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Love Well

Posted on January 31st, 2015 by Sanctuary staff

We are delighted to welcome Caroline Timmins, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, to our team at Sanctuary!

Love Well, Jamie George (2014)
A book review by Caroline Timmins, LMFT

A few years ago I participated in a small home group study of the book of 1 Peter. Determined to create a place of fellowship, we banded together, all of us friends, married, and in various stages of the parenting process. Each of us desired connection and to know more of God. We were eager, as well, to gain practical truth we could apply to the harder sides of family life.

One night as we read the passage aloud, we stumbled upon a small but profound phrase embedded within the text. It was pure and simple, but not simplistic. Meaty, but not quickly digested.

Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22).

What does it mean to love deeply? To love well? We spent the better part of the night chewing on the meaning. I still ponder this phrase, years later, as I struggle to live selflessly amid the constant pull of narcissistic flesh.

Recently I heard of someone asking that same question and since that someone was the brother of a dear friend from Buffalo, New York, and since that brother was from Nashville, and interesting things seem to be happening in Nashville, (beyond the catchy, messy, television drama) I was intrigued and bought the newly released book, Love Well, (2014), by Pastor Jamie George of The Journey Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

As I opened the book and began to unpack his thoughts on the idea of loving well, I found it similar to our little scripture phrase….pure and simple, but not simplistic, an easy read but not an easy task. Loving well is no simple thing.

I discovered the book to be not so much a “how to” love well as it is a “how to” think well… which is okay since it could be argued one cannot love well, until one thinks well.

C.S. Lewis said “to fools and weaklings one writes soft things” and George must believe his reader to be neither, for he offers challenges that run counter culture as well as counter nature. Love Well is not a soft book. But it is also not intellectual treatise. Written much like a journal, it is formatted with intentional spaces, full of meaningful quotes, and transparent. The reader becomes privy to the very personal thoughts of a man who is wrestling with the idea of loving well and has formulated some simple yet profound nuggets on what that really means.

In my work as a counselor, I feel compelled to stay abreast of the current literature on love and marriage. Out of this sense of obligation, I browse the new books table at Barnes and Noble every month or so, debating which one is worth the time and money. Honestly, I rarely leave the store with a purchase. Generally this genre leaves me feeling sickened or bored or both. People seem to enjoy making love into either a trite formula, or a heady science. But few will share their own struggle in the vulnerable way that George has chosen to do….in a way that hangs raw and unresolved while at the same time addressing deep questions.

Take for example, the question of ‘where is God amid marital pain?” While George introduces a God who cares deeply about meeting us in our stuck places, at the same time, he shares a radical insight he had during his own struggle:

”He (God) seemed….unaffected by our inability to thrive as a married couple” (page 47)…a bit shocking amid the “God wants you to be happy” philosophy of our time. It raises the possibility that perhaps our marital happiness is not God’s highest priority….that God can at the same time, care deeply for our pain while remaining unaffected by it. Is it possible He desires us to remain open and available to Him despite that pain? To refrain from making our little corner of pain the monopoly of our lives and instead, serve, and honor and, love each other well, in the midst of it? Nothing “soft” about this concept.

As I turn the pages of Love Well, I get a glimpse of a couple doing just that…forging ahead in their on-going battle to love well, without neglecting the work of ministry. The book tells candidly of a man and woman building a new church, learning to fully engage and listen to people’s stories as a means of loving others well, trying to remain authentic, despite and amid their own personal pain. They did not, however, use the busyness of ministry as a distraction from their own problems. Rather they faced their own dysfunction head on. They went to a marriage therapist. As a therapist, I have great admiration for that approach. Marriage is hard work and often requires the help of an outside resource, and they found a good one. George openly shares the winsome and wise tidbits gained from his own experiences with marriage counselor, Doyle, and how he and his wife did the hard work of applying this wisdom. I admired that as well. Many folks deceptively think the hour of therapy is what heals marriage. But they have it wrong. One hour of therapy a week offers no more healing for a marriage than one hour with a physical therapist will heal a broken leg. It is what happens outside of therapy…the exercises at home, building new habits of communication and practicing new emotional awareness…that shift a marriage from a place of brokenness toward one of wholeness. I appreciated the vulnerable and realistic view of how this worked in his life.

George also shares little incidents that happened along the way to challenge his thinking. Stories that move the reader to say to themselves…”hmmm…maybe I should re-think my perspective on that.” For instance, he brings the reader along on walk in the woods for a bit of a “come to Jesus” talk. One sees George standing in the forest gazing up through the sunlit branches, questioning his Creator in one of those intimate moments so characteristic of the privileged relationship believers have with their Maker. There he queries God about the wisdom of being led to start yet another church in Nashville, smack in the middle of the southern Bible belt where churches are like Starbucks in the Northwest, one on every corner. In response to his lengthy debate the Lord responds simply: “get over yourself” (pg. 141). I had to smile. How many times have I had a similar discourse with God, only to receive a similar response? Yet, George writes not in judgment but rather as invitation, suggesting through his own self deprecating style, that joining in on God’s agenda and setting our own aside might possibly be key to loving well: less stress, more peace, less strife, more love. It makes sense….pure and simple, but not soft… and not easy.

There is much more within the pages like questions at the end of each chapter to help the reader become “unstuck” and snippets of insights from the Bible, encouragement around building better boundaries, and an urging to risk sharing vulnerabilities as a way of connecting to others. He ends with an amazing chapter on living a Joy-filled life, suggesting wholehearted TRUST in the Lord is a main and necessary ingredient of joy.

By trusting God, doing the hard work of personal growth, and opening up to others in vulnerable, authentic ways a person can be liberated from the need to control and freed to enjoy life and love well. I would say that is a pretty good summary of what it means to “love one another deeply and from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

Although there is much to “do” in order to love others well, it starts with thinking well, which starts with exposure to good and deep thoughts…and if you are looking for a pure and simple way to start that journey, Love Well is not a bad place to start.

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