The Power of Love

Image is in the public domain. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Image is in the public domain. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

How do you know when you’re on a bad first date?

  • When you’ve been waiting at the restaurant for half an hour and she still hasn’t shown up yet.
  • When she pulls out a newspaper and starts reading it.
  • When she pulls out a cell phone and says, “Let me call my husband…”

Each and every one of these things happened to me at one point or another when I was still single.  Looking back, they’re kind of funny, but they didn’t seem so at the time (especially the last one).

There is something especially deflating about a first date that does not go well.  It takes the wind out of your sails in a way that few things can.  You put on your best clothes and your best behavior in an attempt to ultimately convince another person that you are worth loving.  When it doesn’t work out like you had hoped, it’s hard not to take that personally.  Your self-esteem usually needs some time to recover.

This doesn’t just happen in the dating world either.  Job interviews can be just as brutal in their own way.  You’re putting yourself out there, your future is on the line, but nobody wants to take a chance on you.  That kind of rejection stings to the core and leaves a mark on the surface.

Rejection is probably the most disempowering and disheartening experience a human being can go through.  It hits us right where we live and makes us feel like we aren’t worth anything.  No matter how old we are or how successful we appear to be in life, each and every one of us carries inside of us the pain of past rejection and the fear of future rejection.

This is true of everyone: from the washed-up wino under a bridge to the pop-star princess on TV.  I remember learning this as a teenager when I overheard a conversation one day with a girl who I thought was the prettiest and most popular girl in school.  She was telling someone how she would sometimes just sit in front of her mirror at home and cry because she felt so ugly.  I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I thought for sure that this girl, of all people, must know what it’s like to be beautiful and loved by everyone, but I was wrong.  The pain and fear of rejection is universal among humans.

Saddest of all are those who experienced rejection so many times that they start to really believe that they’re not worthy of love or happiness in life.  These folks have started to internalize that message of rejection.  They think that’s who they are.  They think that’s what they deserve.  They think they’re nothing and that their lives are worth nothing.  So they treat themselves and others accordingly.

Personally, I can’t help but wonder whether this kind of broken heart might lie behind some of the many incidents of mass murder and random violence that have become so epidemic in our society?  If so, then I would humbly suggest that an effort to include the outcasts and befriend the loners might be more effective in preventing violence than our repeated (and unsuccessful) efforts to “watch out for those maniacs” or “keep an eye on those weirdoes.”  Internalized rejection is disempowering and dehumanizing to people.  There eventually comes a tipping-point when a rejected person becomes the kind of monster that others have made them out to be.

Rejection is powerful, but then again so is love.  Knowing that even one person cares is sometimes enough to make all the difference in the world.  It can even save a life.

I’ve seen what love can do in my life.  Having already mentioned some of my bad experiences in dating, I’d like to share one good one.  This single, ongoing good experience has been enough in my life to outweigh all those other bad dating experiences put together.  I’ve been married to an amazing woman for eight years.  We have laughed together, cried together, encouraged each other, and challenged each other.  Loving her and being loved by her has changed the way I live in this world.  I carry myself differently, I see myself differently, and even though Sarah and I might set each other off sometimes, we usually manage to somehow bring out the best in each other.  That’s what love can do.  That’s the power of love.

Jesus understood that power.  He had experienced it directly, in an ultimate sense.  When he was about thirty years old, he got involved with a radical movement started by his cousin, John.  Cousin John, who we all now know as John the Baptist, was a kind of revival preacher who lived a simple life in the desert and made extensive use of a Jewish practice known as tevilah (ritual washing).  Tevilah was (and still is) used for all kinds of religious and sanitary reasons in traditional Judaism.  John used it as a ritual sign of for Jews who wanted to recommit their lives to following the Torah.  John intuited that big changes were on the way for his people and he wanted them to be spiritually ready.

Jesus himself appears to have been attracted to John’s renewal movement.  Like many of his peers, he participated in the tevilah ritual (which our Bibles have conveniently translated baptism, from the Greek word for “immersion”).  But then something happened to Jesus that didn’t seem to happen to the others.  Luke tells us,

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.””

This ritual washing seems to have been a significant spiritual experience for Jesus.  It was the catalyst that set the rest of his life in motion.  This is the point where Jesus’ work of healing and teaching really gets started.  In a sense, Jesus’ baptism was the moment when he was ordained and commissioned to his ministry.

The part of this story that really stands out to me is the voice from heaven.  This voice says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  This message is addressed directly to Jesus himself.  The voice calls him “Beloved,” which I take to be significant.

I think about those times in my own life when I faced a scary challenge and my wife said to me, “I love you, sweetheart.  I have faith in you and, no matter what happens, I promise we’ll get through this together.”  I can tell you that, when I hear that from her, I find an inner strength I didn’t know I had.  Love is empowering, no matter where it comes from.  Spouses and partners can affect each other in that way.  We can do the same as friends, family, parents, teachers, and bosses.  We encourage each other.  Have you ever thought about that word?  Encourage.  It comes from the Latin en (into) and cor (heart).  We “put heart/strength into” one another.  When Jesus was baptized and heard that voice from the sky saying “You are my Son, the Beloved,” I believe he was being en-couraged: the very heart of who he was and what he would do was being put into him at that moment.  I believe it was then that Jesus discovered the depths of inner strength that would allow him to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and speak such bold words of truth to power.  Whatever else we might believe about him, we can say that Jesus was a person who felt himself to be empowered by the ultimate Love that springs up from the very heart of reality: the sacred energy that we Christians name God or Holy Spirit.

The same Spirit that empowered Jesus also lives in us.  The same energetic force that catalyzed the Big Bang also animates our brains and bodies.  The flame that burns in a hundred million stars is also shut up in our bones, sparking our creativity and setting our hearts on fire to imagine what might be possible.  After 13.75 billion years of preparation, fine tuning, and evolution, the universe has finally given birth to us: you and me.  We have been gifted with unprecedented knowledge, opportunity, resources, and power to shape the future of the world.  Life itself has placed these gifts into our hands as if to say, “You are my beloved sons and daughters.  I made you, I love you, and I believe in you.”  No less than Jesus, you and I are empowered people.

We call it a miracle when we read about Jesus feeding 5,000 people with loaves and fishes, but we have that power too.  According to the World Food Programme, one dollar will feed four children for a day in a developing country.  This means that we could feed 5,000 people for only $1,250.  Even our little country church could manage that much miracle.  On Christmas Eve 2011, our congregation answered a cry for help from Thea Bowman House, an affordable daycare center in Utica whose funding was being slashed by the county government.  Closure seemed imminent.  This would have forced dozens of parents to leave the workforce and go on welfare because they couldn’t afford full-time daycare without assistance.  People from our church raised $1,000 that Christmas Eve and sent it to that program.  I ran into their director several months later, who told me that, thanks in part to our contribution, they managed to weather the storm without closing their doors.  What’s even more amazing is that they did it without having to drop services to a single family.  I call that a miracle!

We call it a miracle when we read about Jesus healing the sick, but we have that power too.  Our congregation recently finished paying off a $4,500 pledge to Presbyterian Homes & Services in New Hartford to help build the new Parkinson’s Residence.  We’ve been told that this program is the first of its kind and will lead the nation in the fight against Parkinson’s disease with state-of-the-art technology.  Just a few weeks ago, at our most recent Christmas Eve service, our little congregation took up a special collection of $1,420 that was sent to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) to help with the cleanup effort in New York and New Jersey after the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy.  Immediately after the storm, PDA set up emergency shelters and food distribution sites for the victims.  Since then, PDA has continued to work with churches and send down teams of volunteers to help with the long-term cleanup and recovery.  I call that a miracle too.

These are your miracles.  This is the power of what Love can do.  It causes us to think outside the box and reach deep down inside to find resources of strength and generosity we didn’t even know we had.  It’s true that the sharp sting of rejection and the dull ache of loneliness can be felt in all corners of this hurting world, but the caress of love can be felt as well.  The same Spirit that empowered Jesus’ ministry inspires ours as well.  The same voice from the heavens that spoke to Jesus still whispers in our hearts, calling us beloved children.  I pray that our lives will continue to echo the sound of that loving voice to this lonely world, saying to it: “I love you, God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Be blessed and be a blessing!

And I just couldn’t resist adding this video to the blog post:

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