Saturday, October 27, 2012

How to Have the Greatest Love in Our Own Lives

A couple of years ago, in one of my New Year's Resolution posts, I started discussing the aspect of charity mentioned in I Corinthians 13:5 that says charity "seeketh not her own". I focused on my own life - what I learned from watching my father interact with my mother and what I learned as I served my future wife.

The next week, I developed that a bit further by focusing on another iteration of this same general principle - what I see as the ultimate expression of seeking not one's own. It is found in John 15:13, which says:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

I felt impressed to re-post today what I wrote back then, and I hope that impression was inspired and that someone who read it today will be helped in some way by it:
My main point today, as we delve further into charity seeking not her own is that this verse does NOT equate the greatest love imaginable as that which is exhibited by dying for someone. Rather, it is equated with the type of love that is required to "lay down one's life" for another. I believe dying for someone can be a form (a subset) of this type of love, but I believe in many cases it is the most simple, easiest manifestation of this type of charity. I want to use two common situations to illustrate this perspective:

1) When someone sees another in grave danger (like someone who is in a burning building), there often is a natural desire to save that person - even when the outcome might be one's own death. This is true in many situations even when the person inside the building is a stranger to the person who sees the predicament. This inclination appears to be a primal "survival of the species" instinct - or, if you prefer, the light of Christ that allows us temporarily in that situation to see someone else as worth saving at the cost of our own lives. It is "love" in a sense, but I do not see it as the greatest love imaginable.

2) When one's child or spouse is sick and in danger of dying, it is natural to feel something like, "Take me instead. I gladly will die in this person's place." That sounds noble at first glance, but think about it a little more deeply.

If the person offering to take the loved one's place believes in "heaven" or some other similar concept, the thought of death in this situation would bring feelings of peace and perhaps even a bit of joyous expectation. However, that death, in exchange for a spouse's continued life, for example, would leave the spouse alone - to deal with grief and pain, but also, in many situations, to deal with children and others who are devastated by that death. In other words, that desire to die for someone else is a selfish wish in practical terms, even if it is motivated by a sense of love.

I can't see that as an example of the greatest love imaginable.

So, what is left that would constitute such love and be consistent with the verse itself?

To "lay down" is an action verb - as opposed to "lie down", which simply means to "recline in a position common to sleeping". When someone lays down something, she takes something she has been carrying and lets go of it - placing it somewhere at rest and out of her grasp. I like to use the term "set aside" as a synonym - as in the following translation of John 15:13:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man set aside his life for a friend.

The Savior's ministry was the ultimate example of this, as his dying for others was "just" a subset of his living for others - the final "part" of the Atonement (excepting his resurrection), but nowhere near the entire Atonement. Think about the following:

A man was raised by Mary and Joseph. We have a story of him being taken to the temple as a baby; we read of him teaching the learned men at the temple when 12-years-old; and we find a statement in Luke 2:52 that he "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." (probably the least recognized, acknowledged and understood verse in the entire Bible) Other than that, we have no record of him until the age of 30, when he goes into the wilderness, is tempted, gathers followers, performs miracles and begins his ministry among the people.

Why is a record of the time between age 12 and 30 non-existent?

I believe it is because those were the years of "his life" - the life he "laid down" for his friends. He set aside his own life, and I believe it is important to realize that "Jesus had a life" that needed to be laid down in order to minister and preach and teach and heal and testify and die and rise again. We forget that simple fact so easily as we deify his ministry. 

I believe we hear nothing of wife and children and job and hobbies and travel specifically because that was "his life" that he set aside for us - and that, for me, is MUCH more powerful than if he had jumped into a lake to rescue someone and drowned. He set aside his own life and took up his cross, if you will. He left his own house and "ha(d) not where to lay his head". He might have walked away from the children in his own immediate and/or extended family, some of whom might have died during his ministry, and raised the dead relatives of others.

The example I gave last Saturday of my father setting aside his own life for his beloved wife is the closest example I know personally, but laying down one's life for others doesn't have to be so all-encompassing or singular in focus. It can be temporary, or sporadic, or "as needed". It can be short-term and involve multiple people. It can be as simple as stopping to help someone change a flat tire and being late to an important meeting as a result.

The key is being able to understand when laying down one's life is appropriate and noble - and, even more importantly, having a heart that is willing to act on that understanding and actually lay down one's life (seek not her own), no matter how long is required.
I want to share some advice in that regard with anyone who has been a member of the LDS Church for some time and is struggling to gain anything new from church:

When you go to church, lay down your life for that short time period and step into Jesus' ministry.  Start going primarily to find ways to serve people, not to be instructed. You can get the instruction you need outside of church, so whatever you get in church will be an unexpected bonus. I promise, there are lots of people who need to be served at any given time - far more, I'm certain, than need to be taught.

Focus on being the servant first (a savior to others) and be the student whenever that happens naturally. 

It really can change the life you lay down when you leave your house each Sunday. 

1 comment:

Matthew said...

I loved this idea when you first suggested it, Ray, and I have often asked myself since then whether I am willing to lay down my own life for a moment to build up another's.

Such a great insight - thank you for sharing it.