By Charles Rush
May 16, 2010
Jeremiah 29: 4-7 and Ruth 1: 16-17
(mp3, 6.0Mb) ]
en my children were toddlers, my wife would take them to an ice cream store that was owned by an immigrant from Russia. He would make a big production out of serving ice cream. They would always part by saying, “Have a good day”. It was a little ritual they went through.
The ice cream
store didn’t do well. One day we went to get some ice cream, a big deal was
made, and my children all said, “Have a good day”.
The owner looked
at my wife with some wistfulness. He said, “I have to close the business and I
will not see you again. My friends, not only a good day,
have a good life.”
Lauren, aged 3, said, “Have a good life” and she blew a kiss.
It was a
poignant moment and I was reflecting on how casual we say those things when we
are young. You graduate from High School and you wave goodbye to everyone,
really anxious for the adventure to begin, and to leave that all behind.
Turn around, you
are graduating from college. Group picture and you say farewell thinking that
your paths will all cross somehow, someway in the future.
You travel in
college or right after. You meet the most interesting people from Australia in
the middle of the Congo, spend three intense days together, and depart south
and north, probably for good with a simple hug and a “Ta Ta”…
You get older
and it is not the same thing. On the one hand, you are vaguely aware with each
significant goodbye of the not too far distant day when you say the big
goodbye. And, if you have been lucky, you are really saying thank you for being
loved. It is not so easy to replace that.
It turns out
that our researchers started doing some serious study on what brings us humans
genuine fulfillment, a good deal of it is what we already knew to be true in
the beloved community. We are fulfilled
when we feel ourselves to be connected in a community. These relationships are
what make us really contented. That is why it is called beloved.
Better, we are
happy when we can identify and practice our signature strengths, things we are
really good at, what it is that we do well, what we bring to the table- if we
can practice those skills day in and day out, especially with the people that
we love. If the people that we love can appreciate our what
we bring to the game and give us positive feedback, that is really fulfilling.
This we fundamentally value.
Another way that
our researchers put it, if we can love and be loved, we are really lucky. It
turns out that letting yourself ‘be loved’ is
important. We often think of men who are reticent about allowing themselves to
be loved, as men are socialized to become independent and have an
under-developed ability to receive but the early research suggests that it is a
challenge in both genders. The challenge to allowing ourselves to be loved is
actually probably more related to our capacity to trusting and intimate. The
whole area anticipates better understanding in the near future. We are just now
beginning to look into it.
There is good
news. You are more likely to live longer and you are more likely to find your
life fulfilling if you go to Church. And you are more likely to have a
fulfilling romantic life if you are in church. So, congratulations. You are
already probably doing better than you thought you were. We don’t know why
these correlate but it is probably related to another finding.
greatest correlate between those people that describe themselves as ‘most
happy’, by which we mean they describe their life is one of deep and fulfilling
contentment- the single greatest correlate is a great marriage. And if you look
at the literature, it is not just married people exclusively. This is the way
Professor David Meyers put it…”There are few stronger predictors of happiness
than a close, nurturing, equitable, intimate, lifelong companionship with one’s
That is pretty
much what the Church has been saying about love for 2000 years… “close,
nurturing-build each other up, give one another confidence and inspiration,
equitable- and reciprocal; we change roles but everyone feels like they are in
this together and meeting each other’s needs; over time- that is a plus,
profound friendship and camaraderie.[i]
It turns out
that this foundation is actually a real key to being able to withstand quite a
lot of real hardship and get through it okay: financial problems, disease, acts
of nature, wars, anarchy in the wider world. You can absorb quite a great deal
of distress and hardship and still describe your life as happy and fulfilling
if you have a deep sense of loving others and being loved.
And the converse
is also true. When we actually poll people that describe themselves as not
happy or not fulfilled, the single most significant cause of unhappiness is a
divorce, a death, a break up, a significant interruption of a pivotal
relationship that you are in.
I love scientists
describing these things. They say things like ‘humans have developed the
evolutionary adaptation for pair-bonding to educate offspring during their long
process of maturity.’ Translate- We need our people because with the
love that we have known from our people, we have the skill and the confidence
to try all kinds of things and endure all kinds of things together- and
sometimes parenting adolescents can only be described as endurance. We can get
through a lot.
It is a funny
thing about us humans. We are prone to overvalue what we already have
irrationally. Professor Van Boven did an experiment
at the University of British Columbia. He gave his students a beer mug with the
college logo on the front. It was worth 5 dollar and you could buy it at the
A while later, he gave them an option. They could keep the
mug or they could trade it on auction for other items of similar value that
were sold at the Bookstore.
Here is what he
discovered. The students generally wouldn’t sell their $5 beers mugs on auction
for less than $7 but they wouldn’t pay more than $4 for someone else’s beer
mug. We are not straight forward rational creatures. Our rationality values
what we have more and we have more commitment to it. My people,
right and wrong… This is where blood is thicker than water. The good news is
that we are largely hard wired to give it a good shot- our relationships, our
families, our lives- we are hard wired to really try and make it work.
And we are all
on a process of maturation from either being anxious or avoidant to becoming
secure in love. Much of this is shaped from childhood.
aren’t naturally comfortable being close to other people. They don’t like to
depend on others. It makes them nervous when they have to trust. They report
that their spouse or their close friend wants to be closer to them than they
want to be much of the time.
are worried that they are going to swamp their spouse or their good friends.
They report that they would like to merge with their spouse. They worry that
they will drive other people away. They worry that their spouse doesn’t really
love them. They expect too much and want to be too close.
strive for intimacy and pay attention to a balance between dependence and
independence. They develop healthy self-esteem and have few self-doubts. They
regard others as trustworthy until proven otherwise. They are reliable,
good-hearted, helpful, and well regarded by those around them. They are
communicative when they are upset and use distress to move towards
reconciliation and constructive ends. (As opposed to tantrums)
As you might
imagine, secure people are much more likely to remember their parents as
“available warm, and affectionate.”[ii]
This is what we
want to become with each other and for each other. As it turns out, as you
mature into being secure people, it has beneficial effects: You are a better
care giver, you have a more fulfilling romantic life, and you are better at
coping with bad events.[iii]
strikes me about this is that the same qualities of maturation that make you a good marriage partner, also make you
a good family person, and a solid community developer. As you develop a
solid marriage around you, a solid family around you, a substantial community,
you are much more likely to find the resources to actualize a meaningful life.
It is the same
spiritual demeanor. That is what is relatively profound about the character of
Ruth in the bible. She is not a Jew. She married a Jewish boy. He dies. Ruth’s
Jewish Mother-in-Law tells her that she can return to her people.
It is a gracious
gesture. Go home to your people. Find another husband, reclaim your family. You
don’t need to worry about me in my old age.
Mother-in-Law underestimates the love of her daughter-in-law. And what a
beautiful thing that is because in-laws are like adopting children as adults.
You are never quite sure what the relationship will be like and you worry about
it quite a bit. You are so dependent on your children making wise choices in
mates. And Ruth says the most endearing, kind of model line if you could hear
one from a daughter-in-law. She says, “Where you go, I will go… your people
shall be my people”. It means, I love you and that love will endure.
And perhaps that
is why St. Paul, when he describes the nature of love, he doesn’t really draw a
distinction between marriage, family, or the church. He just addresses us as
one beloved community because the spiritual disposition that brings fulfillment
in one arena brings maturity in all of arenas.
speaking, manifesting love and maturing in love is an end in itself. Our
communal life is important. This is principally what we are to be about.
At the end of the
day, we don’t get to stay together forever but it is very important that we
establish a beloved community together, a place where we can mature in love and
friendship. And if we really do our job, when we say ‘goodbye’ it is really sad
because we actualized fulfilling love.
We want people
to grow onto the next stage of their life and to move when they need to. But my
hope for our Congregation is that we make it hard for you to move because this
is a secure and stable place for you, for your family.
And my hope for
all of you is that you will open yourselves, that you will invest yourselves
and your families in making a stable community here, so that many years from
now, if you should move on, this would be a pillar in your life, in your
family’s life, that would be hardest to leave. Then, we will know that we have
Bill and Mary,
we send you out as ambassadors of the beloved community.
We don’t exactly
say goodbye because we will always be connected through prayer. And with
technology, some of us stay literally connected. There are weeks, I talk to
people in London as much as people in Summit.
But we send you
out as Ambassadors of Christ Church. What you have experienced here is still
not experienced enough. Not enough churches are the real deal. And so we hope
that you are able to take these roots and re-plant a shoot or two of some of
what we have known and shared together in Massachusetts. The most common note I
get from former Christ Church people whether they move to Dallas, San Francisco,
London or Toronto is that there aren’t enough congregations like ours. We want
you to plant some of this somewhere else.
We will stay
connected even though we are apart. Love is like that. It has been a privilege
to know you and to share our lives together. We want to bless you as you go, so
why don’t you all come forward at this time.
This is a summary of the chapter from Martin Seligman’s book “Authentic
Happiness”(New York: Free Press, 2002). See p. 187 for
the quote. David Myers book is American Paradox. I haven’t read it but Seligman thinks
it is excellent. Professor Seligman teaches at the University of Pennsylvania
and has done some break through research on happiness. What follows is simply a
condensation of his chapter on Love.
See Seligman, pps. 190-193… The preceding four
paragraphs were simply a condensation of the chapter.
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