date, the first kiss. The strange, dreamlike quality the world takes on when you’re with them, like you’re in a real-life Disney romance. The feeling like they are the only person in the world who could understand you, that you would do anything for them, and indeed that they are your everything.
You’ve also probably been there when you lie awake in bed, mind running top speed, unable to get the thought of them out of your head. The time at work or in the car or shop you suddenly felt like you were going to breakdown. The panic as you send that message, and the melancholy when no reply comes. The constant feeling of being on edge around them, like every movement of yours will be dissected for weaknesses and flaws. The elation and panic when they arrive and the crushing emptiness when they leave. The days sat in the corner of parties, numb to the fun you could be having with your friends, or the nights spent staring at nothing, waves of self-loathing crashing down on you.
If you’re here, you’re probably a love addict. Not like a sex addiction, but an addiction to romance, to needing someone to complete you. If this is true, then welcome friend, because if this is a war then I am a seasoned veteran. And I’m here to tell you whats wrong, and maybe how you can fix it.
Love in the modern world
If you’re like me, it’s likely that the importance of having a romantic partner has not escaped you. Love comes in all shapes and sizes, whether its friendships, family relationships or others, but so much of the emphasis now is on the supreme importance of having a partner. But not just having a partner, having the partner. The cultural idea of ‘the one’, that single person who you were destined to end up with has become a central part of romantic relationships. So much of the media we consume reinforces these ideas, that to be truly happy you have to be with someone. I love this stuff, from the music of Taylor Swift, to crying at a good rom-com (Sleepless in Seattle or the Holiday are personal faves). Its in-built almost, part of our cultural DNA to love these things.
I feel like growing up in a religious community adds an extra dimension to this, because of the importance placed upon marriage and its perceived value. From quite an early age, children brought up in religious circles are told about marriage; when you hit your teenage years, speakers feel the need to address certain feelings that young people have that can only be expressed once married. This in part contributes to a much lower average age for getting married in religious communities compared to outside those communities. But it goes beyond that sexual element. I can speak from first-hand experience just how excited people in church get when a new relationship begins and almost immediately gossip starts about marriage and children. Some of us engage in it jokingly, others not. And its not just cultural thing because some stuff does come from the bible. the idea that man and woman become one flesh once married implies that two people become whole once bonded together.
All of these things put love and finding it on a pedestal equivalent to God. This may not be the same for everyone, as others may choose to put money and success first, and not unfairly, people may see that as being kind of cold. Because love is fantastic! When you’re in love with someone you feel so amazing because you have somebody who loves you back, who you can share secrets with and who you bond yourself with closer than anyone else. However, I do think this poses a problem for some of us, including myself.
What Are Idols?
When Paul and the first Apostles began preaching the gospel, they were doing so in a world that believed in pantheons of gods. In Acts 17 Paul arrives in Athens, the cultural capital of the ancient world, he is greatly distressed at their worshipping of idols (17:16). The idols of the ancient world were personifications of concepts, an image put to an idea so that the people could pray to that god for help with a particular thing. If you were going on a sea voyage for example, you might pray to Poseidon to keep you safe. In the modern day, we do not worship at temples but we still ‘worship’ things. We are human, its instinctive to search for meaning, something to build our lives around, your focus so to speak. The one thing that if you got it, would make you complete and whole.
Now some of these are easier to spot. Money, wealth and status are the obvious ones in a world of gold leaf on food, million dollar hyper-cars and social media influencers. But the idols of others are always much easier to identify than your own, and as Jesus once said “…first, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brothers eye” (Matt 7:5). So this post is about mine, which is love.
Idolatry is dangerous. It’s dangerous because it takes things that are good or fine for us in small amounts and puts them at the centre of our lives, giving these things an unhealthy prominence. Its a toxic relationship because whatever it is become so all-consuming you end up believing that its the only thing that will make you happy and you will therefore do anything to achieve it. You lose all perspective on the thing you worship.
In the wilderness, the Israelites often complained to Moses that God wasn’t giving them enough of what they wanted. In one particular passage, the people are complaining that they only have manna (Heavenly bread sent overnight by God) to eat. So God tells them that he will send quail to the camp, but that You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, 20 but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever come up out of Egypt?” ’ (Numbers 11:19-20).
Eat until it comes out of your nostrils. how descriptive of idolatry is that? Wanting something so much, that you take so much of it to the point its actually bursting out of you and that you end up hating it. This can be us with a lot of things; some people become addicted to alcohol, tobacco, drugs or gambling, and they can get treatment for those. But you who worship at loves altar are also addicts of a sort, with love being the heroin that fills your veins.
How best to describe love worship? Perhaps the best example I can think of is when you have a really intense crush on someone. From personal experience, its usually on people who I do not know that well. That element of mystery is exciting, but it also allows you to fill in the gaps, building them into the perfect person for you, or our cultures idea of a soulmate. However, a crush is only based on your perception of that person, and not the actual person themselves; they are just as complicated and messy as you are, but you have made them into something they’re not.
In relationships, whether with family, friends or romantic partners, we have to be careful we don’t turn our into idols. We put so much expectation on them, make them so much of our daily focus, our reason for being that we lose sight of them and their needs. If you do this, it is inevitable they will collapse under the weight of your expectation. They become like the titan Atlas in Greek mythology, cursed to hold up the world upon his shoulders for eternity. No one could stand up to that burden. But we can place people under that weight if we don’t force ourselves to keep them in perspective. This leads to breakdowns in relationships as you destroy those around you, not out of malice, but out of a desire to make them the centre of your world. It may also lead people to stay in toxic or even abusive relationships when they should really leave, because they have been lead to believe that they have no value outside of the relationship they are trapped in and would not be wanted by anyone else.
And when relationships end? Those who have a healthy perspective on their relationships will be sad, and be hurting, but will ultimately be able to move on. But if the person you loved was at the centre, your reason for being alive? their absence can rip a hole in your life so vast you’re unsure whether it can be filled again. You could become so depressed you can’t leave your house, or so angry you end up seeking to hurt the other person, just to give them an idea of how much they’ve hurt you. Either way, these are not healthy ways to live.
So whats to be done? How do we move on from this? Well, I can speak from personal experience.
For the longest time, I really wanted to find love. I used to think about it all the time, hoping that one day I would find someone, the one person I’d want to spend my life with. Throughout my teen years and early twenties, I had many different crushes, but never acted on them really. I found it too intimidating! I thought that whichever girl it was was so great and I was so unworthy that they’d never talk to me. I was so worried about their approval, rejection would have been too soul-destroying. Looking back now, I realise that I always went for the wrong type of person as well. If a relationship had begun, it would have ended because we would have been too incompatible for it to have worked.
I’ve come to realise that I was just not capable of relationships in that time. My priorities would have been all skewed and I would not have been able to have a functional relationship with an actual person, just the god I made them into. To some extent, I think that still may be true. But I am working to change myself with help, to try and make this less central to my life. I need to be happy with just me first.
But, with all of these idols, there are put at the centre in place of something else. We all seek a meaning and focus, but we have chosen to replace God with something else, and that definitely includes people like me who put love at the centre. God can take the weight of that burden of love from us, that weight of expectation, where our loved ones would be crushed by it. We are told in Luke 12 to 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Whilst this refers to money and gold, it could easily be applied to love. All relationships end, either through breakups or death, and the love in them could have withered away long before then. But God’s love is so vast and everlasting, you will never lose it once you have it. All you need to do is accept it.
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. – Matthew 22:36-38