Suffering as the Crucible for Love
About the Guest
We must embrace Christ in His suffering. Best-selling author and father of six, Paul Miller, is joined by his autistic daughter, Kim, 32, as he talks about joining into Christ's fellowship of suffering. Paul reflects on his and Kim's first airline trip together, and explains that real love bears the weight of someone else's life. It's there, Paul states, that you get to know God in ways you've never imagined.
Paul MillerPaul E. Miller (MDiv, Biblical Seminary) is executive director of seeJesus, a global discipling mission, and best-selling author of books and interactive Bible studies including A Praying Life and J-Curve. He and his wife, Jill, live in the Philadelphia area and have six children and a growing number of grandchildren. Follow @_PaulEMiller on Twitter, listen to the Seeing Jesus with Paul Miller podcast, or learn more at seeJesus.net.
We must embrace Christ in His suffering. Best-selling author and father of six, Paul Miller, is joined by his autistic daughter, Kim, as he talks about joining into Christ’s fellowship of suffering.
Suffering as the Crucible for Love
Bob: Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” Author, Paul Miller, says, “If we really do love someone else, then we lay down our lives again and again and again.”
Paul: At the Last Supper, the disciples have had a quarrel. The camera speed of John’s description of what Jesus does goes to slow motion because John tells us “He rose from table, took off His outer garment, wrapped Himself with a towel, took a basin, and went to them and washed their feet.” John is absolutely riveted by Jesus’ humility.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, October 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today about the connection between humility and real love. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Here’s something I read in the book we’re talking about this week. Paul Miller says: “Suffering is the crucible for love. We don’t learn how to love anywhere else.” I thought: “That doesn’t sound like anything you want to read. [Laughter] I mean, who’s going to pick up that book if that’s what the author’s trying to tell you?”
Dennis: Unless you’re in the crucible and you know it—and you go: “You know what? I have two alternatives—either to get out of the crucible and to get out of this marriage or to stick and stay and find a way to find life in the midst of suffering.” That’s what Paul Miller does in his book, A Loving Life. Welcome back to the broadcast, Paul.
Paul: Great to be here, Dennis.
Dennis: Paul is the executive director of seeJesus™. He and his wife Jill live in the Philadelphia area. They have six children and 9.3 grandchildren. [Laughter]
Paul: That’s right.
Dennis: And we are talking about a book he’s written on the life of Ruth. It’s about learning how to love.
Bob: Well, and you wrote this book in the middle of your own crucible. You shared with us that your son and his wife lost a child in her eighth month of pregnancy.
Bob: I was just curious—did you, in the midst of that, as you and your son kind of studied the Scriptures together—did you say: “Well, I know where we need to turn to find help. We need to turn to the book of Ruth”?
Paul: Yes. I mean, I asked their permission. I said, “Would you be willing to go through that?” But yes, I went to Ruth.
Bob: Ruth isn’t what I’d have thought of in terms of where you go to find comfort in the midst of suffering like what your son and daughter-in-law—why the book of Ruth?
Paul: Because it’s a Disney story—Disney stories go, as my six-year-old daughter, Courtney, said, “They go happy/sad/happy.”
What Disney discovered—and the secret of all their movies is “happy/sad/happy.” They got that plotline from the gospel. That is an entirely Jewish/Christian plotline. It actually has a shape to it that I like to call the J-curve because it’s the shape of Jesus’ life—of life / His life.
Philippians 2 charts it out as His descent—all the way to death on the cross—and then His resurrection. But that is a Jewish plotline, even before the Gospels—and the gospel, itself, in the Old Testament. The story of the book of Ruth is that J-curve—that happy/sad/happy. The story of Joseph is that same thing—the story of David—the story of Abraham—they all follow this J-curve.
Bob: The book of Ruth only has a few verses of happy at the very beginning before sad comes along; right?
Paul: That’s right. It’s Naomi, the mom, loses her husband. Then her sons get married to Moabite women, and then both her sons die.
She loses her entire family except her two daughters-in-law.
Bob: And so, here they are in desperate straits and looking for provision because they don’t have anybody to care for them or provide for them. That’s where the crucible is formed in their lives.
Paul: Right. Like: “What do you do when life is completely unfair, and it is completely falling apart, and there doesn’t seem to be any point in living?” I mean, one of the hardest—one of the oddest things about deep suffering is—the sun comes up in the morning. It’s the oddest thing because, for you, functionally, life has stopped.
Bob: You are in those moments of sorrow, and it’s a beautiful day—something seems very wrong; doesn’t it?
Paul: Yes, it really does. It just seems out of place.
Bob: You say, in the book: “Don’t misunderstand—suffering doesn’t create love. It’s a hot-house, where love can emerge.” Then you say, “Why is that? The great barrier to love is ego—the life of the self. In long-term suffering, you don’t give eye to self-pity.
“Slowly, almost imperceptibly, self dies;—
Paul: That’s right.
Bob: —“and the death of self offers the ideal growing conditions for love.”
Paul: It’s a hot-house—yes. That’s when the beauty of Christ begins to emerge in you, as a person.
Dennis: What I hear us talking about here is really—we get married / we don’t know how to love—but we forge a covenant / we make a commitment. We enroll in the hot-house. We enroll in God’s school of love, in which we’re learning how two imperfect people go the distance with each other and not grow embittered to each other. You say, in the book, that we’re constantly being put into crucibles.
Dennis: You spoke about Naomi and Ruth being in a crucible of suffering.
Dennis: Let’s make this personal. You’ve been in some crucibles of suffering. You talk about the loss of your grandson, who died in the eighth month of pregnancy.
Let’s move to another J-curve in your marriage, where there was a true crucible of suffering you and Jill had to go through, where you learned a dimension of love you could have never learned any other way.
Paul: And let me take an example of something that was in our marriage, but it was more in our family, because I think—and I’m answering your question—the hardest thing for me to see in my life was self-will.
Let me give you a really simple example with that with our daughter, Kim. It’s a seemingly silly example, but it was one of the first times where I found myself checking myself. Our daughter, Kim, was about nine years old, at the time. She was taking some crayons down to the basement, where we had a makeshift den. She had asked me to bring a big stack of Richard Scary books that she had—that she just loved to read.
So, I was behind her—we were walking down the basement steps. She spilled the crayons about two-thirds of the way down.
I said to her—and I was thinking about my tendency to push into people, even with good ideas—I said to her, “Kim, do you want me to help you?” She shook her head no. The subtle difference of self-will between “Do you want me to help you?” and just moving in and helping her—especially with a child with disabilities. So, I watched there, on the steps, waiting for about five minutes and just—I’m the manager / I start new organizations—I’m churning on the inside.
I find, when I don’t do my will in little simple things like that—there is just this—slowly that inside churning slows down—and I move into communion with my Heavenly Father. But that could be as much as transfer something to Jill—as just interrupting her because I have a good idea and I want to say it.
Simple like that—but all those are functions of self-will—or another example of that—and this is a very generic one. I’m sure this has happened to me a lot; but it took me a while, with just in relationship with Jill. Let’s say you’re honest with your spouse or friend, and they receive it badly. They don’t say: “Oh, thank you for your honesty with me. I felt pride welling up with me all morning, and I just really needed a rebuke.” [Laughter] Let’s just say they don’t say that. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, just theoretically. [Laughter]
Paul: Just theoretically. When we’re honest with someone; and they receive it badly, as many of us tend to do—what we do is—we push on the honesty harder. We say: “No, wait. You’re changing the subject,” or, “You didn’t hear me.” Then, within 30 seconds, you forget what the original honesty was about. What happened is you’ve gotten into a quarrel with the other person.
That’s how quarrels start—is someone refuses honesty. Then let’s say the person that you’re being honest with—say you’re being honest with your wife, and she receives it badly. Maybe she comes back and says to you, “You do the same thing.” Our temptation there is to say: “Wait a minute. You’re not really answering what I’m saying here,” or “You’re changing the subject.”
But this is where this J-curve—the humility of Christ—comes in. At that point—to go lower down that path and just let them change the subject and say, “How?” Let them win the argument, as it were.
Bob: I think he’s crazy; don’t you?
Dennis: Well, I’ve been in those situations. It’s very difficult to keep your mouth shut. [Laughter]I have a high sense of justice. [Laughter] I want to go back to the original argument.
Paul: But I will tell people, “You never have to quarrel again in your life.” You see the almost physical humility of Christ.
Let me tell you why I say physical humility of Jesus. In John 13, at the Last Supper, the disciples have had a quarrel. The camera speed of John’s description of what Jesus does goes to slow motion because John tells us: “He rose from table, took off His outer garment, wrapped Himself with a towel, took a basin, and went to them and washed their feet.”
John is absolutely riveted by Jesus’ humility. No leader of any sort ever lowered himself that much. We see that, physically, in Jesus. That’s why I like to say humility has this physical look to it. That’s all through the book of Ruth—there are all these vignettes of Ruth’s physical humility.
In a quarrel, I can, physically, shut up. I can give the person my honesty, and then I can let them do what they want—maybe come back once—but let them have the last word.
So, I can lose—argument after argument after argument.
Bob: So, the wife who’s hearing you say that—and saying, “So, just be a doormat?” Is that what you’re saying?
Paul: No, no, no, no because you are raising the honesty. You are raising the truth. You are saying the hard thing, but you’re not demanding—this is where self-will—this is exactly the same move in my heart of asking Kim, on the steps, “Do you want me to help you?” In other words, there’s a difference between giving honesty—and that takes courage—than demanding honesty. What happens when—a quarrel is almost always when two people are demanding honesty with one another.
Dennis: Give me another illustration, where you were tempted to demand honesty back, but you didn’t—you kept your cool.
Paul: Well, let me give you another one—and I have Jill’s permission to tell these stories.
We were really tight, financially. She came home really upset over how little money we had. We had six kids—this was 20 years ago—but I really remember it very vividly. She didn’t have money to buy hand cream—she has eczema—and she was frustrated with just a lot of things like that. I forgot, just possibly, about this whole theme of looking in compassion and gave Jill some advice. I suggested some way of saving money. She said, “Well, we could save money by me going on vacation by myself.” She’s very funny—although this wasn’t funny.
We both went to bed that night, just mad at the other person. I realized that I hadn’t entered her lament—that I had fixed her. The next day, I apologized to her for that. She came back at me and says, “Why do you love so badly?” I said, “You know, it’s really something I’m working on, and I just thank you for your patience with me.”
Just after a little bit, I said, “Jill, when you’re upset and you’re frustrated, just tell me why you’re frustrated, as opposed to anger at me.” I remember that little thing was hard for her to hear—that last little thing—but it was in the context of slowing down, repenting, seeing how I’d failed her. Does that make sense?
Paul: I mean, these things really get complex.
Dennis: They do, especially when you may say to your wife / or to your husband, “Just stop and tell me what the issue is,” when they may not know what the issue is.
Paul: Yes; right.
Dennis: In other words, as human beings, we get all tangled up and knotted up around our emotions. We may not know: “What in the world caused this in the first place?”
Paul: That’s right.
Dennis: We’re on down having an argument, and it was caused by something that happened yesterday.
Paul: Yes. And just a quick example, from the book of Ruth—Ruth does this amazing pledge of hesed love to Naomi: “Where you go, I will go; where you stay, I will stay.”
I mean, people use it in their weddings because it’s such a beautiful description of love. It’s a description of hesed love—of sort of the Old Testament version of agape love—of this committed love.
Immediately, Ruth bears the cost of that love because Naomi doesn’t thank her. Then, a couple days later, when they’re going into the city of Bethlehem, Naomi has a lament and says, “God has deserted me.” Ruth is standing right there, next to her—it is God’s care for her, and she doesn’t introduce her to her friends. The next day, she doesn’t offer to help with the grain—she doesn’t point her out to Boaz. It’s entirely one-way love. It’s that one-way love—that hesed love—that strips your will and your ego if you don’t give in to bitterness.
Bob: That’s what you and Jill were learning in those moments in the crucible—when you weren’t seeing things the same way—and you were learning how to interact with one another.
First of all, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Bob: “I’m committed—I’m here.”
Bob: “Even in the hard times, I’m here.” And then, secondly, “I’m here for your good, and I will make that a priority.”
Bob: That’s what’s at the heart of the kind of love that you’re outlining for us; right?
Paul: Right. And very much along the lines of this idea of—remember this Disney story—of the pattern of Jesus’ life is going down into humbling and up into resurrection. So, it’s death—resurrection. Paul, all through his writings, says that’s the normal pattern of the Christian life. In Philippians 3:10, he says, “I want to know Christ and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering.” Paul embraces Christ in the crucible: “I accept this, as from my Father; and I embrace the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.”
Bob: You say, in the book—and I think this is helpful—you say, “The difference between Disney and Christianity is that Disney is based on groundless human optimism.”
Bob: “Christianity is based on real divine hope.”
Paul: That’s right.
Bob: And that’s where the difference between going from good to bad to good—in Disney—it happens because we’re good people and we rise to the occasion in the midst of whatever we’re facing.
Paul: Right. And Disney sets people up! I mean, the whole mindset of Disney has so captured our culture, at sort of almost every level. Love and marriage have now taken the place of what faith did at one time. Love and marriage almost have a sort of an idol status in our culture—so they’re weighted with far more than they can deliver. That sets people up for, I would say, one of the dominant feelings that people have of love—by the time they’re in their 30s, or even late 20s, and 40s—is cynicism.
Because they’ve been through, not the J-curve, but they’ve started with this unrealistic—
Bob: They’ve been through the Disney curve.
Paul: —they’ve been through the Disney curve. There’s no resurrection; and it’s just, “I’m stuck with this difficult person.”
Dennis: The Disney curve is fantasy-land.
Paul: That’s right.
Dennis: What people are longing and hoping for is not on this side of the golden gates of heaven.
Paul: So, when people encounter the bottoming-out—“I’m living with someone who…”— let’s say your spouse mocks you—I’ve seen that in marriages. To be in that marriage is to go through a constant humiliation. That becomes—it can—you really have only two choices on that—either bitterness and opting out of the marriage—or entering into this strange fellowship of sharing in His sufferings / becoming like Him in His death so, somehow, I may attain the resurrection of the dead.
Paul wants this. He just doesn’t endure it—he wants—because that’s where he gets to know Christ.
Dennis: As you’re talking, I’m thinking about a woman I know who is in a marriage where—well, her husband doesn’t know what it is to be a man / doesn’t know how to provide, protect his wife / his children. In the midst of that, what you say God is calling her to do is to embrace the suffering / embrace the crucible that she’s in, and learn how to love, and not give up. I think of that picture and I think, “That’s impossible!” The only way that can be done is—not through human strength.
Dennis: It can only be done in the power of the Holy Spirit—who, if we’re a follower of Christ, we have the same power that raised Christ from the dead.
Dennis: Also, we have to get in the Book—and I’m sorry, Paul, not your book—but the Bible.
Dennis: It doesn’t hurt us to read a good book, like your book; but we have to get in the Book that realigns our thinking—reminds us when we’re being selfish—and also teaches us how to suffer for doing what’s right. That is one of the themes of the Bible—that we need to endure suffering and honor Jesus Christ in the midst of it.
Paul: Yes. Yes.
Dennis: That’s not normal.
Bob: Well, and it helps—what you’re doing in your book is—you’re taking listeners on a journey that you have been on, through the book of Ruth, where you’ve been able to look at what that account from the Bible teaches us about love. You can apply that in your own life, in your own family, in your own marriage; and you can help us do the same thing.
We have copies of Paul Miller’s book, A Loving Life, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I hope our listeners will go to our website, which is FamilyLifeToday.com, click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the page that says, “GO DEEPER,” and the information you need about Paul’s book is available right there. You can order it from us, online.
We also have a link to a resource that your wife put together, Dennis. It’s called “How Do I Love Thee?” We talked about this at Valentine’s Day this year, but this is a garland that you hang in your home. You can put it in the dining area, or in the kitchen, or put it in one of the kids’ bedrooms, if you want. You attach hearts to the garland. Each heart has a different characteristic of love—love is patient or love is kind—taken from
1 Corinthians, Chapter 13. You can pull down the heart; and there’s a devotional on the inside that you can read together, as a family. You can look together at the characteristics of real love and begin to cultivate that in your home.
Folks, who are interested—in Paul’s book, or in the “How Do I Love Thee” garland, or any of the resources Barbara’s been developing in the Ever Thine Home® collection—they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, click the link, in the upper left-hand corner, that says, “GO DEEPER.” The information about the resources we’ve talked about here are available right there. Or you can call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”—1-800-358-6329. Let us know what you’re interested in, and we’ll arrange to get it sent to you.
You know, I’ve been thinking, throughout our conversation here, about the overlap between the subject of Paul’s book and our mission, as a ministry. Our goal is to effectively develop godly families. I don’t think it’s possible for us to have godly families unless love is right in the center—love for God first and then love for one another, as a result of our love for God. That’s our focus, here at FamilyLife Today. We want to effectively develop strong, healthy, godly families.
We do a lot in partnership with local churches. You know, this is Pastor Appreciation Month. A lot of churches, over the last several years, have been hosting Art of Marriage® events for couples or the Stepping Up® series for men—tools that we have created to be used in local churches / local congregations for spiritual enrichment.
I got a note passed to me recently that said that the folks at Tulsa Bible Church, where Jim Johnson is the senior pastor and Andrew Moss is the pastor for student and family ministries—they have done both the Stepping Up and The Art of Marriage over the last couple of years. I’ve had the chance to speak at Tulsa Bible Church—it’s a great church and we’re grateful for Dr. Johnson and his ministry there.
In fact, somebody just recently was talking to me about his ministry at Tulsa Bible Church—was just bragging on him. We wanted you to know about this because some of you are financial supporters of this ministry. You helped us create the resources that Tulsa Bible Church and other churches are using, all across the country.
So, thank you, if you’re a supporter of this ministry—if you’re a Legacy Partner, giving each month, or if you make an occasional contribution to help support us. Thank you for partnering with us in this endeavor.
In fact, if you can make a donation right now, we’d like to express our thanks, tangibly, by sending you a resource that Barbara Rainey has created—that’s a chalkboard to hang in your home—in your kitchen, or in your dining area, or maybe in one of the kids’ bedrooms. The chalkboard, at the top, is in the shape of a house. It says, “In this home we give thanks for” and then you can write, in chalk, the things that you’re thankful for in your home and in your family.
It’s a great way to cultivate thanksgiving and gratitude in your home. It’s our gift to you when you make a donation today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, where it says, “I Care.” You can make an online donation and request the chalkboard; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, make a donation over the phone, and request the chalkboard when you do. Or write us a note—let us know that you’d like the chalkboard and include a donation. Our mailing address is P O
Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to include a special guest on our program. Paul Miller’s going to be back with us, and we’ll introduce you to somebody he loves very much. You’ll get a chance to meet her tomorrow. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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