A Bad Metaphor

My birthday is tomorrow. I can honestly say that in my life there is nothing material that I want. Oh, I could give you a list of some books and I always enjoy a new shirt, but there is really nothing that I’m sitting around pining for. On a car ride this weekend (we do a lot of driving) I was joking with my wife about birthday gifts and told her that I measure how much I mean to people by what they get me as a gift. The comment was totally a joke – I think I heard it on a TV show or something, but it has struck me how relevant that comment was to be for me.

It wasn’t until I got to the end of Blue Like Jazz that I pieced it all together. As donald miller is wrapping up his book, he describes how he came to the realization that his thinking on love was all wrong. When he was confronted with the metaphorical language our culture uses for love and relationships it becomes clear that, to us, they are a commodity, a product of our consumer society.

We invest in relationships.

We value people.

We build relational equity.

People can be morally bankrupt.

We make deposits in relational accounts.

My spouse is priceless (or a treasure).

You may describe someone as worthless.

Relationship have become economic. As such, we judge them by the payoff they we get from them. In this model, I’ll choose to give or withhold my love based on what I’m getting out of the relationship. Think about it, if time is money – and that is part of the belief system that we have – then time I spend with someone has an economic implication. So, I will be inclined to spend time with or build into people who will produce for me, who will give me a return on my investment.

Conversely, I will withhold myself in relationship in which I’m not getting a good return. Those that are not meeting MY needs. Those that are not meeting my expectations or helping me climb the ladder of success. So withholding become a form of communication. “You don’t measure up.” “Give me what I want and I’ll give back.” “You’re not worth it.”

Those may or may not be the intentional messages, but I’m pretty certain that those would be the perceptions of the other, the person who is not experiencing a scarcity of attention or affection in the relationship. Looking back, I was very good at this. Pride, remember? Relationships had a definite purpose to validate me or meet a need. That’s why there are people pleasers – it’s not about the other, it’s about self.

There were lots of relationships that I manipulated like a stock broker. Buying and selling depending upon what I was getting. Especially with my wife. Being a man with passive tendencies, I would withdraw from contact. Withhold expressions of love (unless they were physical), mope around, invest my time elsewhere where I would feel worth.

While it didn’t cure me totally, my Miracle showed me the error of my unforgiveness and pride. My wife (and others) were not at my disposal or intended for my validation. But something that underlies all this, all this withholding, is a realization that our love, affection, and friendship has influence. Our love for people has the power to make or break them.

We’ve all heard the expression that behind every good man is a good woman. Well, duh. It is easier to succeed when you have someone cheering you on and respecting you. When you don’t have to expend so much emotional energy proving yourself. Similarly, behind every good woman, I’d expect there to be a man who cherishes, encourages and loves his woman. For the same reasons. It’s so much easier for a flower to bloom in fertile soil.

I want there to be fertile soil for my relationship to bloom in (Btw, are gardening metaphors better for relationships that economic ones? I’ll have to think that through, but this is a blog and we’ll go with it.). Since I’m the man, the God appointed leader, the change agent, it is up to me to do til the ground. Strategies abound. There are a million books on relationships that have good strategies. But they will only truly be effective when your motivation is right. When you drop the economic model of investing to get something.

Instead, serve. Give yourself as a gift. Expect nothing in return. Put your needs on hold. Do it for love. How can I claim to love God when I treat my brothers and sisters as commodities. Let God fill your account so it can be emptied for others. If you get something in return, even better, but that is not the motivation. That’s been the fruit of my Miracle and coming up against the Wall of my pride. Realizing that I shouldn’t be trying for an economic style return in my relationship, but creating a new metaphor.

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