Ephesians 5:29 “No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.”
I’ve been teaching Social Emotional Learning for quite awhile now (part of the reason it has been over a year since my last post). Social Emotional Learning is defined as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” Reading the definition, you wouldn’t think it would be that difficult of a job. Doing it is quite another. Knowing how to explain it to other people so they can teach it has been a whole other major in itself. There are two types of people in the world. Those who understand SEL (and basically ARE it) and those who do not. I’ve had roughly hundreds of people come up to me and ask questions and the number one thing that always shocks them the most is that empathy is not a character trait you are born with. Neither is being kind or forgiving or believing in yourself. You have to see examples of them before you can use them as part of daily living. If that surprises you hold onto your socks because this post will be full of things that you never thought to think about before.
My favorite part of being a Social Emotional Learning teacher is that it’s basically BIble just without the number references. For example, did you know that it is neurologically impossible for your brain to experience anxiety and gratitude at the same time? If you concentrate on the things you are grateful for, anxiety has no place to go. Essentially you can replace anxiety in your brain when you think of things that fill you with gratitude. About a year ago I was at a prayer meeting and someone posed the question, “If you woke up tomorrow with only the things that you thanked God for today, what would you have?” Some of us (myself included) would be broke, homeless, friendless, loveless, childless, and every other kind of “less” you can name. Gratitude is also contagious. The more times you find something to be grateful for, the more you will see to be grateful about. I am a lover of books. Every time I read one I thank God for the person that wrote it. Without their bravery and courage to share their story, I wouldn’t be learning something from them to use in my everyday life. Imagine if the stories that inspire you had been kept in someone’s private journal and never put out for the world to see. Imagine if nobody ever shared the heartache from their point of view or talked about it to someone who did write….and it was stuck in unheard limbo never helping anyone but the person who learned it? I’d be devastated still without Toure Roberts “Wholeness” and anything by TD Jakes, or Sarah Jakes Roberts, or Steven Furtick, Jerry Flowers, Dr. James Dobson, Rob Currie, or any of the other people who have touched my life with their pain they graciously shared with the world to judge. See how gratitude is contagious? I don’t have to be grateful just for my experiences. I didn’t have to go through everything they did to learn from them. They taught me anyway. Without my mother teaching me to read at 3 and instilling a deep love of written word I wouldn’t have bothered to begin their stories anyway. Again, gratitude is contagious.
Okay back to the point. SEL has been my life for the last 20 years. More intensely the last 9 but in any case SEL is the focus of my calling. Not only do I get to go in and learn things from the kids that let me hang out in their lives everyday, I get to show them some of what I have learned. We laugh about what I have learned, they tell me bits and pieces of their lives, we cry together and depend on each other. Social Emotional Learning Director sounds like it would come with a pretty hefty paycheck. It does, but not every other Friday. It comes in lessons and what the kids teach me. SEL is what I would do if I didn’t have bills to pay. In his book, “Love Does” Bob Goff and Donald Miller say that your career is just a fundraiser. It’s the way you raise funds for the work God calls you to do. (Disclaimer: they say it WAY better than I just did, so read their book) I would totally work at my school with my kids, or any school with any kids. I love my job.
One of the big focuses as an SEL director is getting people to see that we don’t love ourselves very well, so it is hard for us to love others. Or so I thought. Here’s the thing…and I love it when this happens. Every once in a while something comes along to totally rock your theology and the way you think about things. It rocked my life so much that I decided to pull out all of the journals I have written in the last year and go through to find out where I loved people the wrong way. That may sound weird but I learned one big lesson over the last couple of years. When you ask God to heal you and then you let him, he makes it possible to understand how taking accountability for your own actions gives you more power. It gives you more power because you realize that you can’t do anything without him. The way he loves is hard. The way to receive love is hard. We aren’t God. (Probably most of you didn’t have to read a book to figure out that last part. I’m just built different.) So loving to us isn’t the same as loving to him. Thank God.
The power that comes from realizing that he can change you when you can’t change yourself is enormous. He can teach you to love like he does. 1 Corinthians 10:24 “Don’t be concerned for your own good, but for the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” I’ve read both of these verses literally a zillion times. A zillion. The problem was that I was reading them with my limited knowledge of God.
Last October I was baptized. It was beautiful in the sense that I had finally done it and I was happy about being given a new life. I’m still not sure what I was expecting to happen, but after dinner with some friends I went home and felt nothing different than usual. I was thankful, but being baptized didn’t make me feel any more like I belonged to God than I did the day before. I wasn’t expecting to suddenly be able to speak in tongues or perform miracles or anything. It was more that I was expecting to suddenly feel like I belonged somewhere and to someone. I did not. I remember writing in my journal that I just wanted to experience what it felt like to be loved. Not by a person, but by God. He decided to show me. I wanted “A God Experience”. He gave it to me but not the way I expected it at all. I kept praying that he would love me. I learned that sometimes God quits talking to you to show you how dumb you sound when you keep praying for something he already gave you.
I had made the decision to quit dating several months before I was baptized. I hadn’t dated hardly at all before that and as I have mentioned in previous posts I wasn’t having that great of a time in that area anyway. God told me to date him for a year. Weird thing about that was that I didn’t have much dating experience on how to date myself or how to date God. How do you go on a date with God? Do you go to a restaurant and order two drinks and talk to him like other people can see him? Do you not go to restaurants and just walk around the city talking to yourself? Do you stay at home and talk out loud to him but never run into other people? Like seriously, how do you date God? There’s no information in the Bible on how one might do that. God and I just talked while I did everything I normally did and that became the way I “dated”. God just came with me everywhere. (Now when I say everywhere I mean he was there but I wasn’t always acknowledging his presence.)
I read a lot, like normal. I started to read books on marriage. Not necessarily because I wanted to be married, not yet, but because there were so many examples in the Bible about how the Church was the Bride of Christ. There was a lot to unpack in those examples and truth be told I had a terrible marriage. I wasn’t a good wife. So I started learning how to be a wife to God instead of to a person. What never occurred to me to unpack is that God is love. People can’t love you like God does….because they are people. (I’ll accept my Nobel Prize for stating the obvious now.)
One day, months later I was reading “Lies Women Believe” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. She says that one of the lies we believe (and I don’t think this applies to only women) is that we need to learn to love ourselves. Here’s where my theology got rocked. She says “We are constantly looking out for ourselves, deeply sensitive to our own feelings and needs, always conscious of how things affect us. The reason some of us get hurt so easily is not because we hate ourselves, but because we love ourselves. We want to be accepted, cherished and treated well. If we did not care so much about ourselves, we would not be so concerned about being rejected, neglected, or mistreated. The fact is we do not hate ourselves, nor do we need to learn to love ourselves. We need to learn to deny ourselves so that we can do that which does not come naturally – to truly love God and others. Our malady is not “low self-esteem”, nor is it how we view ourselves rather it is our low view of God. Our need is not to love ourselves more, but to receive HIS love for us and to accept His design and purpose for our lives. Once we have received his love, we will not have to compare ourselves to others. We will not focus on “self” at all. Instead, we will become channels of HIS love to others.”
John 15:12 “ This is my commandment; love each other in the same way as I have loved you.” WHOA. I thought about how I loved God over the course of my relationship with him. If he’d been a human husband he’d have left after the first few weeks of dealing with me. I had no idea who he was, no idea how to talk to him or how to look at anything he did for me and be grateful to have him around. Any time anything went wrong I got mad at him and ignored him for a few years. I’d try again but then when I went through “The Broken Years” (as I refer to the first 27 chapters of this blog) I completely gave up on him. I ignored him and talked bad about him for 15 years or more. What kind of wife is that?
God decided to show me that he was love by pointing out all of the times that he loved me when I wanted nothing to do with him. One of the biggest ways he did that was by having people I cared about give me the silent treatment. Then he very gently, but with much conviction pointed out that he loved me even when I ignored him and acted like he wasn’t around and cheated on him with other idols, disrespected him, and threw the gifts he gave me in the trash. Now, before you start giving God the thumbs up to divorce me, let me just point out that God knew I was going to do all of this BEFORE he asked me to date him. He loved me before I got here. He loved me before I even knew who he was. He loved me even though I had no idea how to love him back or how to appreciate him. He loved me in spite of my bad habits, my pettiness, my “Cruella” side, my unforgiving and demanding and sarcastic nature. All of those things did not stop him from loving me. While the Broken Years have come to an end, let me assure you that as a person…I am a huge mess. I am not great at anything. I am a human. I am a human with a very big God who has a very big love for me and who is patient and kind and loving enough to keep teaching me how to love others and be more like him. He hasn’t asked me to change the world. He asked me to let him change me…and that, my friends, is a job only he could handle. The next entries (only God knows how many or how often) are the stories that he used to teach me this simple truth. I hope you come along for the ride.