Yesterday’s message featured …
- A stand-alone door on wheels that was an indispensable prop;
- A slight window into how United Methodist preachers behave around authority;
- A title from a Charlie Rich (or was it Charlie Pride?) country music song;
- One of my strongest bottom lines: Treat the people you LOVE as well as you treat the people you NEED.
So here’s a door. And it’s the door today to most of our houses, apartments, or condos. And the deal with this door – don’t expect to be shocked – is that there is an outside of it and an inside of it. In front of and in back of. Beyond the front door and then behind the door.
And what I am so interested in as we launch Love Handles is how differently we treat people on either side of the door. Like in my world – the rather insular world of UMC preachers – this is so obvious. Because in the UMC world, I as a pastor have you all the church; and then the church has the Board, and beyond the board I have a District Supt who is my boss and I’ve got his wife who is, naturally, my boss’s wife and then beyond that there’s the Bishop who is the boss’s boss, a really big deal, in charge of 1100 churches in WNCC and then there’s his wife & she’s the boss’s boss’s wife. Why do I tell you that long string of people? Because I’m NEVER RUDE to any of those folk. Not you, not the Board, certainly not the DS and no way in the world my bishop. And you could say that about virtually all UMC preachers — except for the morons — especially when it comes to DS and bishop – no sharp tongues, no impatient spirits, no blessing out, just well-mannered, respectful, and … kind. Why? We NEED them. They’re highly influential for our ministry. DS: NEED him. Bishop: NEED him. His wife: NEED her to think I’m nice & well mannered. Could you imagine pillow talk if she doesn’t? “That Talbot is so obnoxious. Let’s send him to a church that he will hate and the people will hate him!”
But am I alone in being well mannered to people I NEED? I don’t think so. Think of all the people you need. Your boss for sure. If you’re in school, your teacher, principal, professor. If you travel, your airline reps. (Woo-hooo, yes!). Law enforcement. Your therapist. Your doctor. The person you are dating. The person you are dating! Around all these people, I am almost certain, you are on your best behavior. You filter your language, monitor your attitude, minimize the eye roll because in many ways these are folks you NEED for life, liberty & pursuit of happiness. That’s beyond the front door.
But then you get behind closed doors (and she lets her hair fall down) and my great fear is that for all too many of you the story changes. Because who is HERE (demo behind the door)? Not so much people you NEED but people you LOVE. For a lot of you, it’s your spouse. For others, it’s your spouse and children. For still others, there’s no mate – either there never was or there USED to be – and there’s children. For some, like me, there USED to be children but they’ve grown & gone (no boomerang!) and so it’s kind of back to where it started: me and mate. And then for an increasing number of you, it’s you and parent or you & parents. All in all, people that to a greater or lesser degree, you don’t so much NEED as you LOVE.
And so what happens? What goes on when the people you NEED are out there and the people you LOVE are behind here? Well, subtly, subconsciously, the rules of engagement change. The shades come down, the filer comes off, and our attitude, our demeanor, our words BEHIND the door assume a far different level of aggression and antagonism than they do BEYOND it. Because what do studies show, studies that I can verify anecdotally from what you all tell me? That we treat the strangers we NEED with much more kindness and much more patience and much better manners than we treat the family we LOVE. Family gets our rudeness, our unfiltered opinions, our lack of consideration. We treat the people we LOVE with a lack of respect and an absence of kindness we’d NEVER have with people we NEED.
Now: sometimes it may not be too serious. Like the wife who was driving with her husband to a new restaurant and after several wrong turns she FINALLY got on the right road. Agitated she said, “Why didn’t you tell me I was lost?” And he replied, “I thought you knew where you were going … After all, you always do when I’m driving.” Boom! We can be awfully free with unsolicited advice and undesired criticism. But it gets heavier, doesn’t it?
Someone here closes that door and all the frustration you FELT BUT FILTERED at your boss or at the police or at the bishop gets FLUNG towards your unsuspecting and undeserving mate. And you mates on the receiving end of these tirades know exactly what I’m talking about . . . and that’s why you’ve learned to have a glass or two or five of wine before he gets home “just to take the edge off.” You know what I’m saying. And then we’ve got parents here who are so disappointed in your kids. And they know. And the thing is, the kinds of things they hear from you regarding your level of disappointment are eerily similar to what you heard from your parents when you were coming up. Doh! And you just now realized the truth of that.
See, the lack of civility & courtesy to the people we LOVE (as opposed to those we NEED) has tentacles. It extends. Because you, me, and all of us have this door and there’s a behind & there’s a beyond & I don’t think it’s stretching it to say that those beyond, those we NEED get the better end of the deal. And that’s all, that’s all, without even beginning to address abuse. Another sermon.
So how do we get a handle on reversing this? How to get a handle on love as we launch Love Handles? Well, we’re going to go to one of the most mis-applied of the Scriptures, I Cor 13, which is a “love” chapter often read at weddings. Which is a shame because a) it’s really now about romance but about church; that network of thorny, conflicted relationships that make up a church. But as I was thinking about these words for this message, I realized: these are not great words for the romance of a wedding but they are perfectly fitting, totally necessary for the daily grind of a marriage. Because look how it begins: Love – beyond & behind; in public relationships as well as more private ones – is patient & kind. In other words, love is how most of us most of the time treat the people we NEED. Patient, kind, deferential.
So I pile that simple (not simplistic! Simple) truth on top of what I already know and I realized with a moment of clarity what I want you to take home. And it’s almost tentative, it’s almost obvious, it’s almost like I’m asking a favor rather than issuing a command. But here it is because I firmly believed and fervently prayed that it would be life changing: Treat the people you love as well as you treat the people you need. That’s all. Not even asking for you to treat them better (though I probably should), but that’s it. Show the same kindness and have the same patience with the same good manners behind the door as you do beyond it. The same recognition that you don’t have to put words to every thought you have. (In fact, most of you words ought to stop be the brain before exiting the mouth!) In fact, a lot of times, the most loving thing that you can do is have the last word . . . and not use it. Treat the people you love as well as you treat the people you need.
Courtesy, manners, smiles instead of ranting, smiling, whining, eye roll. It makes me think of the couple on their 50th anniversary and when asked what was the key to success, the husband said, “I’ve never tried to be selfish. After all, there is no “I” in “marriage.” And the wife said, “For my part, I have never corrected my husband’s spelling.” Touche! .Treat the people you love as well as you treat the people you need.
Listen: this kind of love that stops distinguishing between people you need and people you love is so Jesus. It can only come as the result of growing faith in Jesus. Don’t try harder to love. Try harder to Jesus and love will be the result. You don’t create it, conjure it, or make it; you merely reflect it. I’m just trying to give you some focus for it. REFRAIN
My goodness I believe in this idea for parents & children. That moms and dads (and even kids going the other way) can make a decision ahead of time that their home will be one of those places free of rancor and full of laughter. Free of belittling and full of encouraging. Free of toxin and full of ambrosia. Author Muriel Anderson remembers her dad by four words: Of course you can. That was his mantra to her, no matter what her endeavor. From sports and school as a kid to a career as a published short story writer: Of course you can. Is there a greater gift a dad can give to a daughter? I think not. Parents: what are the words your kids will constantly attribute to you? Those which belittle? Which tolerate? Or which encourage? Which adore? Treat the people you love as well as you treat the people you need.
And it really is something to see when it goes in reverse. Like the young mom who was sick in bed when her 9 year old son got home from school. And the little boy, thinking mom was asleep, took a blanket & gently folded it around his mom’s torso. Mom stirred, smiled, and said, “It wasn’t too long ago that I was tucking you in. And now you’re covering me.” To which the son replied, “We take turns.” And that we do. And more & more of you know what that is like and the challenges it brings. Which makes the door lesson ever more important. Treat the people you love as well as you treat the people you need.
And if it’s true of the generations, it true of the intimacy. True with spouses. Divorce is rarely a tsunami. Much more often it is the result of a drip, drip, drip build up of criticism and complaint, inattention and bitterness. Your job, your boss, your friends, your bar gets your best and your mate gets your leftovers. And pretty soon he has left you over that. REFRAIN. You know what would be great, marrieds? If you’d simply treat each other as well as you did when you were dating. You were AWESOME to each other then, weren’t you? Why? You NEEDED each other! Needed company, cohesion, conquest. And then when you GOT each other, whoooo! the needs stopped, the love dwindled, and there you go. So, please, husbands & wives, Treat the people you love as well as you treat the people you need.
I don’t care about a Date Night. That’s such a typical cure. How about a Kindness Week? A Patience Month? An Encouragement Year? Instead of the spectacle, an emphasis on the mundane. It’s tried, it’s true, it’s cliche, you’ve heard it before, but hear it again: women need to hear “I love you” and men need to hear “I’m proud of you.” It’s genetic, it’s biological (yes, there are genders that matters!) and women long for love while men live for respect.
Which is why, in the spirit of REFRAIN, I leave you with (AV) EXPRESS AFFECTION EVERY DAY from Dr. Nate Branden:
Successful couples . . .
- Frequently say “I love you.”
- Are physically affectionate, hold hands, hug, cuddle.
- Express their love sexually.
- Verbalize their appreciation and admiration.
- Share thoughts and feelings; self-disclosing in a way that is assertive but not aggressive.
- Express love materially, giving frequent gifts to each other.
- Create time alone together
Ha! You know what that is? It’s conscious, continual REFRAIN.