Pressing Into Christ
About the Guest
What's the best way to learn about love? When we're loving and aren't loved back as we would like, it's then that we learn how to press into the pain and suffering and love like Christ. Until your relationship costs you something, you haven't gotten to love yet, says Paul. Love is, after all, self-sacrifice.
Paul Miller opens up the Book of Ruth to illustrate the meaning of hesed love, a steadfast kind of love and commitment that knows no exit strategy.
Pressing Into Christ
Bob: Husbands are commanded in Scripture to love their wives; but author, Paul Miller, says we can’t love our wives well unless we love God first and foremost.
Paul: The great temptation for guys to love your wife is to go to the opposite extreme—where you will make the marriage the center as opposed to God and truth. Guys, in particular, will fear speaking honestly to their wives—thoughtfully, and lovingly, and even tenderly—but, honestly, guys will shy away from that because they are fearful of getting an earful in return.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. There’s a lot more to love than just sentiment. We’re going to dig into the gritty part of love today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Last year, at our church, we took about ten weeks to go through, I guess it was four verses—I Corinthians 13:4, 5, 6, and 7—those four verses.
Dennis: That’s some rich ore.
Bob: We got into the first part of verse 8 too; but I remember thinking, “I have a lot to learn on the subject of love.” Whatever you think you know, there’s still more to learn on this subject; don’t you think?
Dennis: There is. We were made to love. We were made to be loved and to love. In fact, as I prepared for today’s broadcast, I thought about 1 John, Chapter 4, verse 7. Listen carefully to what he exhorts us to do—he says: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
I think we’re born, as human beings, with this innate capacity to be loved and also to love; but we have to be tutored, mentored, and empowered by the Holy Spirit—and get to know who God is so we can begin to emulate that love in all of our relationships.
We have a friend back with us, in the studio, who is—should be no stranger to our listening audience. Paul Miller joins us again. Paul, welcome back.
Paul: It’s great to be here, Dennis.
Dennis: He is the Executive Director of seeJesus™. He and his wife Jill live in Philadelphia, along with their six children. I notice how you write here—you say “…along with a growing number of grandchildren.”
Paul: That’s right.
Dennis: How many do you have?—because we have six children too.
Paul: We have nine point three grandchildren.
Dennis: Nine point three.
Dennis: Okay—a good start!
Bob: There’s one about to be born—is that the idea?
Paul: Point three—I think about three or four months along. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s cool.
Dennis: Well, he’s written a new book called A Loving Life. It’s actually—this book actually comes out of one of those grandchildren.
Paul: That’s right. When our son, John, and his wife Pam—at eight months pregnant—she lost a grandbaby, Ben--just the hardest thing that my son ever went through. I wanted to give him a gift—so I gave him the gift of a Bible study, which is kind of an odd gift. But we were vacationing together that summer, and every morning we would go through the book of Ruth—kind of cry our way through it—but it was a wonderful time.
Dennis: The book of Ruth is an interesting book because, as I recall, the word “love” isn’t mentioned in that book anywhere; is it?
Paul: I’m not sure the word “love” is in the book of Ruth, but the Hebrew word for love is all over the book—and it’s the word hesed. It is the Old Testament version of agape; but in the English translations, it never comes out.
Bob: When I read in my Old Testament, hesed is often translated “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love.” There are different ways I’ve seen that translated through.
Paul: That’s right. The word, hesed—there’s no real English translation for the word because it combines two English ideas—the idea of love and commitment. In hesed love, you bind yourself to the object of your love, as a setting of the will to love. In fact, that’s what Ruth does in the book—she binds herself to the object of her love—so I like to call it: “Love without an exit strategy.”
It’s a remarkable kind of love because, in other words: “I love you, not based on how you respond to me.” So, if we’ve had an argument—let’s say a couple, or a couple of friends, or whatever—our tendency is to pull back—emotionally pull away from the other person if someone’s hurt you.
In hesed love—because you have bound yourself—you don’t emotionally retreat from that person because you’ve committed yourself to love them no matter what.
Dennis: Explain why, then, you created a Bible study from the book of Ruth for your son who lost his son.
Paul: Because in love—what John was going through was what I would call the crucible. It’s kind of the fire of suffering. It is in the crucible that we learn how to love.
Dennis: John is your son.
Paul: Yes, right. So love has a thousand feelings. It’s not wrong, at all, to say love is a feeling. It is a feeling—but it is many feelings. So, think of marriage. You begin with these wonderful feelings—and then you discover what the person is like, or they discover what you’re like, or whatever—and now you’re entering the crucible.
That’s when people say: “Oh, I never should have gotten married in the first place,” or “From the very beginning, the marriage was wrong.” As soon as people begin to say that, they’re beginning to learn how to love—or, at least, that’s the opportunity—because you’re entering kind of this pattern of dying that is so throughout the New Testament.
Dennis: It sounds, to me, like you’re entering a journey—
Paul: Yes, that’s right.
Dennis: —that demands commitment—a commitment to love regardless of where the feelings are.
Bob: This is where I just think you’re going to have to explain this a little bit more because the person who is, in that moment, feeling like “I just want out,” and you’re saying, “Well this is where you get to learn what love is,”—they’re saying: “I just want out! I don’t want to learn what love is. I want out!”
Paul: Right. Let me give you a couple of examples of that. One example—and this is not a marriage example. It’s just sort of a normal thing. We go, every year, as a family, to a Joni camp. Joni Eareckson Tada has these camps for families who have disabilities. People raise money, as short-term missionaries, to go there and help us during that week of camp.
These people give up a week of their time—plus, they might pay $600 for the expenses of that camp.
Bob: You go as a camper—
Bob: —because, in your family, you have a daughter with a disability.
Paul: Right. I should explain that. Our first child, Kim, is disabled with autism, and development delay, and fine motor stuff—a bunch of things—but she is a delight. At this camp, this woman—I’ll call her Sue—on the second day of camp, a parent said that this woman, Sue, had said something openly negatively about her parenting. So, it’s another camper, like us, who criticizes Sue and goes to the directors about it. It becomes a drama thing—this isn’t a huge catastrophe.
I pulled Sue aside on Wednesday, and she was just distraught. I said: “Sue, now you’re beginning to love because, before this, you were in a kind of a transaction. You were giving your time and money and you were getting encouragement and just the joy of knowing you’re helping. Now, you are loving; and you’re getting nothing—now you’re entering into God’s love.
“When you love—when you’re getting nothing in return—your ego is stripped / your will is stripped because everything in you is crying out, ‘This doesn’t make any sense,’ and now you have to do it for Jesus.” Paul calls this “the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.” What we do is—when we encounter those things, we recoil from them, as opposed to realizing that this is the path of Jesus.
Going back to the book of Ruth—Ruth goes through this path, in binding herself with hesed love to Naomi—because that’s what she does—
—she binds herself: “I am with you, no matter what, to the end.” She is going into a fellowship of suffering, and Ruth embraces that fellowship of suffering.
Dennis: What you write about in the book—and I think this kind of resonates with me—when you find yourself in a situation, where you want to flee—you call people: “Don’t flee the crucible. Don’t run from the suffering. Press into the pain of the relationship, because—as you press into the pain, and learn how to love, and stay committed in that situation—you’re really getting closer to the heart of God than when you’re caught up in all the romantic feelings and being swept over the cliff by romance and how we start our marriage relationship.”
Paul: Right. And what you’re doing is—you’re really pressing into Christ. I wrote the book for people who are stuck in a loveless marriage, where one spouse is putting more energy into the relationship than the other.
The acid that begins to grow—in the spouse that’s more loving—it begins as self-pity, and then it gets nourished and becomes bitterness. Pretty soon, the person, who is doing the most loving in the marriage / is doing the most work at it, can often get into a bitterness trap.
Dennis: You also throw singles into that group too—
Dennis: —young people or older people who want to be married—want to find a way to love with their whole heart.
Paul: An example of that is one of the effects of the attack on manhood in modern culture. There are a lot of young lovely women, who are single in their mid- to late-20s and early-30s. The prospects of marriage are getting dimmer. So, here you are—stuck without a relationship.
What’s remarkable about the book of Ruth—and, in fact, what’s remarkable about Christianity—Christianity really kind of exalts singleness.
But we’ve lost the sense of the dignity and the wonder of a single person, who commits himself to a loving life, the way Ruth does.
Bob: I hear you saying that, until your relationship with another person starts costing you something, you haven’t gotten to love yet.
Paul: Well, I would say it’s just a different kind of love. You’re really getting into it—because I don’t want to belittle romance because it really is a wonderful thing to fall in love with someone else—
Paul: —but it’s an untested love.
Bob: When I’ve done premarital counseling with couples, they are often in the untested romantic phase of a relationship.
Paul: Right. Yes.
Bob: If I ask them to define love, they often define it in those kinds of terms. But one of the things I want to make sure we get to, in our premarital counseling, is that love involves commitment and self-sacrifice. Until you get there, you haven’t gotten to the real stuff of love yet.
Paul: Right. It’s probably like teaching combat to a Marine before he’s been under fire. I imagine that, until you actually get into it / until you actually feel trapped—one of the related ideas to this is I think people often struggle with love because they’re unaware of the texture of love—like: “What does it feel like to love?” One of the characteristics—and we see this in Ruth’s life—is that one of the textures of love is that love narrows your life. People react/recoil from that restriction: “Oh, I can’t do x anymore.” That’s right—because to be a lover is to narrow your life.
Dennis: Okay, so you and Jill have been married since when?
Dennis: That’s a good year—that’s when Barbara and I started.
Paul: Oh good! [Laughter]
Dennis: So, I’m going to ask you to do the impossible.
Dennis: I’m going to ask you to distill down to the top one/two/three things about love that you have learned, as a result of being in the crucible, following this journey of suffering and attempting to love another imperfect person named Jill.
Give us the essence of: “What have you learned about love?”
Paul: Oh, probably the biggest thing that I have learned is to look at Jill—I mean, to physically look—but a blind person could do it—I mean, just to simply be aware of her, as a person, so that means almost stepping back. There is this pattern in the Gospels that just riveted me—is where Jesus looks and feels compassion—and then He acts. I was good at the acting / the doing but not those first two steps of slowing down and just being aware of her, as a person. It still amazes me that, when she tells me a problem, that she doesn’t want my top three answers. [Laughter]
Dennis: Never happened in my marriage! [Laughter]
Bob: She’s not looking for the solution; is she? [Laughter]
Paul: And just that whole way that Jesus has of being present with someone, without advice. That doesn’t mean that there’s not a time to give that—to speak the truth in love—but that was probably one of the biggest things.
Dennis: Let me see if I’ve got it right because I think there is probably a guy, listening right now, who needs this spelled out in big capital letters. From 1 Peter, Chapter 3, verse 7, it says, “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way.” What I hear you saying is—when you look at your wife, you look with the eyes of God, attempting to better understand this woman that you’ve made a commitment to.
Paul: Yes. Here’s an example of that from the book of Ruth and our marriage. When Jill would have something that she’d be upset—go off on a mini-rant—we had a lot of things to rant about with six kids.
When I was learning some of this stuff, they were ages three through like fifteen or sixteen, with a severely disabled child in the middle of that on a very low salary. It’s very much like the book of Ruth. Jill was really doing laments.
The Old Testament is filled with these laments—where you pour out your heart to God—messy / even theologically incorrect. With my background, I would correct her laments. Part of learning to look at her was to not correct her laments—to let her be herself and to kind of get into her heart—just by looking / I mean listening / I mean the whole perception / I mean slowing down my life and coming at my wife with questions, as opposed to answers.
That was probably the biggest thing. You see that because Naomi has all these laments. We’ve lost touch with this whole Jewish tradition of opening your heart and sharing it openly.
That’s what you see with Naomi. The author of the book of Ruth doesn’t correct Naomi with her laments—he just lets God love her. The whole book is about this hesed love—so it’s God’s hesed-ing / His covenant love of Naomi. He does that by letting Ruth be, as it were, His channel of hesed love to her.
Dennis: So, if a guy is listening right now, the challenge is: “Guys, look and listen to your wife. As you’re looking and listening, it wouldn’t hurt to be praying—asking God, “Help me to hear what’s going on here.”
Dennis: Is there a second lesson out of 42-plus years of marriage that you’ve learned here, Paul?
Paul: One that seems almost at dissonance with this first one, but that was to not be afraid of my wife—to speak the truth into her life, thoughtfully/lovingly. The great temptation, as you begin to discover, for guys to love your wife is to go to the opposite extreme—where you will make love or, even, the marriage the center, as opposed to God and truth.
You’ll see guys, in particular, will fear for speaking honestly to their wives, and they will pull back from that honesty. What they’ll do is—they’ll evaluate their honesty based on how it was received. What they’re doing then is they’re putting peace higher than Christ and truth. It balances out this compassion/listening side, and you see Jesus do both sides.
Dennis: What I want you to do is illustrate it, just theoretically, okay—not saying anything like this happened with you and Jill—but give us an illustration of how you might have spoken the truth to her about a subject, or an issue, or an attitude.
Bob: Again, purely theoretical.
Dennis: Purely theoretical.
Paul: This isn’t very theoretical—this is a few years ago—but we took dance lessons. I don’t have any rhythm, but I can memorize the steps. I had pretty much no rhythm—I can barely tap in time to music. My wife has rhythm but didn’t know what all the steps were. So, we finally decided to go out dancing; and I started getting off beat. The solution in dancing is—the male leads. I started going off beat, and Jill started leading. I got irritated at her, and she walked off the floor.
I would like to think of it as low-level irritation; but, when you’re in a marriage relationship, everything has an exclamation point. The next day, I said, “Jill, tell me what was so upsetting about what I did,” when things were quieter.
I did that looking thing—of just listening to her. So, we’re not to the honesty yet. She talked to me for about an hour. We went on a walk, and I learned so much from that hour—it was her honesty to me.
At the end of that—and I wasn’t waiting for this as a trap—I said, “It would have been helpful for you, back on that dance floor, if you had just said: ‘Paul, you’re off beat. Can I lead?’” Do you know what I mean?”—as opposed to…”—that kind of honesty, where you begin with—I like the word “incarnating,” where you really try to go into someone’s world. The honesty then—if you really incarnate with someone—then you can have small pieces of gentle honesty that can really help the other person.
Dennis: What you did is something that I’ve learned. I don’t always practice it—I’ll be very quick to say that—but the time to address the problem is not in the heat of the moment. It’s not dragging her back out on the dance floor and saying [with stern voice], “We’re going to talk and work this out.”
It’s allowing the emotion of the moment and, maybe, the weariness of the day to subside; and then coming back at it, the next day, when the lake is fairly calm.
Paul: Yes; yes.
Bob: What both of you are illustrating here is that the dance of love is something that we continue to learn, over a lifetime—that it’s not a dance, where you perfect it in the first three months of the relationship, and then you have it down from then on.
Bob: You are in an ongoing state of growth, as it relates to how you love another person. I think our listeners are going to be helped, Paul, by—not only tuning in this week as we have this conversation—but also by getting a copy of your book called A Loving Life. “How do you love with no love in return?” and “How do you love when no one notices or cares?” We have copies of Paul Miller’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com.
In the upper left-hand corner, click where it says, “GO DEEPER.” That will take you right to the spot where you can get more information about Paul’s book. You can order it from us, online, if you’d like. Again, the book is called A Loving Life. You’ll find it at FamilyLifeToday.com.
I also want to mention, Dennis, a resource that your wife developed called “How Do I Love Thee?”It’s a garland that hangs in your home. You attach, to the garland, hearts. Each heart has a different characteristic of love from I Corinthians, Chapter 13. You can pull that heart off the garland, and you can read a devotional that’s on the inside of the heart.
We talked about this around Valentine’s Day, earlier this year; but honestly, this “How Do I Love Thee?”garland is something that can hang in the home anytime and can be used, as a teaching tool, in your home anytime. I’d encourage our listeners—go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, click the link that says, “GO DEEPER.” There’s information there about Barbara’s resource called “How Do I Love Thee?”
It’s part of the Ever Thine Home®collection of resources that Barbara has put together. The website, again, is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order the book or the garland. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
In a very real sense, what we’re all about, here at FamilyLife, is what we’re talking about today—it’s about love. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. We want to focus, here at FamilyLife,on how, as we cultivate a relationship with God, we learn to love others—in our marriage, in our family, in our extended family, in all of our relationships. That’s what our focus is, each day, on this program. We want to effectively develop godly families—the kind of families who change the world, one home, at a time.
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In fact, if you can make a donation today, we’d like to express our appreciation by sending you a resource that Barbara Rainey has developed to hang in your home. This is a chalkboard in the shape of a house. At the top, it says “In this home we give thanks for” and then you can write, in chalk, whatever you want to write. Each day you can come up with something new to give thanks for and write it on the chalkboard in your kitchen or in your dining area.
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And we’re going to continue our conversation about what real love looks like and what we can learn from the relationship between Naomi and Ruth with our guest this week, Paul Miller. Hope you can join us back tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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