‘The Art of Loving God’

St. Francis de Sales has done it again. And by “it,” I mean “proven himself brilliant via a book.” Yesterday, I finished The Art of Loving God: Simple Virtues for the Christian Life, which is a series of talks he gave to a bunch of nuns, edited a little so what’s in it is relevant for laity.

De Sales discusses tough stuff: Humility. Obedience. Mortification. Holding ourselves to higher standards than we have before. Cutting ourselves slack where we should. Lots of it resonated (which means I underlined lots of it while I read). Here are 10 of my favorite excerpts: Continue reading “‘The Art of Loving God’”

And the winners are…

In last week’s post, I invited you to share a secret: something you have learned so far in your 20s (or something you learned in your 20s if you’re already out). Big thanks to all who participated! As promised, two participants won a free copy of Paul Angone’s new book, 101 Secrets For Your Twenties. Here are their secrets:

No matter what you do or how you’re dressed, someone out there thinks you’re doing it wrong, and they can’t believe you’re wearing that. Someone else out there is really impressed with your accomplishments and fighting envy for your eyes, or hair, or outfit. Ignore it all. Do what’s right, as best as you can figure it out, and if you mess up, apologize, then get up and try again. “Defeated” is a choice (albeit an extremely tempting one sometimes). -Mary Petrides Tillotson

I’ve learned recently what a gift singlehood can be – particularly in growth in one’s prayer life. And after talking with young married couples, I’ve learned that one’s prayer life will never be the same after marriage (not unexpected since all of life changes after marriage). -Aaron Ledgerwood

Congratulations to Mary and Aaron! Click here to read all the secrets readers submitted.

Books, books, books.

For 2012, I’m dreamin’ big — and one of my dreams is to read a bigger chunk of my stack of unread books than I did in 2011. Think I can tackle it?

Still trying to decide which one to read first!

In 2011, I read a total of four books in full (which is shameful when compared to how many books I bought in 2011, but acceptable considering how busy I was in 2011 [This is what I tell myself. Go with it.]). I can’t close out the year without a) suggesting these four books if you’re looking for something to read and b) sharing some quotes from them that resonated with me.

Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation by Donald Miller

From a chapter called Dating:

” … relationships, while rewarding, actually make life harder. They will bless your life, but they will bless your life through sacrifice. You are going to get more muscle out of it, and that’s the attitude you have to have going into it in the first place.”

From a chapter called Sex:

” [In this paragraph, Miller quotes himself in a talk he gave to a group of guys at a frat house.] ‘Let’s say you had a friend who was forty years old, and let’s say this guy played video games all night, slept around with ten different women, whoever he could get to have sex with him, drank all the time, partied it up, the whole bit. Would you respect that guy?’ The group shook their heads no, some of them voicing that they would think of him as a loser.  

‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Why would this guy be a loser?’ 

‘Because he’s forty,’ somebody spoke up. 

‘What does that have to do with it? If somebody in your fraternity lives like this, he’s not a loser. Apparently, he is well-esteemed.’

The group said that it was different because the other guy is supposed to be mature. He’s supposed to have his life together.

‘Yeah, I think so,’ I began. ‘I think he is supposed to be mature, because he is forty. But we’ve kind of said something here, haven’t we? We’ve said that maturity doesn’t stay up all night playing video games and doesn’t sleep with ten women. Maturity practices self discipline and points a person’s character toward a noble aim. And I think, even in your early twenties, there is this need for guys like us to grow up, to sort of usher other boys into manhood, into commitment, into self-respect and an understanding that actions matter to more people than just ourselves.'”

Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society by Timothy Willard and Jason Locy

From a chapter called Sawmill:

“Philosopher Peter Kreeft observes, ‘There is something radically wrong with a civilization in which millions devote their lives to pointless luxuries that do not even make them happy.'”

From a chapter called End Veneer:

“Every day, we encounter the spirit of this present age and, if we aren’t careful, it will shape the way we think, and subsequently the way we act. So we must take great care of our minds with regard to what we allow to shape our thinking. In both letters, to the Ephesians and to the Romans, Paul urges Christians to a different kind of mind, one shaped by God.”

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown

Click here to read my post about this book. But see below for some additional quotes!

From a chapter called Exploring the Power of Love, Belonging and Being Enough:

“One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

From a chapter called Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith:

“I love this line from theologian Richard Rohr: ‘My scientist friends have come up with things like principles of uncertainty and dark holes. They’re willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of faith! How strange that the very word faith has come to mean its exact opposite.'”

From a chapter called Final Thoughts:

“… in this world, choosing authenticity … is an absolute act of resistance. Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance. You’re going to confuse, piss off, and terrify lots of people — including yourself.”

The 5 Love Languages: the Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman

Click here to read my post on this book.

The 5 Love Languages

There are a lot of impassioned speeches I’d shout to the general public, given an opportunity and a megaphone.

One of them is about relationships.
“Love,” I’d say, “if we love like Jesus loves, is unconditional. It is patient,” I’d say, “and kind.” And I’d quote the rest of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. “And in our culture,” I’d add, “we suck at it.
Because we are egocentric.
We are egotistical.
We don’t think (or pray) before we act or speak.
Our attitudes imply “I’ll love you if…” and we are unaware (or unwilling to admit) that our love is conditional (and therefore, that it isn’t love).
In an ideal world, if a man or a woman saw some of this in him or herself, the awareness of it would compel him or her to change his or her thoughts and modify his or her behaviors until he or she becomes a better love-er. Only we aren’t in an ideal world, so rarely does a guy or girl see it. And if one sees it, rare is it that he or she sees that something is wrong with it. And the result is dysfunction. 
Dysfunction, however, is not an experience saved solely for the people who have tied the knot for the wrong reasons. Dysfunction is also a result of human nature (and it is multiplied when humans interact). It is a reality that can (and will) encroach on any relationship — even the ones rooted in real love — because even when we really do love, we are still human.
Still egocentric.
Still egotistical.
You catch my drift.
But in his book The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman — a pastor, therapist and author — says that despite our human nature, we can love for real, and if we already do love, we can love better. You know what I love?
His book! I read it last weekend.
Chapman’s theory goes a little like this: There are five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. A love language is what a person uses to express love. A person also feels loved when somebody else uses his or her love language. So let’s say Joe’s primary love language is receiving gifts (and let’s also say he has never read any of Chapman’s books). Whenever his wife gives Joe a gift, he feels loved by her. And Joe most often expresses his love for his wife by giving her gifts.
Which is awesome — except, because Joe (like all humans) is egocentric, what may not dawn on him is that his wife’s love language might not also be receiving gifts. And so while he implies “I love you!” with a gift, she does not infer “He loves me!” when she gets a gift. She certainly will appreciate receiving gifts from her husband, but her need to feel love coming from him probably won’t be fulfilled. In order for that need to be fulfilled, she needs for Joe to speak her love language.
“The important thing,” Chapman wrote on page 15 of the book, “is to speak the love language of your spouse.” And “Seldom,” he says, “do a husband and wife have the same love language.” 
I think at the core of Chapman’s theory (these will be my words, not his) is the idea that love requires communication. It’s typical, for instance, for someone to expect his or her significant other to do XYZ without ever telling him or her that XYZ is what he or she needs (and it is typical, therefore, for him or her to take it personally when his or her significant other doesn’t deliver it). My hunch is that the desire to get what we need (or want) from a spouse, if and only if we can get it without asking, is directly related to how valued instant gratification is in our culture. 
In a culture that values instant gratification, we don’t want to work. We believe a relationship should flourish independent of work. We believe a relationship is most worth our time when it is with someone for whom doing what we would like to see them doing is always… instinctual (which never actually happens). 
But back to the book.
On page 32, Chapman points out that when a couple “falls out of love” (that is, the warm and fuzzies aren’t so constant), either “they withdraw, separate, divorce and set off in search of a new in-love experience, or they begin the hard work of learning to love each other without the euphoria of the in-love obsession.” 
He goes on to prove that learning to love without the euphoria is not only possible, but worth it. Click here to learn more about the book and click here to learn your love language. Read on for some of my favorite quotes:
“Some couples believe that the end of the in-love experience means they have only two options: resign themselves to a life of misery with their spouse, or jump ship and try again. Our generation has opted for the latter, whereas an earlier generation often chose the former. Before we automatically conclude that we have made the better choice, perhaps we should examine the data. … Research seems to indicate that there is a third and better alternative: We can recognize the in-love experience for what it was — a temporary emotional high — and now pursue ‘real love’ with our spouse. That kind of love is emotional in nature but not obsessional. … Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct.” -pages 32 and 33
“The object of love is not getting something you want but doing something for the well-being of the one you love.” -page 39
“A key ingredient in giving your spouse quality time is giving them focused attention, especially in this era of many distractions … A wife who is texting while her husband tries to talk to her is not giving him quality time, because he does not have her full attention.” -page 59
“Sometimes body language speaks one message while words speak another. Ask for clarification to make sure you know what she is really thinking and feeling.” -page 63
“Each of us must decide daily to love or not to love our spouses. If we choose to love, then expressing it in the way in which our spouse requests will make our love most effective emotionally.” -page 100
“You see, when an action doesn’t come naturally to you, it is a greater expression of love.” -page 139
“Love … creates a climate of security in which we can seek answers to those things that bother us… (A) couple can discuss differences without condemnation. Conflicts can be resolved. Two people who are different can learn to live together in harmony.” -page 144

Books worth reading.

From what I hear, a pretty popular new year’s resolution is “read more.”

And I like it. In fact, I’d make it if I believed I had the time to read for leisure. The truth is, I probably do, or will, now that I won’t have to regularly re-declutter or be distracted by a closet that spews its stuff across my room (It’s my clutter free year!).

But for anybody interested in some non-fiction books worth reading, I thought I’d share the literal few I have most recently read in full. I got something important out of each and you may get something good out of them, too.

1. The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community by Jesse Rice

I found this book at Border’s and bought it though I’d never heard of it. Best impulse buy ever. For the first time in book form, somebody agreed with me re: social media. Jesse Rice, who is a writer and musician and has a master’s degree in counseling psychology, shares my sentiments (almost entirely, except for the fact that he still uses social media). In the book, he communicates those sentiments in the words and ways I’ve been trying to find for years. According to the back of the book, “while personal profiles are revealing, they hint at even larger truths. They uncover our desire for identity, our craving to be known, and our need to belong. … Join Jesse as he explores social networking and its impact on culture and the church. Filled with fresh perspectives and provocative questions, The Church of Facebook encourages us to pursue authentic relationships with God and those around us.”

An excerpt from pages 142-144:

“First, being always-on reinforces the belief that an invisible entourage follows us wherever we go. Our nonstop connectivity ensures we are always within reach of someone, at least technically, and at least in a way that might cause us to act differently than we would if we knew no one was watching. … the more we believe we have an audience, the more likely our behavior will reflect that belief. We will live in response to a thousand imagined voices, rather than in response to our own hearts.

The cultivation of a healthy self-concept is being subtly undermined by the tendency toward always-on behavior. … The new phone is enabling parents and children to be in touch with one another, but it can prevent the child from having to face certain difficult tasks on their own. ‘With the on-tap parent,’ Turkle observes, ‘tethered children think differently about their own responsibilities and capacities.’ … Likewise, when a young person jumps on Facebook … they are newly connected to a vast and growing network of ‘others’ from whom they can receive guidance, comfort, and camaraderie. While this is often a positive experience … it can also be potentially harmful. Young people can come to so fully depend on the advice and opinions of others — including parents — that they become stunted in their ability to navigate life on their own.”

2. Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality by Rob Bell

I bought this book upon my friend Amanda’s suggestion — for somebody who wants to write about relationships and chastity, she said, it is a must-read. I’ll go ahead and add that for anyone who cares about relationships and chastity, it is also a must-read. I’d heard good things about the book for awhile, but until Amanda suggested it, I’d avoided it. And that’s because when I first flipped through it at a bookstore, it looked a little non-traditional, as far as books go, with lots of one- and two-line paragraphs throughout. I thought I’d find it too abrupt to want to read, but as it turns out, I’ll probably never judge a book by it’s one- and two-line paragraphs again. The book is so good.

An excerpt from pages 52-53:

“There’s a passage in the book of First Corinthians where one of the writers of the Bible addresses this worldview. He confronts his audience with a challenge: Can they live for a higher purpose than just fulfilling their urges? He then claims that their bodies are ‘temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God.’

This is provocative language. A temple was a holy place, a place where the gods lived, a place where heaven and earth met. The writer specifically uses this image to challenge them with the idea that a human isn’t just a collection of urges and needs but is a being whom God resides in. He’s trying to elevate their thinking, to change their perspective, to open their eyes to a higher view of what it means to be a human. He’s asking them to consider that there’s more to life than the next fix.”

3. Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent

I unwrapped this book on Christmas Eve: a gift from my mom. I hadn’t heard of it. I read the first few chapters in bed that night, and I read the rest of the entire book while we all relaxed on Christmas Day. I could not stop reading it. The book is the true story of Colton Burpo, a then 3-year-old boy who, after recovering from an emergency surgery, says angels sang to him at the hospital. A little at a time after that, Colton continues to innocently reveal what he says happened to him at the hospital. And what his parents at first think might be figments of the boy’s imagination start to seem real and miraculous when he begins to bring up up things he shouldn’t know. The story itself is amazing, as are the really good points Burpo makes about life and faith throughout.

An excerpt from pages 74-75:

“What is childlike humility? It’s not the lack of intelligence, but the lack of guile. The lack of an agenda. It’s that precious fleeting time before we have accumulated enough pride or position to care what other people might think. The same un-self-conscious honesty that enables a three-year-old to splash joyfully in a rain puddle, or tumble laughing in the grass with a puppy, or point out loudly that you have a booger hanging out of your nose, is what is required to enter heaven. It is the opposite of ignorance — it is intellectual honesty: to be willing to accept reality and to call things what they are even when it is hard.”

And I’m always interested in book suggestions. Let me know if there are any you’d recommend.