Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I Must Decrease

In his book The Four Loves, C.S.Lewis talks about the various ways affection can turn bad.  I expanded on his ideas about love in my book, A Final Word on Love.  But here, I'm interested in Lewis' discussion of how some families react when a member excels beyond the confines of what has been the established boundaries of the family. I'm not talking about a black sheep in the negative sense, but one who goes beyond his kin in experience, ideas, education, or interests.  The reaction--better said, the reactionary response--flows from a jealousy that is justified in the minds of the jealous by a belief the so-called errant member has somehow betrayed the family.  The disgruntled members see the black sheep's outside interests as symptomatic of an unrequited love.  In the minds of those who remained unchanged within the family circle, there is only one history, and that history must establish the future, so the history for each new generation remains identical to the last.  If dad was a plumber, all his sons must be plumbers.  If grandma gave red socks to the grandchildren at Christmas time, then the new grandmother must do the same for the new grandchildren, and so on.

Affection kept in its proper place is a good thing.  But the affection that galvanized this family had turned into a demon imprisoning the family in a narrow confinement of a stagnant, fearful existence.  When the black sheep returned, excited to share his discoveries, he met with a cold reception.  With the fires of enthusiasm quickly quenched by the tepid suspicious looks from his loved ones, the black sheep would soon find himself being conveyed to a freezer well stocked with passive aggression, snide remarks, criticisms of anything he experienced, and comparisons to prove how much better it has always been within the family.  All of which done in an attempt to shame the confused black sheep into capitulating and returning to the fold--even to dumb down to the level of denying he ever had a thought not thought by the rest.  Some people it seems are threatened by relatives--especially children--who advance themselves.  And they retaliate by accusing the hapless members of failing to love them.  They might not explicitly say so, but they don't have to.

This pathology is all rather foreign to me because my family of origin always wanted to learn something new.  My octogenarian father once asked if he could borrow my book on nanoparticles because he didn't know anything about them.  So when I witness families terrified of their child's expanding universe--and yes, I do think it is a fear--I'm dumbfounded and saddened.

I have always wanted my children to be better than me, and to pursue their own dreams.  I expressed this desire to some friends once over dinner, and they vilified me for it.  They accused me of burdening my children with an impossible expectation.   They weren't complimenting me, either.  No, they were quite put off by my idea.  Apparently, they saw no way for anyone to exceed beyond the PhD I had obtained.  All I can say is, "I didn't expect a sort of Spanish Inquisition."  After all, how far a person progresses academically is really only a small part of what defines him or her.  Besides, there are all sorts of equally valuable skills and knowledge to be earned outside the Ivy walls.  In any event, my friends were quite mistaken.  My son--who has a master's degree--at thirty years is far more knowledgeable, experienced, and talented than I was at his age with my doctorate.  He may not as yet Piled it higher and Deeper, but he has moved light-years beyond me, for which I am very proud.  And he's gotten there through his own hard work.

What got me to thinking about all this is John the Baptist.  God had called John to prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.  John untiringly did his assigned task, bringing little attention to himself.  Indeed, when given the third degree to find out whom he claimed to be, John said he was nothing more than a mere voice in the wilderness.  People joined John as his disciples, but many would eventually abandon him to follow Jesus.  And John encouraged it because all that mattered to John was exalting Jesus.  In all that John did he communicated, "He must increase and I must decrease."

John loved with God's Love.  Such love is never threatened, never jealous, never competitive, never haughty, never condescending, never shaming, never self-serving, but always striving to see the next person's life shine like a star in the firmament.  And what's really fascinating about this love is, when it's allowed to flow, everyone comes away shining brightly in the sky.

What a better world it would be if everyone lived by the creed, "He must increase and I must decrease."


Jeff said...

Oh yea, people act like love is a zero sum game. But every accomplishment is an addition to the kingdom; love multiplies not divides! Besides, all our accomplishments are just a reflection of the glory of God!