Saturday, June 30, 2018

Sentiment Without Content

I am reliably informed that in the days of my youth, when I was apparently even more attractive, a sweet young thing from church had a serious crush on me.

The day I got married, or so I hear, she mourned in tears — at the loss of ‘what might have been’, I suppose.

I am supposing because I don’t know. To the best of my recollection, over a period of almost two years, the girl had never said more than ten words to me, nor I to her.

Do you find that odd? I sure do.

Passion With No Payoff

And it reminds me of this bit of Solomonic wisdom: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” No kidding. At least you can learn from things done openly, even if the lessons may be hard at the time.

Now, the young lady was not uncomely and her mom was certainly a lovely, spiritual woman. (Oddly, I remember mother much better than daughter, because mom would often come up to me after a message and talk passionately about the things of God.) Anyway, I’m quite confident her daughter moved on, found herself a terrific Christian husband, and had six wonderful kids. At least I hope so.

My point is that people can feel quite passionately about something they never act on. But love without corresponding action cannot amount to much more than sentiment.

Love Goes Unrecognized

Another story from my teens: My best friend’s mother was utterly devoted to her family, attentively following her sons through each phase of their lives and documenting their every success with a library of photos I have yet to see equaled anywhere. But her care and concern for her boys (and her husband) only manifested one way: in constant nagging. I never heard an “I love you” or even a “Great job!” fall from her lips in all the time I spent with the family growing up, and as a result, she never heard these things back from her family either. She had the “open rebuke” part down to a T, and her love was certainly on display (if you knew how to read it, which was no easy task), but not in any way that was useful or comprehensible to her family.

So in addition to being open, love must also be expressed in such a way that it may be recognized as love rather than duty, pedantry or fussiness.

The Warm Fuzzies

James talks about sentiment without content as analogous to faith without works:
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
Now, I don’t suppose for a moment that the better-off believer in James’ story is gleefully hypocritical or harbors ill-will toward his cold and hungry brother or sister in Christ. He may actually mean the bit about being “warmed and filled”. He might (oddly enough) go home and pray for it to happen. He might have warm, fuzzy feelings for his fellow Christian — and warmer, fuzzier feelings about his warm, fuzzy feelings.

But so long as those feelings stay in his head and don’t get acted upon in the real world, he would have been better off not to have had them in the first place.

Love Buzzing Around

Four years ago or so, my brother got a bee in his bonnet about encouraging people. I don’t know whether he thinks that’s his spiritual gift — maybe it is, maybe it isn’t — but he’s certainly doing everything possible to find out. He has decided to express love to his fellow believers through being willfully, unrepentantly and continuously encouraging.

I couldn’t help but notice an immediate difference in his relationship to me, even though that relationship has always been one of the best things in my life. Every time we got on the phone, he had something uplifting to say from scripture. He would touch base when out on the road on business just to share an anecdote or pass along a bit of news. And every time we have got together since, he’s run back and forth to the kitchen waiting on me hand and foot. Not his wife, mind: him. And I am not uniquely favored; I see him doing the same things, day in, day out, for everyone in his life.

That’s love. There’s nothing remotely ambiguous about it. You can tell because it’s acting, not just pulsing madly away in somebody’s chest or dancing around intermittently between her ears.

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