A Loving Life: My Story: Paul Miller
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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.
“How does Jesus love people?” It’s the question author Paul Miller asked after he and his wife drifted. And it is how, he is found, to live a loving life.
A Loving Life: My Story: Paul Miller
Dave: One of the things we've heard over the years—tell me if I’m correct—after doing a marriage series, especially at church, is sometimes singles would say “You guys are so honest about your struggles, is there anything good in marriage? It sounds like it’s all bad.”
Ann: They say, “This is depressing.”
Dave: All the married couples are going, “Man, thank you for being so honest.”
Dave: And then the singles are like, “I don't think I want to get married if that's really how bad it is.”
Ann: Because they are discouraged and they are wondering “What is love?” “What it is marriage?”
Dave: But it is good, right?
Ann: It's so good.
Dave: It is good, but we need to talk about—
Ann: But it's different than what we anticipate because we've been trained in our culture of what the world says love is. And I don't think we really know what biblical love looks like in a marriage or in relationships.
Dave: Well, we're going to know today.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: We've got Paul Miller back in the studio. You wrote a book called A Loving Life. You know what biblical love looks like. We've already talked to you for a couple of days. But Paul, welcome back. You're going to be the one who's going to answer all our questions. [Laughter]
Paul: After that introduction, I probably need to go to prayer for an hour. [Laughter] Just for humility in my life, which can be very elusive. But I love to think of love as an art, you know, because it's not—I mean, there are science sides to it; you know what I mean?
Dave: Right, right.
Paul: There are structures and principles, but I need every day to learn how to re-love my wife. Let me talk about the upside. You know, we've talked about the J curve going down into death and up into resurrection. Marriage is one of the places where I experienced most of my resurrection—you know, looking at, we were engaged at 17 and 18 and married at 18 and 19, so we kind of grew up together. [Laughter]
Dave: And six kids. How many grandkids?—15?
Ann: Five kids.
Paul: Yes, 15 grandkids, one in heaven. Actually, that's why I wrote this book. When John and Pam lost their son Ben, our grandson, when Pam was eight months pregnant, you know, holding this little 2 ½ pound baby and a little tiny casket. I wrote this book as a gift to them, and dedicated it to Ben, whom we will meet in heaven. And that severe dying, of Ben just—there was so much that/the resurrection that came out of that. If you understand that dying and rising is the normal Christian life. It prepares you for the death, but resurrection is the last word.
And one of them—just really quickly on one of the scenes in the book of Ruth is you get a sense when Ruth goes out to the field, you get a sense of how wicked alone she feels. And why is that so important is because one of the things that happens when you do covenant love, when you commit in love, is you will often feel very alone in love.
Ann: That surprised me. Did it surprise you that you would feel alone when you're sleeping beside this person that you're married to and yet you can feel alone?
Paul: It helped to identify that as a feeling; you know what I mean? It wasn't strange. So, it—just to actually know that that's one of the things that happens on the dying side of love is that I'm going to be alone. And it's a little disconcerting because you're expecting closeness.
Dave: Right; that’s why you get married. I want to be together.
Paul: Yes, and then to experience aloneness within the marriage. At different times in our marriage, Jill has felt that in relationship to me and then I have felt that in relationship to her. But to know that/kind of normalize it, “Okay, here I am in the death.”
Here's Ruth in this death—you know, going out. Naomi is bitter, lamenting—and we can talk about that in a minute—but she comes in to the/through this she's walking through the city gates, Naomi and Ruth, you know they're kind of whispering, “Who is that? It looks like Naomi.” Naomi overhears them. I'm expanding a little bit, but it's pretty much there. And she hears them whispering her name—kind of “Naomi, is that you?” and she says, she kind of says, “Don't call me Naomi,” you know, “Don't call me pleasant, call me Marah, call me bitter.”
She doesn't introduce Ruth, so here is Ruth, surrounded by people, utterly alone. She knows nobody and Naomi hasn't done a single thing to help her. Now, Naomi is in, she's depressed. I mean, she really is. It's not clinical depression. Her life has been depressing, and Ruth has bound herself to this. And the next day Ruth gets up and says, I'm going to go out in the field and Naomi doesn't even say, “Oh, go to Boaz.” She didn't do nothing; you know what I mean? She didn’t even go out and “I'm going to help you for a couple hours.” You know what I mean?
Paul: I mean, you could—the victim story that we could come out of this for Ruth, but because she's done Hesed love, she refuses to be a victim or live in a victim narrative.
Ann: And that's so unusual because we all live in that victim mentality.
Paul: Yes, yes.
It doesn't mean that she's not being badly treated. I'm not saying any of that. But living as a victim, nourishing that victim narrative just kills the love of God in your heart. Because what you're doing, it's just a form of self-pity. If you're misdirecting compassion inward—that's what self-pity is. It's misdirected compassion and when you're misdirecting compassion, you don't leave any room for God's love for you because you're filling up the space of your heart with your own pity.
Dave: When you feel that aloneness in marriage, because that's a shocking thought to people, you know?
Dave: I'm not going to feel alone anymore. That's one of the reasons we are getting married; that's going to solve my aloneness.
Dave: Even in the Garden of Eden, you know, you are no longer alone. I have brought a partner to you. So that's a revolutionary thought. It's like, “That's okay; that's normal. How do I embrace that? Because in some ways you sort of have to embrace it; how?
Paul: First of all, it helps to know that when she does that covenant, when she does Hesed love verbally: “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Where you—and then your God will be my God, your people will be my people.” And then she cements it in.
Paul: She says, with the third stanza of her commitment, of her Hesed love is “Where you die, I will also die.” In other words, when Naomi dies, she's not going back to her people. She's not going to bungee jump here; you know what I mean? It's not like she's coming down and get along for a little bit and go back to home. I mean she's verbally cutting all her ties to Moab. Sorry; it's just so moving, just the depth of her commitment. She's going to hang around Beth—she's committing to herself to hang around Bethlehem to—she's going to embrace this entire culture.
Ann: She’s really died to herself.
Paul: You're right, Ann; go ahead.
Ann: Everything that she's known, everything that she has been, everything that she had hoped for, she has let it die and she's died to all of her dreams to follow Naomi.
Paul: Naomi, who she loves, who she loves, who just happens to be in kind of a bad spot at this point. You know she doesn't criticize Naomi. The Bible doesn't criticize Naomi. No one in the book of Ruth criticized, but the church was 200, 300 years has criticized Naomi and has kind of looked at her as bitter Naomi. And it's because we don't have any categories for laments in the church. I think the church is rediscovering that now but because of the Greek mind, which didn't like emotions, it's kind of affected the DNA of the church. And the church has been rediscovering emotions and kind of going bonkers a little bit with them.
But we actually lost that whole Hebrew tradition of laments in the church where you could actually pray to God, “God, where are you?” “God, why have you turned your back on me?” We've lost the beauty, that Hebrew sense of the beauty, of being able to lament. Let me circle back to my marriage on that. It was me some 30 years ago when I first began to study the person of Jesus, that I began to slow down and listen to my wife's laments and to begin to value them and not critique them. My upbringing is blue blood Presbyterian. And we're good at critiquing. I mean, we just, it's in the blood; you know what I mean? What better thing could my wife need than my theological wisdom.
Dave: So that's what you did when she was lamenting before.
Paul: Yes. I would be patiently listening, but at the right time, I would need to correct the lament.
Ann: What would you say? Like, what kind of things?
Paul: Oh, [Laughter] I said—I kind of want to blank it out, okay. [Laughter] But like, you know when Kim was born in 81, it was just this long death for Jill, and she lost friends—
Dave: Because Kim was special needs?
Paul: Yes, because when someone is grieving like Naomi, they have their capacity to move out and love is dimmed. Jill kind of went from sort of the star—she became a Christian through the ministry of our church, and I think the Evangelical Church, which was reflected in our church was good at missions’ kind of things and project kind of things, but they weren't as good at that point—this is 30, 40 years ago—at caring for someone who had a problem that wouldn't go away.
Ann: I'm sitting here listening to you, Paul. If we don't express it outwardly, does it go inwardly?
Paul: Oh, yes, laments leak. Yes, they leak as anger. Laments are cathartic but that's not why you pray them. You pray that because God isn't doing what you asked Him; God has disappointed you; life has disappointed you, and it's the very expression—your friends have betrayed you or a friend has. A lament gives verbal expression to the brokenness of the world that you feel in your life, and to be able to share that openly is—I call lament praying going nuclear in prayer. It's so power—Jesus is lamenting on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Ann: And in the garden.
Paul: In the garden, “God take this cup from me.”
Dave: Jill is lamenting; did you lament, as well, when Kim was born?
Paul: I forgot the exact illustration. Yes, I did lament, but year eight into Jill’s really long—you know in her just really being depressed.
Dave: Is eight years?
Paul: I think some ways it was probably a ten-year kind of slow downward. One of Jill's lowest points, I said, “Jill, why don't you just give”—this is a bad example, okay. This is—you wanted a bad example, okay, “Well, why don't you just give Kim to God?” And she said, “Paul, I do every day.” Just kind of shut me up, you know.
Ann: Well, we tend to put a time frame on our lamenting like “Hey, it's been a while. It's time to get over it.”
Paul: That's right. Yes, it's sort of the American kind of move on and again, you can get stuck in sadness. I don't want to say that there aren't—there's a lot of things to balance here but still, in general, I did not understand the beauty of Jill's lament.
About that time, I began to study the book of Ruth all the time. I really appreciated Naomi's laments. I just enjoy her honesty. Because the lament is actually filled with faith, because you're calling God to account for His promises and you're saying “God, this isn't matching.” You know, it's no different than my wife saying to me, “Paul, you said you would take the trash out and the third week in a row, it's not out,” and I had to take it out. That's a lament.
Ann: When we do that to God, are we saying “God, you promised that you would...”—
Ann: “—and you're not?”
Paul: Yes. Or “These were my hopes and dreams, and this is what you've given me. Why, God? Why are you doing this?” And so, you're not demanding that God fix it; you're simply honest with Him. The principal impact of the love of God in your life is freedom. And what a lament is, it's freedom to be yourself with God.
Now, I do want to qualify there are some differences between what's the difference between lament and complaining. Laments go vertical; they go to God. Complaining goes horizontal to other people. Another thing that a lament does, it will surrender to the story that God’s put you in. It doesn't demand that God take you out of that story. But it's honest about what it feels like to be in that story. But it doesn't demand God take you out of that. Does that make sense?
Ann: Explain that considering the loss of your daughter who died of cancer, like you had to lament.
Paul: Oh yes. I wrote two new chapters in the book of Praying Life on lamenting and that was all fueled by—I don't mention our losing our daughter Ashley then, but that was all fueled by that. What our tendency to do within suffering is to shut down our souls. The pain is so great at one level that you determine not to feel. That's one of the worst things you can do.
When I do our prayer seminars, I have people take ten minutes just to write out a lament. I hardly ever have to ask people to say, “Well, like, what do you mean by this?” And I say, “Just take something in your personal life or your family or your—you know something in the culture and tell God how it breaks your heart and be yourself with God.”
Dave: So how did you love Jill when she was lamenting for that long? I know for me it's hard when Ann is struggling.
Ann: If I'm down for a day—
Dave: Her number one of her gifts is positivity. She's the most positive person ever and when she's not, I'm like “I'm struggling with you not being positive for five hours.” You're talking more than five years, and your wife's struggling with lament. How did you love her?
Paul: Well, there were many bright spots within that. You know what I mean?
Paul: It really didn't get harder until the/kind of year ten and eleven. Those were some of the hardest years for her. I just prayed. I said, “God, You've got to—you know would You show me how to love?” I did not know how to love her. The mission I worked for gave me a sabbatical and I took that sabbatical and I just immersed myself in the Gospels. “How does Jesus love people?” And one of the things that popped out of us, is Jesus looks at people. There were all these patterns of Jesus that I wasn't doing. One of them was that I don't have to get her out of this; that I can enter into her lament.
Ann: Oh boy.
Paul: And that was the most important thing for me to do, was to pray that I could enter into her lament.
Dave: Now, what did that look like?
Paul: God tortured me for the next ten years of my life. He put me in situations where I was rejected in some ways that she had been rejected and felt rejected so I understood her world from the inside.
Ann: Gave you compassion.
Paul: Yes, it gave me compassion. I stopped preaching. [Laughter] My sermons were short, you know? [Laughter]
Dave: That's an interesting answer to say, “I entered into my wife's lament because I had to lament.” You resonated because you were going through similar things and feelings.
Paul: Yes, and it took me years to even see some of the patterns of what God was doing, so He answered my prayer for her. And the resurrections that have come out of this are unbelievable. I'm a different person.
Dave: Like what?
Paul: She's a different person. I know how to love. I know how to pray. I know how to suffer. I mean, I just—there's things I just know. There are things I inhabit. And I only understood that by entering into her lament.
Dave: You say, “The resurrections have been amazing” and I say, “What are they?” and you say, “I've learned how to suffer. I've learned how to pray.” So often in our and we think the resurrection has to be, you know, “I'm happy now. I feel the greatest. God's met me and He's answered every prayer.” No, “I've learned how to suffer. I've learned how to pray.” That's—
Paul: Those are the biggies.
Dave: —the richness.
Paul: And you know just like Solomon's prayer, God has also given us: all our kids are believers and going to church and love their spouses and I mean, what a gift that is.
Ann: It's because they've watched their dad and their mom live for Jesus and died of themselves every day.
Paul: Yes. So back to our daughter Kim; one of the first things she did—and we knew this immediately with her. She was born in ‘81, but even within a year or two years, we already saw the patterns. We begin to see the story that God was weaving, and He just kept weaving it. It was that He was humbling two self-sufficient people, and the only way He could do it was to gift us with a daughter with pretty significant disabilities. And, you know, this is not—I mean, it's a hardship now, but we don't even think about it. That's just in our routines.
Kim and I watch The Three Stooges every Saturday night. [Laughter] I bet you guys don't have as much fun as I do, watching Kim laugh at The Three Stooges. [Laughter]
Ann: She’s brought such joy to your life.
Paul: Yes. Every morning we make breakfast together. It's kind of our time in the morning. Then we watch Cartoon Network, and we just howl through these cartoons. [Laughter] I watch Popeye almost every morning.
Dave: With your 41-year-old.
Paul: Yes, with my 41-year-old daughter laughing through it. So, the resurrections; you have to have an eye for dying but also you have to have an eye for resurrection. And they—
Dave: What it looks like, yes.
Paul: And resurrections are beyond all that you can ask or imagine. I'm quoting Ephesians 3:20. But you have to begin to get an eye for them. We've lost our eye for resurrection.
Actually, there's history behind us. The Latin Church, which that's what we're part of, has more focused on dying than resurrection and within the two strands of Christianity, Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism, have a much heavier emphasis on resurrection. The rest of us tend to get stuck in dying, and resurrection is the last word.
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Paul Miller on FamilyLife Today. Stick around; Paul's got a special word of encouragement for those currently in a season of lament.
But first, he's written a book called A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships. You can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com. And later on, this week, we'll be joined by author Philip Yancey. His book is called Where the Light Fell. It's a memoir, and we'd love to send you a copy as our thanks when you partner financially with FamilyLife. You'll help more families hear conversations just like the one you heard today. Conversations that point to the hope found in Jesus Christ. You can give at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. That's 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Okay, back to Dave and Ann Wilson with Paul Miller.
Ann: Paul, as we finish up today, where do we begin? You know, as you're thinking about the listeners.
Dave: Well, I was thinking “Somebody's in lament right now.”
Dave: They’re in that season. What would you give them to say, “Start here, think here, lean here?”
Ann: Or they’re just lonely and they’re struggling.
Paul: I’d get a journal, probably, and just write—just pour out your heart to God; tell Him what you want; don't shut down your soul; stay within His frame. So, what's His frame? It's the church, body of Christ; the authority of the church; the wisdom of the Word—you know all that. So, all the frame.
I think of life. Marriage is like a garden with a fence. So don't move the fence and commit yourself to stay in the garden. That's the Hesed love. But in the garden, water that garden with your tears. And those tears are—you know the tears and the blood of Gethsemane are the foundation for the resurrection.
Ann: I'll add too since we've been talking about Ruth, and you've written about Ruth and studied her so much. The thing that I love about God is that as she died to herself and gave up everything to follow Naomi, God never stopped seeing her. He always had His hand on her. He always was watching her, even when Naomi couldn't help her at all, and she was just so caught up in her own pain, God's hand was on Naomi.
Paul: And out in the field she's all alone. Boaz comes and meets her. It's—sorry—it's the beginning of the resurrection. You know he gives seven quick commands that just protects her for the rest of her life—you know, don't go to another field; stay with the young women. Sorry. It's just so—it's just the resurrection has begun. And she's overcome by it. And for the first time, you see her emotions. You know you think she's a robot up until then, until she says—and you just see this relief come out of her. It's really strong in the Hebrew. And she says, “Oh my goodness.” You could translate it, “Why have you taken notice of me?” She knows her status, that she's low and hidden and alone and forgotten, and the resurrection begins.
Ann: That's what I mean. God never had his hand off of her.
Dave: And the listener right now needs to know God sees you and His hand is with you. As hard as it is - He sees you right now, right where you are, and He is with you.
And tomorrow, Dave and Ann are going to sit down with Phillip Yancey, who, like a lot of people, grew up with a stained image of God. He rejected Him until one day he was struck by a vision from God that completely changed his life. That's coming up tomorrow. We hope you'll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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