What we have been exploring in this series of blogs is that if God so loved the world to send his one and only son, then that love would be seen through all five love languages (note Gary Chapman’s book). We have already looked at service and words, and today we will explore this idea of quality time.
I think that this matter of “quality” time is increasingly important and precious in a day like today. Today is the day of multi-tasking. Today is the day where it is hard not to look at your phone when you are at lunch with a friend. There are so many things clamoring for our attention that for someone to totally shut off their life and focus in on you (and only you) that can be an incredible gift indeed.
When my dad passed away almost seven years ago, I was shocked. He went out for one of his typical morning sailing trips and he just never came back. We are still not sure what exactly happened, but he fell off the boat and drowned at sea. At the time, I was on my sabbatical in Colorado working on my book Unsettled – in fact I had just finished the manuscript the day before he passed. So, when we heard the news, we immediately got on a plane and headed out to Florida. Our family gathered from all over the country and even a few relatives came over from the Netherlands.
The day after the family was all together, I got a phone call from a dear friend. When I picked up the phone and heard his voice, I was so glad to hear from him. You probably have people in your life too, that when you hear their voice it just brings a deep and abiding sense of comfort. But, when he told me what he had to say, I couldn’t hold back the tears. My good friend Chris Mitchell called and said, “Hey Piet, just want you to know that Lori and I are just down the road. We flew out this morning and we just want you to know that we are here. We don’t need anything from you. You don’t have to entertain us. We just want to walk with you through these difficult days.”
I cannot begin to express to you how much that meant to me.
Sometimes I will talk to people who have friends or relatives who are going through a particularly hard time, and they come to me, because they don’t know what to say or do – and they certainly don’t want to make matters worse. So, they often decide to just keep their distance. And, I will often refer back to this story and say, it really doesn’t matter what you say. People generally know that there are no magic words that make the pain go away. In fact, the risk is often that people try to offer $5 solutions to answer $1,000,000 challenges. But, your very presence is often the most powerful expression of love – just being willing to be there (to give your time), is an unbelievable gift.
And isn’t that what we celebrate at some foundational level in the Christmas story? I mean, Jesus certainly said and did a whole bunch of important things. But, on a more basic level, the real act of love is that he left the glory and goodness of heaven and came to be with us – to live among us – and give us this most precious gift of time.
One of the carols that we sing at Christmas is “O come, O come Emmanuel!” Do you know what the word Emmanuel means? It literally means “God with us.” I love the way one devotional writer talks about it,
In the name “Emmanuel,” we find the answer to humanity’s deepest longings for God throughout the ages. Emmanuel is both a prayer and plea (on our behalf) and a promise and declaration on God’s part. When we pronounce the word, we are really praying and pleading: “God, be with us!” And when God speaks it, the Almighty, Eternal, Omnipresent Creator of the world is telling us: “I am with you” in this Child.
Fr. Thomas Rosica
This should be a tremendous encouragement to those with the love language of time, because God is always with us. When Matthew closes out his retelling of the story of Christ his last recorded words from the mouth of Jesus,
I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
What a powerful promise! And God isn’t like other people who break their promises. He never lies. He never exaggerates. He never tells a half-truth. When he says, he will be with you. He will be with you.
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Now, in this day and age where everyone is so busy with people to see, places to go and things to do, think about how important this dynamic is about the nature of God! In fact, let’s make it personal for a moment. How would it be helpful for you right now to know that God is with you? Think about all that you are dealing with and that is weighing heavy on your soul. Would it make a difference that God is with you? That he knows and cares? It’s true!
One of my favorite passages related to this idea of God being with us comes out of a letter Paul writes to the Philippian church. He writes,
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
I love that: a peace that passes all human understanding…
You know what that means – right? It is a peace that doesn’t make sense. Another words, if you look at your circumstances and personal situation, it should create anxiety and unrest! That’s what we have in our human understanding. That is all we know. But, here Paul says there is a peace available that doesn’t really make sense – and the only way it actually makes sense is because you have a deep personal understanding that HE is with you.
In one sense, it is all a matter of perspective. With the natural eye and with the natural understanding the place that we find ourselves is: “us” and really “big problems”:
That’s what makes this so much more than theological semantics. When we understand (in the real world) what it means for God to be “with” us, it changes everything about how we see things and how WE live through things – and that is what leads to this peace that passes all understanding.
J.B. Philips wrote a book entitled, Your God is Too Small, and his big idea is that we tend to think of God as something we can fathom/capture in our minds. As a result we can actually be guilty of creating God in our own image and that is why (even as Christians) we can get fretful and anxious, because we forget just how big God is? We make him too small in our minds. And if he is small then the promise of his being with us, is no big deal. It’s kinda like grandpa visiting for Christmas – its nice to have him around. But he don’t do much.
That is not what we are dealing with in God at all. We have the God of the universe who is on our side, who is more than capable to walk us through anything and everything – and that is why we can have such amazing peace.
Before I close out this blog I do want to take a moment to invite you to think about how even in just these few moments thinking about God and his closeness helped, not as some psycho-therapeutic measure – but because he was really here making himself real to you. That is the power of presence. Now, as real as that is to many of you, for others that makes no sense. They can’t buy it. It may even seem childish to speak and talk in those terms. But, they may also be in pain, because of those very same challenges. And even though they don’t believe in all this religious stuff, they are still feeling overwhelmed. They probably feel even more out-of-sorts, because they don’t have anything or anyone beyond themselves to turn to.
This week, I heard a friend talking about his visit to his in-laws over Thanksgiving. They are very well-educated people. They are also very non-religious. They poke fun at people who talk about faith. But, at the very same time they are anxious and upset about everything – the environment, this past election reality, deadly diseases, terrorism… The world is falling apart and there is no one and nothing that can do anything about it. And it is hard to watch their struggle.
But, here is the thing, I think everyone of us has a strategic place – right where we are. We have people who desperately need to know that there are people who are not putting there heads in the sand, they are not pretending there is no problem. They see things with clear eyes, but they are also at peace because the presence of God makes a difference on our outlook. And you know what? Your presence in their presence may be the closest they get to the peace of God. You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to preach to them – you have probably already tried that and discovered it doesn’t work out so well. But, trust me, your presence in their presence is like the presence of God – and that does make a difference. In the midst of all their ranting and raving they are actually just needing somebody who is willing and ready to just spend time with them…