Yesterday, I finished John Townsend’s Loving People: How to Love and Be Loved (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007).
What did I like about the book? He said that people need to receive love in order to give it to others. According to Townsend, the warmest people he knows have been unconditionally loved by some human being. There is a degree of comfort in that. I don’t have to feel guilty about receiving love, since that can give me the security I need to reach out to other people.
Why would I feel guilty about receiving love? Because I can pat myself on the back when I am the one who gives. I can assure myself that I’m the good person in the social exchange. Otherwise, I’m being a needy receiver. Often, when someone is nice to me, I think, “Well, this person is only being nice to me so he can pat himself on the back.” And so I’ve tried at times to gain control of conversations so that I could make myself the giver. If someone is asking me about my life, I give terse answers and proceed to ask him about his life. But why not allow him to enjoy my company or experience the satisfaction of giving? I need to learn that there’s nothing wrong with receiving, for receiving enables us to give.
I also like the parts that emphasize actually listening to people as we try to understand their perspectives, whether we agree with them or not. That’s one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
That means we should be sensitive about where people are. In the chapter on “Healing: Restoring the Broken,” Townsend talks about an incident in a small group of leaders that he facilitated. One of the members of the group, Robin, was opening up about her troubled marriage and how this was affecting her emotions and business. She was coming to terms with her emotions for the first time. But another member of the group, Hal, was eager to jump right in with encouragement, without allowing her to express her feelings fully. “God will work it out,” he said. Townsend gently thanked Hal for his desire to help, but he told him that he was offering her the happy ending too soon. Robin needed first to come to terms with her feelings, with the realization and the assurance that the group understood and empathized with her pain.
Townsend also criticizes treating people as projects: being nice to them just so they can grow, without accepting them on each stage of their journey. Part of me appreciates this point because I’ve never liked Christians being nice to non-believers solely so they could convert them. It’s like Christians are behaving as traveling salesmen! At the same time, not everyone wants to dive into relationships. We may not feel comfortable with them, or we may find them awkward, or we may want more control over our time and person. But there’s that Christian command to witness, which we have to do to appease God and make him happy (not to be saved, but to show we are saved, as if there’s a difference between the two). So is it really that much of a surprise that some Christians treat others as projects? They want to get the job done, move on, and get brownie points with God.
In terms of what I dislike about the book, I don’t think it takes into account those who struggle socially. It emphasizes small groups a lot, assuming that everyone works well in those, or even has a welcoming small group to attend. Not everyone fits into small groups. And not all small groups are warm and welcoming. While Townsend emphasizes the importance of having a network of friends to assist us in our growth, not everyone is good at making friends. I admire his desire as a therapist to meet people where they are, but I don’t think it enters his mind that some people have difficulty creating relationships.
What will I read next? I’m not going to the library for a while, so I’ll be reading some of my own books. One is Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement. I hate the word “community,” primarily because those who use it thoroughly ignore those who don’t fit into communities. But the book has some interesting points on the Kingdom of God, which I may share sometime this week. And I will also read Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope.
So stay tuned for my future comments!