As my last Advent post I am, once again, considering a statement by David Benner in his book, Surrender to Love. Toward the end of the book Benner writes, “Love is the acid test of Christian spirituality. If Christian conversion is authentic, we are in the process of becoming more loving. If we are not becoming more loving, something is seriously wrong.”
It seems the question for me, perhaps the risk, is to do my best internal evaluation and discern if I am growing in my ability and desire to be more loving. Maybe an even riskier activity would be to ask those closest to me if I am becoming more loving. Do they notice me leaning into love and genuine care? I have found that attempting to love anyone, including myself, simply does not work without first receiving the love of God.
My observation is that we cannot truly love without being intimately connected to the only source of love, the one who is the very essence of love, God. It seems our only hope is to grow in intimacy with Jesus, allowing that love affair to spill over into all whom we encounter. It’s a long, slow process, but hopefully along the way we are mysteriously becoming love.
David Benner in his book Surrender to Love crescendos his point of the whole book with this statement, “The point of being human is to learn love.” Benner goes on to say, “Love is the fulfillment of everything that makes us human. The ability to care deeply for others and place their interests ahead of our own is the capstone of psychospiritual development.”
Jesus was the ultimate human, the ultimate representation of love, because at his very core he was/is love. The earliest followers, along with those who established the Early Church, had no problem embracing Jesus’ humanity. After all, some of them walked with him and lived life with him. They experienced Jesus as fully human, full of love, fully free. It seems all to easy for us, for me to say, “well of course Jesus was love and able to care deeply for others, he was God.” But, what if he did it out of his humanity? Perhaps an even crazier thought might be, what if Jesus grew in his ability to give and receive love?” That’s too crazy. That could be like someone telling us that God entered into the womb of a teenage girl and was humbled to be raised as a human baby. No one would believe the God of love would do that.
Psychiatrists and Counselors concur that one of the most powerful statements that a person can say to another person is, “Me too.” Something happens in the body and the brain when true empathy is given and received. After a person shares a hard day or experience, a tragedy or hurt, when the person listening communicates in some way, “me too” it allows the sharing person to feel seen, heard, known.
Jesus is the ultimate, “Me too.” By embracing humanity fully, Jesus knows what it’s like to experience everything we have been through. Jesus so identified with the brokenness of the world and relationships that he experienced every human emotion that we experience. The implication of this is that we are not ever alone. We always have someone with us, in Jesus, who knows us and knows what it’s like to be us. As we navigate our way through our days, I believe Jesus is consistently saying to us, “I know. It’s OK. Me too.”
Jesus’ “me too” is the best one, by far, we will ever hear, because his is truly unconditional. Friends and family can say the same thing to us, and it can be powerful and healing, but nothing compares to the love of Jesus. In the loving relationship with the Divine our primary part is not to say, “me to”, but to receive. David Benner says this about our part, “Genuine transformation requires vulnerability. It is not the fact of being loved unconditionally that is life-changing. It is the risky experience of allowing myself to be loved unconditionally.” May we learn slowly, more and more, how to allow ourselves to be loved. From that place we can become a genuine “Me too” to many others.
Knowing about someone is very different than knowing someone. Knowing about someone can be fun and exciting. It can be good to read about someone or have someone tell us about the person. Knowing someone is much trickier, however it can be exponentially better than knowing about someone. Knowing someone involves time, risk, vulnerability and attention. In order to know someone, really know them, we are invited to move beyond self-focus to other focus. It requires a desire to truly want to know the other person.
Jesus, in his humanity, became a person we have an opportunity to know, not just know about. We are invited beyond knowing about Jesus, to know him intimately. Like any relationship, cultivating a relationship with Jesus involves time and space, focus and priority. David Benner in his book, Surrender to Love says, “All of us need to have our identity grounded in being deeply loved by our divine lover. Talking about such a relationship is easy. Actually coming to develop a love relationship with the invisible God is far from simple.” Benner is so right! Being in an ongoing, growing relationship with God is not easy, but no relationship worth having is easy.
This Advent we have a wonderful chance to cultivate our relationship with Jesus, the one who embraced humanity to the core. As humans we tend to make time for the people and things that are important to us. Jesus, in his humanity, did too. His priority was time alone with the Father, he simply couldn’t be who he was and wanted to be without it. Jesus was teaching us how to be human, and to be human is to be intimately connected to the Divine.
Throughout Advent I am looking at concepts from David Benner’s book, Surrender to Love. Specifically, Benner’s insights about what it is to be human, and how this connects to the humanity of Jesus. Benner makes this statement early in the book, “To be human is to have been designed for intimate relationship with the Divine. This is why the yearning for connection is spiritual. Our needs for love, connection and surrender form the spiritual core of our personhood.” I agree with Benner’s statement about what it is to be human. I have experienced this in my own life and seen it in many others. The more humans grow in intimate relationship with God, the more human we become.
What is it to be human? I believe to be human is to love. Since God is love and God is our Creator, it seems that the more loving we become the more human we become.
Jesus modeled this perfectly in the way he lived his life here on earth. This was central to his teaching as well. When asked to sum up what life is all about Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40)
As I think about Jesus this Advent season I am really grateful that he experienced all of the stages of humanity. Birth, childhood, adolescence… He shows us what intimate connection to the Father looks like and what loving others looks like. What a gift.
Since I was very young I have had the privilege of being in church, hearing Bible stories, going to camps and retreats and being part of an extended family who believed in Jesus. One of the primary things I grew up believing was that Jesus came to earth to show us how to be holy. Even his birth and the whole Christmas story has a holiness about it. Earlier this year through an in-depth study of the life of Jesus with a group of friends, I had a new consideration that I continue to ponder. What if Jesus primarily came to earth to show us how to be human?
For the past six months I have mostly just wondered about this possibility. I have had a few conversations with friends about it, but truly it’s just been wondering out loud, not making any conclusions. Over Thanksgiving break I read a book titled Surrender to Love by David Benner, a psychologist and spiritual director. I was delighted to discover in the book that Benner puts language to some of the things I have been considering with regards to Jesus modeling humanness. I plan to try to unpack some of Benner’s thoughts throughout the Advent season.
Is 30:15 tells us: “In repentance and REST is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength.” If I read that correctly, this verse has huge implications! It says that is some mysterious way our salvation is hanging in the balance as a result of our ability to rest. Now, in order to understand this verse, it helps to look at how the earliest followers of Jesus viewed salvation. Salvation was not a one time event or decision by a person to choose Jesus, but instead a lifelong process of restoration and healing. With this lens, rest as a road to salvation begins to come into focus. Developing a rhythm of rest helps us pause long enough to allow God to continually restore and heal us.
The season of Advent begins next week. What a wonderful time to lean into rest. Advent is a coming into place, view, or being; a recognition that something bigger than our to-do list is taking place. We live in a culture that has a very poor outlook on rest, especially in the days leading up to Christmas. Even if we dare to participate in the invitation of the Lord to rest, our natural tendency is to feel guilty when we take a break. As we head into this season of Advent, which will hopefully lead to a season of rest for each of us, we are wise to cast aside the cultural suggestion that rest is a bad thing. As we prepare for the upcoming Advent season, may our collective prayer be, “Lord, teach us to rest.”