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Love without an Exit Strategy: Paul Miller

with Paul Miller | February 14, 2023
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We’ve lost the definition of real love. But author Paul Miller has found the Bible’s brand of love—with no exit strategy—changes everything.

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We’ve lost the definition of real love. But on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson host author Paul Miller, who’s found that the Bible’s brand of love –;with no exit strategy — changes everything.

Love without an Exit Strategy: Paul Miller

With Paul Miller
|
February 14, 2023
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Dave: I heard a quote the other day. I’m pretty sure it was Paul David Tripp who said, “If you’re disappointed in your marriage, it doesn’t mean you have a bad marriage. It means you’re married.” [Laughter] He’s getting at the point that we think, if we’re disappointed, almost in anything, then we need to step away from that event or that person and find life. He was saying, “That’s going to be a part—We need to learn to love well.”

Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Ann: It’s a part of every relationship. We will be disappointed, whether it be a work relationship, a friend relationship, a marriage relationship. We will be disappointed. So, I think our tendency is to run away from those relationships; but man, when we step into them, we can grow deeper in our relationship with God and with our relationship with others.

Dave: Yes; so, we’ve got Paul Miller back in the studio to help us get over our disappointments in love. Paul, welcome back.

Paul: Thank you, Dave and Ann. It’s good to be here.

Dave: Now, as you hear that the disappointment—we talked about it a little bit yesterday. We can be disappointed, and it’s sort of, in talking about your “J Curve,” that we sort of die, and there’s, hopefully, a resurrection coming. How do we dig out of that, because that’s where a lot of us live? I get in a rut, or I get in a disappointment. It could be a dating relationship; it could be our marriage; but I feel stuck. It’s like, “Wait! How do I dig out?” What would you say?

Paul: Wow, there are so many ways to dig out! I would just, practically, begin with just prayer, you know? I mean, it sounds oversold, and it’s just a first reflex and long-time prayer; but just one little side comment—and this is the beauty of what we’re going to talk about—this idea of hesed love, which is covenant love. I’ll explain that in a minute. But the whole idea of covenant love is, “I am going to make a determination to love you regardless of how you respond to me.”

I got this out of the book of Ruth. The book of Ruth—I would read it once a year, and my tears would wet the pages, because it was Ruth doing this covenant love, where I was in situations where I was doing covenant love. And Ruth is so alone when she loves Naomi. No one is with her. [Crying] I’m sorry. It chokes me up. Abraham at least had wealth, you know, and servants. He heard God. And Ruth has no voice.

Ann: Her husband has died.

Paul: Her husband has died; her mother-in-law, whom she loves dearly, is a little on the cranky side. You know, I don’t want to beat up on Naomi, because she really is a wonder of her own version of hesed love, but she makes a determination to love this person come hell or high water. It’s really amazing if you think of this idea of hesed love. The word is all through the book of Ruth. The whole book is about hesed love. The Hebrew is actually—you’re supposed to kind of cough when you say it. It’s ceh-sed love.

But it’s one way love. I call it “love without an exit strategy,” where you’re just going to love. And this is your glory, you know? What a beautiful thing that is! Children—your children—will eventually see that. It’s really an absolutely lovely thing. And it’s only something that can happen if the Spirit is in you and possesses you. I know this is impossible, but I love to paint pictures for people—these Biblical pictures—of love that is pristine. What we’re hunting for is, we’re hunting for the perfect marriage.

What if the perfection—and I think we’re all perfectionists; what if the perfection—is not in how the marriage looks or feels, but is in your love?

Ann: Explain that. What do you mean?

Dave: Yes, describe what that means.

Ann: “It’s in your love.”

Dave: Because I don’t think we understand what you just said. It’s like we are so immersed in “I feel love,” or “looks like it’s perfect.”

Ann: Or “what I’m getting back.”

Dave: But what if the love were perfect?

Paul: So, if your spouse, ten times during the day—let’s go with critical; that’s an easy and very common one, or is moody, you’re praying for them; you’re praying for yourself, because you cannot do this without the Spirit of Jesus. You are gentle. When they’re critical, you are listening. When they are boastful, you’re humble.

We love the fruit of the Spirt: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, but they live in an environment of the fruits of the flesh! If you read Paul’s list of the fruits of the flesh right before that in Galatians 5, it’s this ugly soup of anger and witchcraft and adultery and slander and jealousy. So, the fruits of the flesh exist in that world. We live in this world of evil.

Ann: That’s so interesting. I think about a home that, you know, is not peaceful. There are a lot of arguments; kids are up, and they’re sick and they’re angry; the relationship is strained. You’re saying, in the midst of that stress or pain—or maybe you’ve lost a loved one; in the midst of that—

Paul: Right.

Ann: That’s where the fruit of the Spirit comes.

Paul: That’s right, yes. And how we discovered that, you know, in our marriage, having a disabled child for forty years, losing a daughter four years ago to cancer who just shined with Jesus. I had a very difficult boss for a number of years in ministry that just—I knew God had called me to that. It was very clear, but to work with him was to be constantly humbled. So, learning to endure; because, really, what we’re driving out is, “how do you endure in love?”

Ann: And we’re living in a culture [where] if that were happening, people would say, “I’m out!”

 

Dave: Right.

Paul: That’s right.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: “I don’t want to be—”

Dave: I cancel you!

Ann: Yes.

Paul: [Laughing] I “cancel” you!

Dave: Yes, “I’m done.”

Ann: Yes.

Paul: I mean, we talk about the broader cancel culture, but it’s actually a whole way of relating. I mean, Jesus picks up hesed love in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, towards the end, when He talks about how to love your enemies. We don’t have a sense of how incredible the Sermon on the Mount is, because we don’t have a sense of how mean paganism was. I mean, paganism was just all about boasting and revenge and your “tribe.” It sounds like what our world is going to!

Ann: Yes.

Paul: You know? And so the fact that you would actually love an enemy and care for an enemy and take that pack an extra mile—I mean, here’s a silly example: my wife likes to clean house, okay? And this is fairly recent. She loves animals, too, so we have two golden retrievers, one who’s really very bad. We call them “devil dog” and “angel dog.” [Laughter]

Dave: You really do?

Paul: Yes, my wife came up with the names. His name is Tully, and so, her nickname [for him] is Tulcifer. She wouldn’t like me to say this, but a couple of nights ago—she doesn’t like me to yell at Tully, but I heard her yell at him. She was out at 5 am taking him out, and he’s just bad. I mean, he’s not mean; he’s just bad. Do you know what I mean?

Ann: Tulcifer.

Paul: Yes, Tulcifer. Everybody who comes to the door; he has to give them a gift. Like, one time—one of his most unusual gifts was, he ran upstairs to Kim’s bed when a plumber came to the door, and pulled her bedspread off the bed, hauled it down the steps, and presented it to the plumber.

Ann: Because it’s a retriever!

Paul: Yes.

Ann: Of course.

Paul: He just retrieves. Anyway, I lost track with my storyline here.

Dave: So, your wife likes to keep a clean house—

Paul: Oh, okay!

Dave: You’ve got an angel and a devil dog running around dirtying up your house.

Paul: We had our floors redone, and it’s raining. She wants me to wipe their feet (when I had brought them in from a walk). I don’t want to wipe their feet. I mean, I’ve been studying, and I wrote a lesson on the foot washing in John 13; but that’s people, and that’s Jesus. You know what I mean? I was teaching on it, but that’s one thing.

Dave: You’re going to wash Devil Dog’s feet! [Laughter]

Paul: I just—he fights you when you wipe his feet. It’s not like normal; you know what I mean? It’s just “J curve” on top of “J curve,” you know what I mean? There’s no resurrection in this! [Laughter]

Dave: Yes.

Paul: Stupid dog, you know? So, it took me two months of “uggh!” Finally, it broke through, and I thought, “You know what? Jesus washed feet. I can wash these dogs’ feet! I would rather wash human feet than these dogs’ feet, but—” And, you know, it takes—we’re talking—two minutes here. You know what I mean? So, now, I wipe the dogs’ feet. And it’s actually been okay; you know what I mean?

Ann: But it’s become—

Paul: Once I took the cup!

Ann: I was going to say—

Dave: You took the cup!

Ann: It’s become like a worship moment for you.

Paul: Yes; it really becomes like a worship moment.

Ann: Because you don’t want to do it. You don’t even see the point in it. So, you’re doing it “unto Jesus.”

Paul: Right.

Ann: I remember when our kids were little. We have three boys, so I’m cleaning the toilet every—like I would do it every day! Things are all over the place, and it’s terrible! [Laughter] So, I can remember thinking, “Why do I have to do this?” And I remember, in that moment, I thought, “I guess I could make it something that would be like dying to myself.” It’s your “J curve!”

Paul: He meets you down in the toilet is what he does.

Ann: Yes!

Paul: I was counseling one couple a number of years ago, and they were having a lot of tension in their marriage. The husband was really angry, and as I kind of dove into it, he had a full-time job, he was a teacher, and he was doing all the cooking, all the cleaning, and all the laundry. She was hunting for a deeper relationship with Jesus. I said, “You’ll discover Jesus at the bottom of the laundry basket.” In other words, in that foot washing; in that cleaning of the urinal; that’s where you’ll find Jesus!

So many people want an experience of Jesus, just like they want in their marriage; they want an experience of love. But the route to close fellowship—and that’s why Paul calls it a fellowship of His suffering—when you embrace that fellowship, whether it’s the toilet or the dog’s feet, it becomes—the word there is that “koinonia.” It’s actually a very strong business word. It’s a partnership; it’s a binding partnership. It actually picks up that idea of hesed love. I’m binding myself to the object of my love, and I will love them no matter how they treat me.

Ann: We’re talking with Paul Miller about his book, A Loving Life, and I love the subtitle: In a World of Broken Relationships.

Paul: Yes.

Ann: As you were talking, Paul, I thought that it reminds me, too, of David. He just confessed to God. In the Psalms, he’ll just confess to God: “Why are you doing this?” Or “This guy’s trying to kill me!” And the more he would just confess the truth: “God, this is where I am,” down in the depths of that, he would have this encounter with God. “But You, God. . . But You, God.”

I feel like sometimes my pride keeps me from going there.

Paul: Yes.

Dave: Well, I feel like, as I’m listening, whether it’s washing the dogs’ feet or the laundry basket, it’s like the dogs haven’t really done anything to me, or the laundry basket—

Paul: Right!

Dave: But when it’s a spouse—

Paul: Other than the fact that laundry baskets have a way of growing.

Dave: Yes, they do! They’re overflowing, right?

Paul: Yes.

Dave: But I was thinking, you know, when you’ve been hurt by someone.

Paul: Yes.

Dave: Like they have willfully done something, said something, or acted in a way to hurt you—

Paul: Yes.

Dave: Which a lot of us feel in marriage. You felt it with your boss at that time.

Paul: Yes.

Dave: That’s where hesed love; that’s where covenantal love has to be accessed in some way. How do you access it when the person you’re supposed to love is the person who hurt you? It isn’t some innocent bystander. “I’m supposed to love this person who, right now, I do not like!”

Paul: Two or three things come to my mind. One is just a very practical thing. In Jesus’ teaching on loving your enemies, He does not mention dialogue. In other words, the normal thing to do is to have a dialogue with someone, where there’s speaking honestly back-and-forth to one another. With an enemy, everything you say (like that famous lawyer thing) will be used against you.

Dave: Yes!

Paul: And so, sometimes, within a marriage or within relationship with your children or friends or whatever, someone is either a low-level enemy or, I call them, temporary enemies. So, it’s just wisdom from Jesus that, when you’re carrying the Roman soldier’s pack, you don’t talk with a Roman soldier about how oppressive Rome is. Do you know what I mean?

So, you pull back from honesty when someone has really gone into, kind of, enemy mode, and really, really damaged you consistently or hurt you. It’s really prudence [that] needs to kick in. But then, the other side, which we talked about in the last [episode] is the faith side. It takes energy to love. Where do you get that energy from? It’s faith. And where do you get faith from? And every believer would say, “Knowing the depth of God’s love for you.”

So, you need to slow down the interior life.

Ann: What about the person who’s saying, “But I don’t feel God’s love for me. I don’t even know if He loves me.”

Paul: Well, that’s why I love the phrase, “Preach the gospel to yourself,” because you actually just read Scripture. You know, when I disciple guys with sexual struggles, I want them to confess, and then, I just share some aspect of God’s love for them. I want them to go through the pain of confession, and the openness of that; but then, I want—the first thing I want them to hear out of my mouth is the depth of God’s love for them, because they have forgotten that. That’s why they got into that. The gospel reshapes that interior narrative.

But here’s the third thing, and this gets back to hesed love: it really, really helps to just make these commitments that, “God has called me to this, and I’m just going to stick it out.” Again, there are many footnotes to this, but in general, that needs to be the bare statement.

Eventually, with that one job, as I waited and endured in that very difficult job with a boss who was shunning me, but also needing me to run the work, he eventually, five years later, passed away. I actually found out—this was 25 years ago—that on his death bed, he said, “I have sinned against Paul.” I was at a restaurant, and I just burst into tears.

Ann: Well, Paul, is that the point you talk about in your book, where you felt totally betrayed, to the point where you felt like you were suffocating?

Paul: Yes, yes. I felt I was suffocating.

Dave: So, what happened in that moment that it hit you that he knew that he had sinned against you? Why was it so—

Ann: In your heart, that made you cry?

Dave: Yes.

Paul: I had really, really loved my boss, and he had returned my kindness, and even my kindness in his honesty, with—I mean, “evil” is too strong a word, but it was certainly in that area, you know? He had responded to my blessing him with a kind of curse. To have that—it was truth. And he had never done that before, and I had faced terrible consequences in my life because of him shunning me.

Many of his co-workers and other friends had begun to pick up that shunning. So, I had felt the brunt of that. I mean, it was 25 years ago that this happened, and I still feel the consequences of this in my life. So, it was God wrapping the story up. I mean, it was just remarkable.

Ann: Was there something about [the fact] that he called it sin? That he was wrong? Did you feel justified?

Paul: Yes, I think that’s right. Obviously, we’re justified in Christ; but it was such a relief. He was righting a wrong that he had done, and that’s actually a rare thing.

Ann: Yes.

Paul: You know, when you turn the other cheek, not everybody comes back and apologizes to you.

Ann: How sweet that God knew that you needed that.

Paul: Yes, yes.

Ann: You wouldn’t have had to have it, but it was a gift to you.

Paul: Yes, it was one of the things that, when I was writing the book, A Loving Life, on Ruth, it was one of the narratives that shaped my understanding hesed love; you know, this love without an exit strategy. And when you love that way, God meets you in that love the way He met Ruth. So, you know, when Boaz shows up in the field, and he’s heard all about Ruth and her love and her endurance, and her commitment to endure in love—I mean, she’s really, basically committing herself to childlessness and to never getting married, which in that culture, would be very shameful.

When she binds herself to Naomi, she’s doing hesed love. And it’s really she, more than any other Israelite, shows what God is like. So, God has to take this Moabite woman, who has certainly learned from Naomi about that kind of hesed love; and she ends up teaching all of Israel how to love.

Ann: A foreigner.

Paul: Yes.

Ann: I love your emotion. I get emotional, too, because I have always loved the book of Ruth.

Paul: Yes.

Ann: It makes me want to go back and read it now, through your eyes.

Paul: Yes.

Dave: Well, I’m thinking [that] feeling the emotion of hesed, covenant love makes me think, “God made us for that!”

Paul: He really did.

Dave: That’s why we’re emotional. It’s in our soul! That’s why, when you go to a movie, and you see covenantal love—at least I do; I weep!

Paul: Yes.

Dave: It’s like that’s in our human DNA. We long for it! That’s why, when we don’t get it, it’s so hurtful, because we were made for it.

Paul: Yes; and one of the principal shapes of hesed love is landing versus floating. I’m always telling this to young men. Again, God does call some people to a life of singleness, and it frees you for ministry. I’m not talking about that, okay? What I’m talking about is young men who are fearful of commitment; fearful of losing their freedom. They will never mature as people. They’ll stay at the level of sort of advanced video game pleasure seekers.

It's only when you land—and what I mean by that is, to love someone, to hesed love, which marriage is, you narrow your life down. It’s a constriction. All love involves that kind of constriction. People are fearful of that constriction, but if you float through life on sort of this low-level, pleasure seeking: “My next vacation, the next toy,” or whatever, then you will be a shallow person.

Ann: You’ll never mature.

Paul: You’ll never mature! And the maturity comes from—the broadening of the person’s soul comes from—when you narrow yourself down, and you commit. “I’m going to love this one”—I’m speaking to young men still here: “I’m going to love this one woman for the rest of my life, and I’m going to bind myself to her.” Again, there are all kinds of footnotes to this, you know? Abusive relationships, and of course, it depends. Actually, I think people use that as a cop-out when things just get hard, though.

Ann: And I love the Scripture you’ve used all throughout your books. You always have so much Scripture. But I’m thinking about what you just said about that covenantal love. Even Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle.”

Paul: Yes.

Ann: “Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all—above all—love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

Paul: Yes; and you know, Ann, notice in those two passages there, Paul in Ephesians and Peter in 1 Peter are perfectionists. The perfection is not in the situation. The perfection is not in the performance either, but it’s in your love.

Ann: It’s so other-worldly.

Paul: It is other-worldly!

Ann: It’s heavenly realm talk.

Paul: Yes.

Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Paul Miller on FamilyLife Today. Paul has written a book called, A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships. You can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com. And later on this week, we’ll be joined by author Philip Yancey. He has a book that’s a memoir called, Where the Light Fell. We’d love to send you a copy as our “thanks” when you partner financially with FamilyLife. You’ll help more families hear conversations just like the one you heard today; conversations that point you to the hope found in Christ. You can give at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329. That’s 800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word, “TODAY.”

Well, today is Valentine’s Day, and so we need to ask ourselves some questions. How much time are you spending with your spouse? And what could your family look like if you spent intentional time this year pursuing the people you love the most? Now, it could be inspiring when you look at that, or it could be eye-opening! Well, one year, 500 hours, a lifetime of impact. FamilyLife has developed a resource called “500 Hours Together.” It’s a one-year marriage challenge. To learn more, you can go to the link in our show notes at FamilyLifeToday.com.

Well, make sure you join us tomorrow, where Dave and Ann talk again with Paul Miller about a heart-wrenching story of the loss of his special needs daughter (Correction: Paul shares walking through the grief his wife experienced after the birth of their special needs daughter.). He shares how he found revival in praying and suffering alongside her. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

 

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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