This past week through multiple interactions with people, reading different articles and posts, and listening to a few different podcasts, this one thought has permeated through my feelings: “We need to stop fixing other people and start truly loving them.”
For those who know my story, its a journey of coming alongside families and youth who have experienced some sort of trauma, loss or neglect. This includes our own journey as a family, with losing parents, 4 major moves and dealing with our own brokenness (conflict, stressors, sin, etc.) as a couple and as a family.
In a post I wrote a few years ago called, “The Beautiful Messiness of the Gospel,” I shared my understanding of the Gospel (which is important to this post):
You see, If the Gospel isn’t radically changing me, is it truly the Gospel? If I have good news to share and I am unwilling to share it, does it mean I never received it? If I cannot do what Christ did: leave his home and comfort and to take on the grief and sin of this world, to bind the wounds of the broken, provide a voice to those who are marginalized, to love my enemy, has the Gospel truly changed me? These are hard questions for me to not only ask myself but to ask God. But I have to ask them. And not only should I ask these questions but I have to find ways through my actions and words to share with others that the Gospel is the only answer to the fear, doubts and hate we see in our world today.
This perspective of His work in and through my life and my own brokenness is important context for what I want to share next.
A Sense of Belonging
In his book, “What Happened To You?” Dr. Bruce Perry shares,
“Love, given and felt, is dependent upon the ability to be present, attentive, attuned and responsive to another human being. The glue of humanity has been essential to the survival of our species-and to the health and happiness of the individual…It is in the small moments, when we feel the other person fully present, fully engaged, connected and accepting, that we make the most powerful and enduring bonds.”“What Happened To You” (page 81-82)
We see this so clearly in 1 Corinthians 13…:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”1 Corinthians 13:5-8
We use the word “community” a lot in Christian circles. We talk of its importance and the benefit of being in Christian community to help grow faith. I think this is especially true coming out of a pandemic but I wonder if we truly know the purpose and significance of community. Typically when we speak about community we do it through the lens of programing and activities (small groups/life groups, Bible studies, men’s and/or women’s groups, etc.), but that isn’t really getting to the essence of community.
If I asked you for words to describe the benefits of community, we might use words like; authenticity, trusting, safe, united, a sense of belonging, etc.
Unfortunately for many people this never becomes their experience in many of the programming mentioned above. Programs in and of themselves cannot produce the kind of faith many of these programs hope to achieve. Programming cannot replace relationships. For these initiatives to work we actually need to have a deeper understanding of what it means to produce healthier people and interactions. We need to have a fuller and deeper understanding of how faith is transmitted and strengthened.
Let’s Stop Fixing Each Other
One thing I often see, especially in men, is our desire to fix things.
I know I struggle with this at times, especially with my wife and kids, to always having an answer or response. We do this a lot in churches. We throw a Scripture verse at someone or use some Christian cliché.
I had hoped that a lifetime of coming alongside other people would help me be more empathetic and a better listener, but I always have work to do in this area. I do like to think that some of my greatest growth over the past few years is to give up trying to constantly managing others perceptions of me and just being fully present in the lives of other people.
What does it mean to be fully present:
To listen. To empathize. To not only ask good questions but the right ones (Jesus was amazing at this). If correction is needed, to do it with gentleness and grace. If you speak truth…do it in love.
I am struck by the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2. Despite much opposition from the locals Paul shares his intentions:
“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children[a] among you” and then he shares an incredible image, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”1 Thessalonians 2: 6-12
“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children…” Paul is describing the bond of attachment a mother provides for her children that goes beyond just the physical benefits of nursing, but the emotional and relational attachments that are also forged and the benefits such as lower stress, increased calmness, a feeling of safety, etc.
Research has shown in multiple studies, such as The Mills Longitudinal Study and the Harvard Study of Adult Development, that people who feel connected to others is critical to healthier outcomes. These relational pictures of mom and dad that Paul is writing to describe his relationship with the Thessalonians as one of safety, healthy, nurturing, loving and caring. You don’t see judging, fixing, shaming, condemning. You see gentleness. You see in verse ll and 12, “as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging to live lives worthy of God…”
We do not necessarily achieve connection by always trying to fix each other.
So…the next time we feel like we need to fix someone… we need to stop and listen. Identify with their humanity as an image bearer of God. Be fully present. Care for them. Love them…yes, even our enemies. Ask clarifying questions. Be safe for them. If we must disagree or correct…do it with a spirit of gentleness and care for them. We need to care for them as much as we care for the truth…because what we see in Christ and in research…healthy relationships and connections are the key to healing and restoration.