The Lady, Her Lover, and Her LordBy BISHOP T. D. JAKES G. P. Putnam's Sons
Falling in Love with Yourself
Love--what a word! It is a small word possessing only four letters, but it is loaded to the brim with every imaginable feeling. The Greeks have many words to describe the multifaceted concept of love. They divide the agape kind of love from the philia kind of love. The agape describes the divine, while the philia describes the brotherly affection between siblings and shared among humans. They use the word eros--from which we get the word erotic--to describe the intimate love of a man and his wife. Love ... what an intimidating feeling to describe accurately. It is limiting at best to be left with words alone to describe the abstract feelings of the heart, but to have only one word to describe all the types and levels of feelings, a word that means different things to different people--well, we often fail to describe the variety or the intensity of the intoxicating impact of the love feeling.
Love is to life what a scent is to a rose. It is the spice of life, and it adorns life as clouds decorate the skies. Many women have tasted the nectar of romance. Many men have swayed beneath the influence of the memory of a special moment shared with that special someone. Even the aged see youth rekindled in the emblazoned moments of affection and the displayed admission of concern. From the cooing sound of a contented baby, to the calm breathing of an aged grandmother, there is the constant need for and appreciation of affections that affect the ordinary and transform the mediocre. Yes, love is the magic elixir of the soul. It is a common denominator, something we all need regardless of our varied perspectives or vicissitudes of life. Whether love is communicated through a soft touch or a moistened eye, it is the message that we need. "The method is immaterial in comparison to the magnitude of the message itself.
There is no drug that can compare with the intense, passionate feelings that are aflame when the heart is in love. It is love that causes the senses to heighten. It is love that causes the heart to pump honey to the soul and sedation to the mind. It is the sweet taste of the honeycomb that satisfies the taste buds of the soul. Without love, life tastes bland and success is empty.
What can compete with love? It has kept the sick man alive and made the well man feel sick. It is love that gives us courage and yet love that makes us afraid. It weakens the mighty and strengthens the feeble. It is the most intoxicating feeling that any of us will ever have the privilege of experiencing. If it is given to the worthy, it is reciprocated and fruitful. If it is invested on the empty opportunist, it can create a pain that nauseates the soul and afflicts the mind. It can make an average person seem extraordinary. It has the capabilities to alter our perceptions and heighten our vulnerability. It is love that made Christ the and still that same love that made him arise from the grave.
Without a doubt, we all want to experience love, but we must ask, Are we in love with others or are we in love with the idea of being in love? Many are the women, and men as well, who have turned to the arms of someone looking for the assurance that ultimately must come from within. How bitter they become when they look around for that which they must find inside themselves. They saddle their relationships down with undue weight and hold their partners in a perpetual state of guilt. They blame their partners for not being there for them. But what is actually meant is that their partners are not giving them what they expected. The greater question should be stated, Is it fair to expect anyone to bear the brunt of a life filled with pain and dysfunction? Who can restore what life has taken out of you, but God? Who can remind you of what God has promised you, but you? You are your own preacher, and occasionally you must say the kind of speech to yourself that enables you to be productive and accomplished.
There are many types of love. But the one that we must begin with is the tantalizing allurement of the impassioned heart that enables us to love others. It is that passion that must start at home before it goes abroad. For the greatest of human perceptions is when the heart can look into the mirror and smile at the image that is reflected therein. It is the grace that enables us to wink at ourselves and appreciate out own gifts. It is a healthy mind that can celebrate itself. Then and only then can we determine whether we are loving others because they are lovable or because we are so famished for love that we will settle for anyone or anything that gives to us what we should give to ourselves.
Light a candle, play a song, take a walk, and meditate on your own accomplishments. It is a poor hen that will not crow in her own nest. Quiet moments alone allow us to explore how deeply we are committed to our own sense of healthy well-being and fortitude. You must become the motivational speaker that is self-challenging. The passion to go forward is too important to be left to the happenstance of someone else's concerns for us. We need to be motivated, but it is dangerous to allow that need to become so overwhelming and desperate that it can only find fulfillment in the actions of someone else. We need to be self-motivated in order to survive.
Perhaps one of the most difficult things to achieve is the ability to be motivated by ourselves. Most of us have a tendency to live and receive motivation as martyrs. We live for others and their causes, making our own needs and presence secondary pursuits. Sadly, sometimes we place ourselves so far on the back burner that the dreams boil out and leave only a parched pot where once we had personal expectation. When dreams boil out, a scorching heat of stress and anxiety causes the kettle to give a shrill sound before the burning begins. That shrill sound can be heard in our excesses and overindulgences, which camouflage the fact that we are frustrated with dreams that are denied and hopes that seem deferred. The burning, destructive, compulsive behaviors could all be avoided if we only, with patience and perseverence, took life in small doses and allowed ourselves the privilege of having an appointment with our own attention and scheduled ourselves as clients that we must see before the day is over. In short, take time for yourself. Listen to the hissing sound before you catch fire!
It has been said that love is a many-splendored thing. If that is true, then one of those splendors should be directed inward. While we value and validate the worth of others, we must also take the time to fondly affirm our own sense of personhood and self-development. We must know that love is not an optional accessory that we can choose to exclude from life. It epitomizes the human experiences and celebrates all that we enjoy. It gives us distinction from lower forms of life whose presence is monitored by time alone. Our life is not the mere collection of days and months. We are connoisseurs of the fine architectural design of life, love, and the exchange of human energy. We are moved and motivated by the spirited synergy that comes from the passion of experiences and the fine nectar of moments shared.
The real challenge that we all have is to find a place of balance between martyrdom and narcissism. The art of avoiding extremes is an art that is drawn on the canvas of maturity and painted with the abstract strokes of many experiences. The balance is as vital to you as it is to a high-flying trapeze act. We need not become self-consumed, but please realize that there must be something between selfishness and self-denial. This is not the blaring clarion call to become self-centered and egotistic. But it is a cry to balance the heart of women who have allowed everyone's plight to become more important than their own. It is a cry to recognize your strengths before you become lost in a perpetual state of being a cheerleader for someone else and never yourself.
This is not just a feminine problem. It is actually a human problem. Yet the maternal instinct in women increases their susceptibility to it. Maternal instincts are great on a child, but don't try them on a man. They are dangerous when coupled with the societal bias that tends to usher women into roles of subservient behavior. It makes the lady a prime candidate to become a martyr for any cause but her own. When this happens, the milk of compassion in a woman often hardens in the breast and causes the heart to ache. There was nothing wrong with the milk. It was just invested into something or someone that was not worthy. There is nothing worse than giving the right thing to the wrong person.
Many women find it difficult to appreciate themselves because society puts pressure on them to be completely selfless; any attempt at self-nurturing and self-love is condemned, eliciting accusations of being selfish and narcissistic, of not being an adequate wife, mother, or even an adequate woman. No woman wants these labels and so many comply--giving, giving, giving--never appreciating themselves. Never realizing that in order to truly give you must appreciate the gifts you possess. Sadly, some women's lives become as futile as a child's attempt to capture the entire ocean in his sand bucket. No matter how committed he is to his task, no effort is ever enough.
It's not easy to overcome this pressure. Even the most liberated people are adversely affected by the pressure of public opinion. Withstanding the opinions of others is at best stressful and at worst debilitating. Many of us are crippled by the masses of people who do not allow us the freedom of our own opinions and the exploration of our own personhood. We all have a tendency to reflect the opinions of others. If someone says you look terrible in a dress, don't you wear it with reluctance the next time? Even though we say we do not care what people think, to some degree we are still vulnerable to their words and ideas. But if we are going to be effective individuals, we must develop the ability to embrace ourselves. A positive self-image is not arrogant. It is necessary in order to procure a healthy relationship with others. People who have low self-esteem are too obsessive to enjoy others. They cling to others like a vine to a wall. They need others to stand, and that need is compulsive and draining.
It is virtually impossible to find someone to appreciate you as a person if you do not allow them to see you as a settled, stabilized force in the earth. They need to hear you sing your own song. They need to listen to your solo. Sing the melody of success and everybody will want to hum that tune with you. But make sure that you allow to join in only those who harmonize with your own self-image. You actually train others how to treat you by how you treat yourself. Do not think for one moment that others do not observe your level of style, class, and preferences. All of us, when we shop, have had to deal with the fact that this person we are shopping for would or would not buy this item for him- or herself. You want to buy what would at least be comparable to what that person would select. You wouldn't give a cheap bag to someone who wears expensive clothes, would you? Who would feel comfortable giving a gift that would stand out among the person's possessions as an item beneath his or her normal standard? By being good to the self, this person has in essence set a standard that we all must aspire to reach if we are to be a blessing to that individual.
Look, Ma, No Hands
We are not born in relationships. Who among us was born holding someone else's hand firmly clasped within her own? We enter life with both hands up in the air and fists clenched tightly. We are born empty-handed. There are no hands to hold but our own. We learn to reach out, but only after we have had a chance to reach inward and upward. It is the upward reach of the spirit and the inward reach of the soul that enables the outward reach of the body.
Most of us are single-birth babies who spent time alone from the womb to the crib. We played in the crib alone. We learned the fundamental skills of entertaining ourselves. Alone is where we start and essentially it is where we end. For even if we die in a crowded room, ultimately we die alone. Job says he came here naked and returned naked. It is true. We find ourselves going full circle. We take no more with us than what we brought. We brought no one with us into this world, and even though we may hold hands as we die, still we face death alone. We are at best empty-handed travelers. We start with clutched hands, and we end with clutched hands. Between those two points, our hands will hold many things. But, at the end, as was in the beginning, they will pry our hands open and find no one's hand within but our own.
Nothing is more essential to spiritual and emotional well-being than that which we are considering now. For you see, there are some prerequisites to a healthy love relationship with others. We can love others with no more wholeness than that with which we love ourselves, We tend to seek from others the kind of love and affirmation that must come from within. As we journey forward, we will discuss the relationship the lady has with herself, then with her husband and lover, and finally with her Lord.
If her relationship is not fortified with her Lord and with herself, she will enter into a relationship with a man for the wrong reason. She will want from him those properties that can only be extracted from a positive self-image and a clear perception of her God. I will discuss in more detail later the significance of having a God-centered life. But for the moment, let's consider what can be achieved by a woman who knows and loves herself. So tonight, dear friend, set the table for one and sit in the presence of your own personhood. Drink the robust wine of your own thoughts and laugh hysterically at some humorous memory that you can share with no one but yourself. Could it be possible that before the night is over you might find yourself warmed by the fire of your own dreams, and perhaps ever so gently whisper the confession that by God's grace you have finally learned to enjoy your own company?
Could it be possible that being alone does not have to mean that you are lonely? Have you ever entertained yourself? Or are you saving all of your social skills for someone who is not there? If you are, it is indeed a statement that suggests you are not important enough to demand your own respect. That is a dangerous place from which to start life. Because if you cannot value your own existence and presence, you will eventually have trouble relating well to others.
Most people spend no time entertaining themselves. They only entertain others. They never plan an evening for themselves. They endure their time alone as if they had been exited to solitary confinement. But it is the single woman who has the time to develop true spirituality. She is not encumbered with the concerns of children or mate. She has the time to strengthen herself on several different levels. She has the time to strengthen her economy, her spirituality, and her personality. Each area needs to be strengthened so that she can clearly discern, when offers come, whether she is in love or in need.An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world--how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord, I Cor. 7:34-35 (NIV)
I am therefore suggesting that you have a relationship first with your God, secondly with yourself, and finally, out of the manifold fruits of your own habitation, you are ready to share with someone else what you have determined to be worth bringing to the table of love.
First things first. God is a God of order. He created Adam alone and then gave him a relationship. Adam had time with God and with himself before he had time with his lovely bride. If God has chosen to allow you a time of intimacy with Him, enjoy that Sabbath and receive it as an opportunity to savor your consecration and develop your qualities as an individual.Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matt. 22:36-39
Jesus says that the greatest commandments that are listed in the Word are thus: the greatest commandment is the one that demands that we love our Lord with all our hearts, minds, and souls; the second-greatest commandment is that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But how can we love our neighbors who are apart from us if we do not learn to love ourselves? It is here that we must begin the process of preparing our gift to be given. For how can we give to someone a gift that we do not value or believe to be significant ourselves? Is it possible that this is the basis for so many dysfunctional relationships? Is it possible that many people have a tendency to see themselves as insignificant and therefore open themselves up to a life of abuse?
More important is the fact that when we do not value ourselves, we tend to attract people who support that devalued image. Remember now, we train people how to treat us by how we treat ourselves. If you honor yourself, there are some men who will not find that an attractive feature. You will heat statements such as, "She thinks she is so much," or, "That girl is a trip." The truth of the matter is he has seen the product and doesn't have the price that the ticket says must be paid. You must know that sometimes rejection is a blessing and not a curse. There are some people, jobs, friends, and so on that you do not want to attract. You want to draw to yourself people who are comfortable with your values and perceptions. People with low self-esteem tend to draw to themselves others who dominate and control or belittle them. They attract the types of men who are apt to reinforce their own negativity. That is why you need to be healed inside before you enter into relationships.
Sometimes God delays relationships to give you a chance to heal as an individual. Then and only then can you make choices that are healthy--choices that are not predicated on obsessive need or fear of being alone. There are many people who endure unthinkable abuse because they are terribly afraid of being alone! To avoid themselves, they choose life with an abuser rather than a night at home alone. But there are some things that are worse than being alone.
While you are single, if you do not spend time finding wholeness and learning the art of being happy alone, you will marry out of fear and then years later awaken out of the comatose state of low self-esteem, only to recognize that you are a valuable entity whether there is a man around or not. Then you may find yourself lying beside someone who no longer fits where you are; he fit where you were and how you saw yourself before. You may find that you are tied to someone who fits your dysfunction but not your function. Tragically, you have grown apart rather than together. Many times, in response to the woman's new sense of value, the man will panic and try to insult the woman into a false feeling of incompetence. Women, do not embrace this degradation! Maintain the courage to disagree with debasement. There is a difference between constructive criticism and the killing of a human soul. Know that there is nothing damaged within you. It is the man who is insecure, devaluing you to compensate for his own weaknesses. A strong man's hands can clap for his woman and still feel good about himself.
Many brides walk down the aisle of the church secretly saying, "Save me, save me." It is the silent scream of a desperate heart that is in love with the idea of love, in love with the hope that someone will love her so well that she will finally feel good about herself. But before you make a tragic mistake, you must learn the art of being warm alone! Additionally, you must realize that this is the time during which you should develop a respect for your own opinions. This is not to say that the goal is inflexibility as it relates to others' opinions. No, we always want to be open to the wisdom others can offer. But it does mean you should have conviction in your own thoughts in the absence of all others and their advice. What do you think? Before you get a second opinion, be sure you have a first one. It is time alone that enables you to get a grip on your own feelings and develop your own reasoning. Take it from me, it is far better to fall in love with a whole woman who has her own opinions and creativity than it is to be married to someone who thinks only what you think and wants only what you want. On the surface, having a woman defer to you may sound noble to some men. But after a while, you want a woman who has an idea that you didn't give her!
In short, the melody must be established before the harmony can be written. You must first establish your own identity. Try to establish some solidarity financially, mentally, and spiritually. Then, when and if you add the harmonious thrust of a male counterpart, he is enriched by your contribution and you by his, without being a weight that he carries until he is exhausted. The goal is ultimately a state of wholeness. That wholeness cannot be reached if you are not divorced from your past and prepared for your future. So let's take it step by step, one day at a time, and watch God give you the grace to make changes and institute goals for your future.
Your assignment at this point is quite simple. You have three P's that you are to start with. They are prayer, praise, and pampering. Pray for strength because you know that He gives might to those who have none. Praise God for your survival because you know that it is by His mercy that you are still here. Pamper for solace. It is through pampering yourself that you find renewal and comfort against the tragedies of life. You could do all of these practices at the same time. Light a candle in the bathroom, play some soft notes, and slip into a hot tub with scented bath beads. Lie in the water and raise your hands in the air and praise the God that blessed you to be alive. Pray about the things that would normally worry you. Refuse to spend the evening worrying about things over which you have no control. Instead, lather up and relax--this is your time of pampering!To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. Eccles. 3:1 (NKJ)
(C) 1998 Bishop T. D. Jakes All rights reserved.
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