This is a series I’m starting the year on the foundations I’m laying for my life as well as my family’s. The word foundation is from the word found, which means to establish, to set, and to place. I like to use the start of the year to check my life’s foundations. Just like anything else, they suffer from wear and tear. I am always shocked at the state they’re in, and always finding that I need to be stricter about what I consider to be foundational. Not all my preconceived and firmly-held beliefs were essential, many of them were strong opinions with no standard to base them. I was building my foundations on sinking sand. Here’s my explanation on building personal foundations, a simple What I’m building, Where I’m building, and How I’m building, starting with what they’re all sharing, a single Why I’m building, and that is love.
Why I’m Building: Love
To explain this, I’d like to start with why it’s important to define what love is before saying it’s our motivation. People take the true meaning of words for granted, no longer checking for actual meanings nor true definitions. We’re content with general ideas that could mean the same thing (even if many times they don’t). It’s sad in my opinion, because when we are ok with weak definitions for things, such as words, our lives start losing exactly that which definitions were supposed to produce: meaning.
Let me give an example: Good & Nice When the word nice starts to mean good and the word good starts to mean nice, then neither of them keeps its meaning, becoming neither good nor nice. How many times have I heard someone tell me, when asked about a certain person’s quality, “He’s nice” as if nice is some high standard to be attained. This is the sort of thing that happens when we do not protect definition. To be very clear: nice is not a high standard. To be nice is not a virtue. To be good, now that’s a high standard. But to mix them up as synonyms can be dangerous, leading us to rationalize foolish, ineffective, and even immoral behavior as not being so bad because the person is “nice”. And on the flip-side, it’s much easier for us to be upset, get angry, and even hate a truly good person who is not nice, who is harsh, or blunt, or insensitive. We prefer nice fools more than not-nice sages. When we prefer the fool over the sage, when we cannot distinguish nice from good, we will be very prone to foolish decisions, following nice fools and rejecting the wisdom of the not-nice, even if it is still wisdom.
While a lot of what is good is nice, not all that is good is nice, and neither is all that is nice considered to be good. Being good and being nice are very different things. Being good means being righteous. Being nice means being agreeable. It is very possible, in the pursuit of goodness/righteousness to be not nice or not agreeable, especially if the situation includes being disagreeable to unrighteousness. To be nice or agreeable in this situation would mean not to be good or righteous. This example does not only show that it is possible to be good and NOT nice but also shows that it is possible to be nice and NOT good. The point is, when we water-down definitions, we destroy meaning. When we destroy meaning, we destroy purpose. Life becomes meaning-less. Few words, if any, have lost their meaning like the word love. When I ask people what the definition of love is, they usually say stuff like, “love is not a feeling but an action” or “love is patient, kind…” or some other nice/agreeable statement. There are two problems when we use these generalizations and unstudied definitions:
1. Because we have such misunderstood ideas of love we know not how to recognize true love, especially when it is packaged in a way we do not understand nor do not prefer. When the word love gets mixed in with preference, such as in “I love ice cream”, then we start to think that anything that is not preferred is not love. This is a grave mistake. Discipline, the way the Bible says, is a powerful way God treats those He loves. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly prefer discipline, but understand I need it because it is a loving and all-knowing God’s way of setting me on the right track. When we only accept preferred love, then we will miss love that comes in ways we do not prefer, and this will lead us to question the person giving us this love, ultimately leading us to doubt him, until we finally rebel. This is typical of adolescents who question a lot the rules and discipline their parents give them, thinking they understand the world better, questioning whether their parents care about them (when they’re really questioning whether their parents care about their feelings and teenage social life), yet failing to recognize the love shown in food to eat, spoons and forks to use, a bed to sleep, and day in and day out of consistent hard work. While consistent faithfulness, the kind we easily take for granted because it doesn’t come with fanfare or romance, is closer to the Bible’s idea of “laying your life down for your friend”, we now live in a world where kids think love is when dad gives them a new cell phone, where wives think love is when their husband can afford their impulses, where husbands think love is when their wives stay hot, or when students think a “cool” teacher loves them more than a challenging one. We do not know the definition of love, and so cannot recognize it, especially when it comes in ways we do not prefer, particularly when it comes tempered by wisdom, prudence, and discipline. When we cannot recognize it we will not embrace it, and when we don’t embrace it we will not enjoy it, and worse, we will reject and reject it, only to lose it.
2. Because we have misunderstood ideas of love, we know not how to show it. One glaring way to know whether we’re not showing love correctly is by honestly asking this question: Am I more focused, more concerned, and more diligent with my obligation to love others with my actions or am I more focused, more concerned, and more diligent with claiming my entitlement to the love of others? True love is, yes, a feeling of desire, but it is a powerful desire that leads to certain actions, certain actions that lead to desired results. So in this explanation you get the powerful passion, but you also get right practice, and both are guided by the great purpose. Passion without right practice towards great purpose will either dissipate or self-destruct. Practice without powerful passion will lack the motivation to achieve a great purpose. Passion and practice without great purpose is like a dog chasing its tail, going round and round, with no meaning.
Because we have forgotten this, and because we are so into “nice” as the ultimate virtue, we think that someone is loving when they’re nice, and think we’re being loving when we’re nice. This idea shows a severe lack of understanding, as nice, while it may be part of of the practice of love, it does not cover both passion and purpose. No one is nice because they’re passionate. The most passionate people I know can many times be not nice! And no one who is seeking a great purpose aspires to be nice. They aspire to whatever that great purpose is. This is not to say nice is wrong. It’s good to be agreeable when the situation merits it.
Nice is not wrong, but it is not love. To think that the most loving people in the world are the nicest and the nicest people in the world are loving is to be naïve. And to think that our being nice is being loving is a big mistake. You can’t plant seeds of nice and get fruits of love. While I’m trying to provide an objective definition of love, I find myself becoming more cynical with writing reasonable explanations for a world that doesn’t want reasonable explanations but nice and agreeable explanations of the world even if they’re not accurate, I do hope that maybe even just one person is influenced to start laying strong foundations, not built on shifting sand which is so easily shaken and destroyed, but built on the rock, the Word of God. Now I’ve realized that one major reason why my foundations show many cracks is because I don’t build on the whole Word. I pick and choose the parts that I find, here’s the word again, nice or agreeable. I love to read and reread the parts about great plans and blessings. I love to share the verses about loving me despite my faithlessness. But I fail to take just as seriously the more sober parts like, “Do not answer a fool according to his (or her) folly” or the one on “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline” or the really scary ones such as: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ – Matthew 7
These happen to be the verse right before the example of building a house on shifting sand. It’s another sobering reminder that we cannot simply embrace what’s nice. But from my experience, we don’t want wisdom. What we want is to be loved for who we are – even if who we are is holding others back. What we want is to not be judged, even if our own bad judgement is costing others. What we want is to be loved for who we are, unwilling to be loved for who they are, and unwilling to love others for who they are as well. In short, we don’t want God’s word. We want our feelings assuaged. The foundation I’m seeking to build in my life is not a feelings-based one. This is not because I do not have feelings. I do. And as is seen in my writing, poetry, and art, emotions are a big part of me. But I see them as things to be mastered and harnessed, not merely expressed. The difference between a masterpiece and ordinary art, is that one artist infused his work with a combination of skill and soul. There’s emotion AND mastery. The ordinary ones are all just expressions, emotional farts without depth.
All of that to say, the reason why I’m building a foundation is because of love, not the mushy love of movies, but the faithful, consistent, enduring, growing kind. Sometimes I wonder, what if others don’t reciprocate the love I’m forcing myself to show? Then I remind myself it doesn’t matter. We are obligated to love, not entitled to it. Even more, he (or she) who truly loves God will be transformed by that love into a better person, so even if one is disappointed by the love of others, one of two results could happen: (1) it won’t matter so much because the person is so transformed by God’s love he doesn’t need the love of others for satisfaction, (2) the person is so transformed by God’s love that he naturally attracts love from people who have also allowed themselves to be transformed. Either way, this person is not at a loss.
So here’s my loooong explanation for WHY I’m building, summarized into a few sentences: The reason WHY I’m building is because I love God and I love others, particularly the closest people in my life such as my wife and family. I want to show them real love by being the kind of person who is so excellent that I can love excellently. I have a long way to go. I have a long long long long long long… …way to go.