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Category: Loving

Have You Ever Felt Empty and Disconnected?

Have You Ever Felt Empty and Disconnected?

Have you ever been in one of those funks where you just feel empty?  You feel so empty inside that you don’t really feel anything at all?  You’re numb and disconnected. Very recently, I had been in one of those ruts for several weeks and, try as I might, I just couldn’t get out.  I had no desire to do good or get outside of myself.  I had nothing in the tank.  The thought of getting out and visiting someone to cheer them up or making food for someone–my usual means of de-funking my life and getting out of that rut–overwhelmed me.  The very thought of it was exhausting.  I had nothing.  I was stuck.  The only thing I could do was to pray and ask God for help.  I asked God to help me find a way out.

I had no desire to do good or get outside of myself.  I had nothing in the tank.

After several more days of this empty disconnectedness, I decided to take my 12-year-old daughter, Sophie, for a drive up the canyon to scout out my favorite fishing holes to see if the violence of winter, followed by the aggressive spring runoff, had damaged my favorite spots.  As we were driving, we noticed a young couple–two teenagers–stopped on the side of the road.  I drove right past them.  Then that “something” inside of me–that voice that whispers to  your soul–told me to turn around and go see if that young couple needed help.  They did.

I jacked up their car, removed the blown tire, and replaced it with the spare.

Turns out a jagged rock in the road had blown their tire and they had no clue as to how to remove it and replace it with the spare tire in their trunk.  They didn’t know how to use the tire jack.  They didn’t know how to remove the lug nuts.  So I jacked up their car, removed the blown tire, and replaced it with the spare.  They happily went on their way.  And I happily went on my way, as well.  But I wasn’t empty any more.  I was filled with love.

Helping this young couple reminded me of one of the teachings in my book, Built to Love:  “Yes, God’s love feels fleeting at times.  But I think this is because we were created as conduits, not reservoirs, of God’s love.  The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way we can keep God’s love is by giving it away. It seems that if you want to feel God’s love, you have to share it.”

We were created as conduits, not reservoirs, of God’s love.

Serving this young couple in this very small way made me feel connected to God once again, which was a good thing because I was scheduled to speak to a youth group at a local university the very next day.  I was terrified of speaking to them about becoming built to love when I was overwhelmed with disconnectedness and felt no love inside of me at all. Fortunately, God heard my little prayer and put someone in my path to help me break the cycle.

When we perform acts of love and service we invoke the presence of God, for God IS love.  “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.  (1 John 4:16.)   Where love is, there God is also.  So if you long for God’s presence, then stop thinking of yourself, stop brooding, and put yourself in the presence of others.  Choose to love them and you will soon find yourself happy and in the presence of God.  In the immortal words of Jean Val Jean from the beloved Les Miserables, to love another person is to see the face of God.

I am reminded, once again, of my “Proxy Triangle”:

Since Jesus taught “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … ye have done it unto me,” others stand as proxies for Him.  That means there is a triangular relationship between me, God and others–an at-one-ment that brings us together through love and compassion.  One of my favorite authors and teachers, Richard Rohr, recently explained it this way:

The Spirit of God, poured into our hearts as love (Romans 5:5), gathers us together in the body of Christ, transforming us so that “we become by grace what God is by nature,” namely, persons in full communion with God and with every creature.

It’s a beautiful thing to feel connected again.  I know that darkness will return one day.  I know that I will find myself lost in a cave of emptiness once more.  This is because I am mortal, weak and still learning.  This oneness or at-one-ment with everyone and everything waxes and wanes.  But, through pursuing a path of discipleship, I am learning how to cope better.  I am learning how to live.

As I look back on it, the things that caused the darkness to settle in were rather mundane and routine.  I had spent too much time at work.  I hadn’t been getting enough sleep.  This rendered me self-centered instead of other-centered, and derailed me for a time on my journey to becoming built to love.  As Jesus put it, “He that findeth his life shall lose it.”  (Matthew 10:39.)  Thankfully, however, a flat tire on the side of the road has me back on track.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Today (And Every Day)

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Today (And Every Day)

Shouldn’t the questions you ask yourself at the end of your life be the same questions you ask yourself each day?  If you were about to face your final judgment, what would you be asking yourself?  Did I spend enough time at the office?  Were my teeth white enough?  Did my butt look big in those pants?  Did I spend enough time at the gym?  Was I popular?  I don’t know what the ultimate questions would be.  However, when I was given my two weeks notice by the doctor, the following questions are the ones that came to my mind as I thought about my most treasured relationships.  Perhaps asking yourself these questions daily will prepare you to answer them in the days to come … and help you become built to love.

Question 1:  Have I Listened?

Listening is like being loaded up with log after log of life’s heavy lumber that you must haul away and stack in your own woodpiles of memory and experience.

To listen is to love. To be a sponge that absorbs the venom and toxicity of a poisoned soul is difficult. To mourn with those who mourn is painful. To listen to others can be a burden. It’s like being loaded up with log after log of life’s heavy lumber that you must haul away and stack in your own woodpiles of memory and experience. But this is what fuels relationships. This is what fuels love. As author and Mennonite minister David Augsberger wisely observed, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”

This soul-to-soul communication puts you into communion with God because, remember, the “least of these” you listen to is a proxy for Jesus. (See Matthew 25:31-46.)  Hence, to truly listen to another human being is to hear the voice of God.

“Listening is as close to acting for God as God will allow.”

Listening is also as close to acting for God as God will allow. Listening is, in essence, a form of receiving prayer. The realm of listening, therefore, is sacred ground. The miracle of listening is that it elevates you while you lift others. All of that lifting, hauling and stacking of life’s lumber transforms and strengthens us in the process, as well. We get to vicariously learn and experience life.

The hardest part about listening is that mere mortals are ill-equipped to solve problems. But that’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to solve anyone’s problems. You don’t have to have all the answers … or even any of them. Listening is its own medicine. Saying, “I honestly don’t know what to tell you because your burdens are so enormous and complex” to someone who is truly overwhelmed with life will be reaffirming to them, especially if you follow that with, “you’re an amazing person. You teach me so much.”

Listening is loving.

Question 2:  Have I Encouraged?

It only takes a second to offer encouragement.

There really is no excuse for failing to offer encouragement. You can text. You can message. You can email. Even just sending two or three words can make all the difference to someone’s day.

There are so many times throughout my battles with illness when a simple text made the difference between a day spent in loneliness, battling wrenching, nauseous pain, and a day where at least I didn’t feel so alone.

What can you say to offer encouragement?

“I’m hurting for you.”  “You don’t deserve this.”  “Keep fighting.”  “Your example gives me strength.”  “You are so strong.”  “I’m on your side.”  “I’m cheering for you.”  “Don’t quit. We need you.”

There are a hundred simple things you can say to make someone feel loved and acknowledged.  Of course, taking the time to explain what someone means to you and how they have influenced your life for good is even better. The point is, you must act. You must speak. You must say something. In the face of suffering or trial, your silence says a thousand things and none of them are good. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” “In the end,” he said, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

If you don’t know what to say, say that. For someone suffering from extreme trials and burdens, to hear someone say “I don’t know what to say” is, strangely enough, very encouraging to them because it is validating. It shows that you “get it.” If you understand, maybe God understands. If God understands, then maybe there’s hope.

If all else fails, just remember listening is loving. Hugs are almost always welcome. Your tears also say a lot. It’s okay to cry with others. Tears are the cleansing and encouraging solvents of the soul.

Question 3:  Have I Given?

The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way we can keep God’s love is by giving it away. It seems that if you want to feel God’s love, you have to share it.  If you have listened or encouraged someone, you have given. But it also brings you a lot of happiness to physically give something to someone on a daily basis.

Giving is living. Be generous.

It doesn’t have to be big. Give a child some money. Stop at the lemonade or cookie stand and see what happens when you whip out a $5 bill. Don’t be a stingy tipper. Pay for the food order behind you in the drive through line. Donate money to charity. Give  someone a book (especially mine!).  Make cookies for someone. Send flowers.  Take someone out to lunch. Find out what they like or enjoy and get it for them. Buy someone their favorite drink or smoothie.  Sneak some money into your kid’s wallet or purse.  Do it.  It will make you feel good.  I promise.

Remember the Platinum Rule.

The only rule here is be sure that your giving is empathy-guided.  Remember the “platinum rule,” which is the proper interpretation of the golden rule. That rule, when properly understood, is not “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It’s “do unto others as they would have done unto them.” What is it that “ye would [have] men … do to you?” To treat you the way you want to be treated. Jesus understood this and taught this simple truth. Give people what they want.  (See Matthew 7:9-11.)

The reason I call this the “platinum rule” is because it takes a higher investment in others to live it. You have to know people well enough to understand what they want and need. You have to understand them. Love takes empathy.

The whole condescension of God illustrates this. The condescension of God teaches that you cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously and then love them the way they want to be loved.

Give today.  Giving is living.

The Way of Discipleship

Daily asking yourself these three simple questions—“Have I listened? Have I encouraged? Have I given?”—will keep you focused as you strive to become built to love. It will also help keep you happy.  Finally, asking these three questions of yourself daily will help you in the noble endeavor of trying to follow Jesus and prepare you for the day when there’s no more time for questions.

Love Wins

Love Wins

While I don’t think God really cared whether Clemson or Alabama won the NCAA national championship football game–he has bigger things to worry about–I do think Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney has learned a powerful secret to success that drove his team to a national title.  Love.  In the emotional moments immediately after the conclusion of Clemson’s exciting, last-second 35-31 victory over undefeated Alabama on Monday, Coach Swinney said,  “I told [my team] tonight, I told them that the difference in the game was going to be love. It’s been my word. My word all year’s been love.  And I said, ‘Tonight we’re going to win it because we love each other.'”

Is it really possible that love for one another compelled each of the Clemson players to perform at a higher level?  I think it is.  In my book, Built to Love, I wrote, “the only commodities humans need are each other and love. Love can grow and harvest better crops, write and paint more enduring masterpieces, better heal the blind and broken, build better businesses, bridges, buildings and everything else we need. We have the knowledge….  [B]ut [u]ntil we choose to love we won’t truly live….When humans value each other as much as God values humans then humans will be divine indeed.  The world will be divine indeed.

Can you imagine the world we could build if our hearts were built to love?  Can you imagine all of the attorneys that would be out of work?  Can you imagine how well we would make our cars, our homes, our clothes and everything else?  Instead of trying to make everything for as little money as possible and then selling it for as much money as possible, we would forget about profiting and just try to make things as good as we could possibly make them.  Can you imagine the world we could build if our hearts were built to love?  People could pursue their true talents if they didn’t have to worry so much about money and making a living.  The music would be better.  The food would be better.  The movies would be better.  Everything would be better in a world built to love.”

Instead of economies driven by selfishness and greed they would be driven by love.  Perhaps you think this is naive and unrealistic.  But, using a football team as a metaphor for life, what happens to a team that’s not really a team?  What happens to a team that is plagued with internal conflict, relationship problems, too many egos fighting for attention, individuals looking out for themselves and trying to make themselves look better than their teammates?  What happens to a team that has ball hogs, glory hogs and prima donnas?   Do those teams have success?  What is happening in the world today?  Are we playing as a team or are we each looking out for ourselves?  What would happen if we “played as a team” and truly tried to help each other be our best and achieve the best?  What if each of us could pursue what we were truly excellent at instead of simply pursuing a living?  Can you imagine that kind of world?

I, for one, am glad that Dabo Swinney had the courage to speak out and to speak from the heart.  I am convinced that the continuity, brotherhood and teamwork that existed on the Clemson football team propelled it to the national title.  I am also convinced that Dabo Swinney’s words are a metaphor for life, in general.  Love wins.  If you don’t believe me, try it.  Start by trying to build a family “team” that loves each other, respects each other and helps each other.  Focus on that for a while and see if the quality of your life improves.  I assure you it will.  Of course, you must begin with yourself.  You can’t change others.  But you can change you.  You change the way you choose to feel about others.  You can choose love.

Congratulions, Clemson Tigers and Dabo Swinney!  Not for the national championshiop, but for choosing love.

Click here to watch Dabo Swinney’s emotional interview:

A Christmas Wish

A Christmas Wish

I haven’t written for a while because I’ve been down with pneumonia, followed by a SIBO infection.  I have lacked energy and inspiration for many weeks now.  The holidays are always a difficult time for me.  Surrounded by all of the candy, goodies, treats and sumptuous food I cannot eat, I am reminded of how abnormal I am.  It’s easy to feel sorry for myself.  It’s difficult to resist the urge to hide in the shadows of depression and self-pity.  But, as I am surrounded by food, I realize that I am also surrounded by family and friends.  I focus on the love I have for each one of them.  I stay busy cooking for them and trying to make their holiday memorable and, soon enough, I find myself happy and connected once again.  I am reminded that the reason we forget the gifts we get but remember the gifts we give is because giving is exponentially more rewarding than getting.

If God is love, then it must follow, as day follows night, that loving connects us not only to one another but also to God.  So if you want to feel the reality of the Christmas spirit then focus on loving, listening and serving those around you.  As I child I was devastated to learn the truth about Santa Claus.  But then I matured and evolved and discovered, as an adult, the joy of being Santa Claus.  Santa Claus was alive once more!  As a spiritually immature individual–a spiritual “child”–I was devastated to discover all of the flaws and imperfections in the Church, in religion in general, and most of all, in people.  Also, battling years of intense suffering, it rocked me to my core to learn that God was not who or what I had believed him to be.  But then I matured and evolved and discovered, as a spiritual adult, the joy of being.  Being love, that is.  God was alive once more!

Just as you can mediate the spirit of Christmas for others by being Santa Claus or just being your best self for a week or so each year, you can have that abiding joy and spirit all year long by choosing to mediate the presence and reality of God for others.  By choosing to be the “adult” in every situation and by focusing on bringing joy to others you can, once again, discover the magic of living … of being human.  This is the only thing that enables me to endure life on a feeding tube and life without food.

Be the one that reaches out.  Be the one that mends, rather than nurtures, grudges.  Be the one to say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.”  Be the bigger person.

I recently heard from a reader who had been in conflict with a neighbor for years.  After reading my book she asked for advice on what she could do to start the process of reaching out to mend the rift.  I suggested she start with a smile, then maybe a wave and then, perhaps, a gift.  The plan was implemented without immediate results.  Then, just a few weeks ago, this reader reported that she took this neighbor some bread and a Christmas ornament.  She said that the neighbor was completely shocked.  I asked, “How did it feel.”  She replied, “It felt really good.”  And that’s the point.  If you want to feel good, do good.  Be good.  You cannot control what others think of you, but you can always control what you think of others.  And that means you don’t have to control others to control your happiness.

You don’t need food to be happy.  I’m living proof of that.  You don’t need money to be happy.  I think I’m also living proof of that.  All you need is to find the true “you”–the “you” that is not tied to ego, pride and image.  The “you” that emerges from behind the shadow of the false self and does incredibly good and wonderful things.

If you need God’s embrace, then embrace another.  To hug another human being is to embrace the divine.

If you cannot see God’s presence in the world, then look deeply into another person’s eyes and listen intently.  You will soon see the light of God and hear his voice whisper to your soul.  You will feel a connection.  You will realize that you are not alone in this world.

May God bless you this Christmas season and through0ut the coming year!  May you find peace and contentment through letting go of the false liberators of “success” and “prestige” by becoming like that lowly little babe born in Bethlehem more than two millennia ago, who changed the world forever by giving … not getting.  May the spirit of Jesus abide with you now and for always.