Paul Miller: When Love Hurts
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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.
Love hurts—in ways far beyond what we expect. Author Paul Miller beckons us to rethink love, even when we’re dying inside.
Paul Miller: When Love Hurts
Paul: A lot of pastors are really hurting now with loss of attendance; it’s a hard time. I have been urging pastors: “Tell people you are hurting. Tell them this is hard for you. Tell them your fears. Let them into your hurting.”
Ann: I would say that’s more than just to pastors. I think, so often, we pull inward in our pain.
Paul: Oh, yes; yes.
Ann: So you’re right—I think for pastors to model that—and then, for all of us to have someone, safe/trusted, who may have a biblical viewpoint, who can kind of wrap their arms around us and pray for us. There’s something really healthy about that.
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 our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: So I have a confession.
Ann: What is it?
Dave: It’s not real bad, but I don’t like to admit this. Every once in a while, when I’m flipping through channels, I’ll come across The Bachelor or The Bachelorette,—
Ann: Oh, yes. I know this about you; it hooks you.
Dave: —and I find myself watching. I’ve never watched a season, or I probably haven’t even watched a total show. What is it?—an hour?—or 30 minutes?
Ann: I don’t know.
Dave: But I’ll watched 15 minutes.
Ann: No shame if you’re an avid watcher.
Dave: Yes; I’m not ripping you if you watch the show, but I find myself just—
Dave: —captivated; and I’m snickering, because this woman thinks she’s going to find her guy; or this guy thinks he’s going to find his woman.
Dave: And everything is so fake—everything is perfect, and they’re all in their tuxedoes—and I’m just like: “This is not life,” “This is not marriage,” “This is not—
Dave: —“relationships.” And yet, I know it does hook you in; because you want to watch the drama.
I know there are bachelor and bachelorette parties. I don’t even want to admit I’ve ever watched it; but I think I watch it, because it’s so not real; right? [Laughter]
Dave: I think we need to display what is real.
I think, today, we’re going to talk about what is real. We have Paul Miller back in the studio to talk about the life of Christ formed in us, which is so unlike The Bachelor or The Bachelorette.
Paul: Yes, yes.
Dave: Paul, welcome back to FamilyLife Today. I’m excited to talk, again, about what you call the J-Curve. Your book’s called The J-Curve, which is a beautiful visual of the Christian life. Even a relationship—dating life, or a married life, or a family—goes through this curve. Remind our listeners what the J-Curve is.
Paul: Well, the simple idea of the J-Curve is like the letter, “J.” Jesus’ life goes down into death and up into resurrection, and that is the template for our lives. There are three kinds of J-Curves. There is the Love J-Curve, which Philippians 2 talks about, where Jesus descends from the heavenlies down all the way to death on a cross. It’s motivated by love: He’s going into a world, where there are problems; He’s going into trouble.
Then the second kind of J-Curve is when trouble comes after me. That’s suffering, like when Joni Eareckson Tada had her accident; that was a Suffering J-Curve.
Dave: She jumped into a lake and ends up paralyzed.
Ann: —dove into a lake.
Paul: Yes, so the suffering is coming at her.
In the Love J-Curve, it’s like being a missionary. Marriage is a Love J-Curve; you enter into it with love.
And the third kind of J-Curve is where I need to die to myself, because the trouble is in me. There are problems in me, where I have to put to death something in me.
So the three kinds of J-Curves:
- I call the Repentance J-Curve, where the problem is in me.
- The Love J-Curve, where I marry the problem. [Laughing] I should get a different word; sorry. [Laughter]
- And then the third one is where the problem comes at me.
It’s sort of a taxonomy of J-Curves.
Ann: So if you’re wondering, “Why should I listen to this today?”—it’s because every single one of us experiences this, at some point, in our lives,—
Ann: —where we are suffering or we are struggling. We need to know: “How does the life of Christ…” “How does biblical knowledge…” “How does this J-Curve help me?”
Paul: Right; here’s a quick story that I mention in the J-Curve book—where Kim, our fourth child; we have six children—with her autism, would get up at like four o’clock in the morning—her bedroom was on the third floor—and pace back and forth. She’d go out in the hallway, flip the light on, run back to bed; five minutes later, she’d come back and flick it off.
I could sleep through this; my wife couldn’t. She would tell her to get back in bed. And because we were separated by three doors and a floor, she had to tell it loudly; she yelled. And then, when we would have our devotions—at that point, we had our devotions separately—Jill would be on the first floor; I’d be on the second floor; Kim would be pacing on the third floor. Jill had to yell at me, so I could yell at Kim to get back in bed—sort of like tag-team yelling—do you know what I mean?
Dave: I got the picture.
Ann: So you and Jill are up, at four in the morning, having your devotions?
Paul: Well, no; this would be like/Kim would start pacing at 5:30.
Ann: Oh, goodness.
Paul: And typical male brain: I could just turn this off.
Paul: My wife heard everything, at five times its volume.
One day, I decided/I was convicted—and we’ll call this a Repentance J-Curve—I was convicted of yelling, and I was halfway through writing this book on prayer. [Laughter] I thought maybe I should go up and pray with Kim. Jill said to me, as I was getting out of bed, “What are you going to do?—yell at Kim?”—which was an odd comment, because we did our yelling long-distance, you know. I said, “No, that hasn’t worked for ten years.” [Laughter]
I said I was going to go pray with her. She started laughing and said, “What do you mean? It’s been 20 years.” I go upstairs; and I just sit on Kim’s bed, and I pray with her. I just pray that God would quiet her. It’s amazing, as we enter into the world of love, what God does.
My prayer—as I begin/the moment I start praying about Kim—I knew something that I hadn’t known a minute before. It was just this thought—it was just like there were no words to it—and it was just that I had underestimated Kim, and her ability to learn, and to grow, and mature as a person; it was just something I knew.
That was like December; in March it stopped. I went about once a week to pray with Kim, and it stopped because we moved. We didn’t realize that the trucks from the meat factory across the street, when they would pull in, were waking up Kim;—
Paul: —because she was in the back of the house.
Paul: By the way, it’s why it is so important not to overthink prayer. Prayer is so mysterious, because God’s so mysterious; you have to be like a little child. So God had the answer to prayer, before I prayed it.
Ann: Even with that, Paul, as I’m listening, I’m thinking, “We do underestimate the power of prayer.
Ann: “Why is it sometimes the last thing we do instead of the first thing?”
Paul: I know.
Ann: I’m recalling: recently, I was in the hospital with my daughter-in-law. Our one-year-old granddaughter was in the hospital, and she needed a CAT scan. The nurses were saying, “This baby cannot eat for six hours”; and we were thinking,—
Paul: So it’s sort of the reverse of the feeding of the 5,000.
Dave: Yes; exactly. [Laughter]
Ann: —“This is going to be impossible.” We’re strategizing: “How can we do this?” And I’ll never forget: the baby was fussy; she was hungry. We’re all basically crying, like, “How are we going to do this?”
And we started to pray, and I put worship music to the baby’s ear as I prayed. It was one of the most miraculous things I’ve experienced. This baby just settled down, and she fell asleep; and she slept for three hours.
Paul: That’s amazing; that’s incredible.
Ann: I’m thinking the same thing. It should have been the first thing we did; you know?
Ann: I love that you—like you said, for 20 years, you’ve been yelling upstairs—and here, this changed the whole pattern. [Laughter]
Ann: You underestimated your daughter too.
Paul: Yes; let me just finish out this J-story. It begins with a repentance; we enter into the work of love—God takes us on this journey and, then, He began to speak into my journey—and I was convicted by that thought. I couldn’t get it out of my mind; so two or three months later, I thought, “What do I do with that?” I started doing morning devotions with Kim; we had a great time doing devotions, and then she would pray.
Ann: What did that look like?
Paul: Oh, we would just read something from the Jesus Children’s Book. I’m kind of a connoisseur of children’s books. We’ve started now on our fourth reading of the comic book, The Bible. I’m sure you guys are familiar with that.
Ann: Yes, sure.
Paul: But when Kim would pray, and she would pray on her speech computer, I would go do the dishes. It’s just a good old American multitasking; do you know what I mean?
I would have sat down with her, except I had to go to work and write a book about prayer. [Laughter]
There were a couple months, where, “Ahh, I should respect her”; especially since I wrote a book about being attentive to people. [Laughter] Finally, I was just convicted; so I sat down with her. As soon as I started—I sat down with her—her prayers began to blossom. It went from one or two sentences to longer prayers. They were funny prayers. I’ll take pictures of her prayers—because it shows on her printout of her screen—and send them to people she’s praying for. She prays for angry people, because she struggles with anger; and she’ll thank God for Disney®; [Laughter] she’ll thank God for Sponge Bob—things that I would never think to thank God for.
Ann: What was it about you sitting down?
Paul: I was valuing her. I was/and I knew I should do it: I was attentive to her.
Ann: —and she blossomed.
Paul: Yes, and she blossomed. And what I’m describing is a resurrection.
Dave: That’s what I was going to say: “That’s the resurrection side.”
Paul: And this resurrection that has come out of this has so many sides to it. Right around that time, I stopped teaching Sunday school, and just told the Pastor, “I’m going to shut down; Kim’s not been taught.” They found an empty room, next to the furnace; Kim and I, and other disabled kids, just started doing a Bible study together. My wife took it over; and now, we have a ministry, within seeJesus® that writes Bible curriculum, for people with intellectual disabilities, called Bethesda.
It’s really helpful to be attentive to the story. We should be story watchers and story tellers, because we’re alert to the patterns of dying. There was a Love J-Curve: I was loving Jill; I was dying to myself. There were several other dyings in there, like dying to multitasking; and out of that, Kim blossoms. It’s just very sweet. I love praying together. After breakfast every morning, she pushes aside all her stuff, and we read our Bible story together. I’ll suggest to Kim something that she could remember. I find she has a limit of about five suggestions, or she gets irritated; because Sponge Bob awaits. [Laughter]
Ann: So for us, as parents, I remember that, too—of if I haven’t spent some time, just being on the bed, asking them how they’re doing; of reading a devotional/those are days upon days of doing that—but then, as they get older, and you hear their prayers, and you see their lives kind of igniting, and being set on fire for Jesus, that’s the resurrection.
Paul: That’s the resurrection; yes.
Dave: And the resurrection brings hope; right?
Dave: A couple of your chapters talk about it transforms your vision—
Dave: —for life/for your family. It’s just that resurrection understanding is literally life-giving.
Paul: Yes, it really is. And just a couple examples from Philippians 1: Paul is in prison, literally in chains, when he’s dictating the book of Philippians. And he says to the Philippians, who were evidently worried about him: “Don’t worry. Because of my chains, the whole Praetorian guard,”—so if Paul is in Rome, which we think he is, there are about 6,000 members of the Praetorian Guard—“the whole Praetorian Guard has heard about Jesus.”
It’s a way of looking at your life, where you’re picking up the beauty. It’s a kind of a Christian realism. You’re not an optimist—optimism ignores the negative; it is denial; it’s not honest, and it just looks at the positive—but Paul is realistic. So what’s the great reality he sees?—is the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus Christ. That’s the 10,000-watt neon bulb at the center of the room, that’s just a blinding light, that reshapes how Paul looks at everything.
Then he mentions: “There are people who are trying to get me in trouble here”; but he said, “You know what? Let’s look at that through resurrection lens. They’re trying to get me in trouble by aggressively preaching the gospel. And look! More people are hearing about Jesus! Who cares about their motive?”—you know what I mean?
The dominance of the therapeutic lens can lead us to kind of getting stuck in death. Let’s say you’re in a difficult marriage—where you’re married to what I like to call a “prickly saint”—you need to be praying, every day, to see the beauty of Jesus in that person. Otherwise, you’re going to get caught in the prickles; and that’s going to shape your lens, and you’ll get stuck at the bottom of the “J.”
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Paul Miller on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear about the hope a spouse can have, even when facing a difficult marriage, in just a second.
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Alright; now, back to Ann and Dave’s conversation with Paul Miller.
Ann: So Paul, even if somebody’s at the bottom of the “J,” and they’re really struggling—
Ann: —and their circumstances of the marriage don’t change—are you saying they can come up and experience resurrection in the midst of that?
Paul: Yes; a great example of that is Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. They are literally at the bottom of a “J” in prison. They’ve been beaten once; they’re in stocks, which were torture extenders. They’re in pain, and they are in a fellowship of His suffering. They start worshipping and praying.
So the resurrection—it can always begin in your heart—what that does is: the dying and rising with Christ stabilizes your emotions; so you can say, “Yes, this really hurts; and this is really hard.” And you can have friends that you can unburden your heart to. But that grief and that sadness that you feel—and you should feel because of the difficult marriage—doesn’t have to be the last word.
Ann: I was just thinking of when we wrote our book, Vertical Marriage; it was about our ten-year anniversary, of how I told Dave I was pretty much done in our marriage. I would describe that as the most horrendous, beautiful point of my life; because in the pain, it led to repentance; and in that repentance and the dying of self, it led to resurrection.
Dave: Yes, I was going to say, “resurrection.”
Dave: God resurrected our marriage, not in an instant; although, in an instant of repentance, the miracle began.
Dave: And then fleshed itself out over the last 31 years, now 41.
Here’s my question: “Is it possible to experience resurrection vision of life alone?—or do you need a community?—or is it both/and?”
Paul: It’s both/and. There are some situations, where you really—you know that great proverb that every heart has its own grief—I think there are, often, parts of our hearts that are either inappropriate, or just for one reason or another, and that’s okay; and sometimes, the stories that we are in need to be hidden; because to share them would hurt people.
The beautiful thing is, when a whole community begins to enter, and that’s what Paul’s passion is. The Corinthian community has been what I call the “Failure Boasting Chart.” Think of a slide, where failure is the bottom and boasting is the top—that’s kind of our flesh, where we’re trying to get up and avoiding going down—but Jesus/the pattern of His life: He’s described every community.
Here’s a quick example of that: a lot of pastors are really hurting now, with loss of attendance; it’s a hard time. I have been urging pastors: “Tell people you’re hurting. Tell them this is hard for you. Tell them your fears. Don’t put on the evangelical smile; don’t do a vision series on how great your church is. Let them into your/where you are. So if you’re dying—to be able to open your heart up, in a wise and prudent way, to that dying—is really freeing. And you get the whole congregation praying for you; they know you’re hurting.”
Ann: I would say that’s more than just to pastors; because I think, so often, we pull inward in our pain.
Paul: Oh, yes; yes.
Ann: So you’re right—I think for pastors to model that—and then, for all of us, to have someone safe/trusted, who may have a biblical viewpoint, who can kind of wrap their arms around us and pray for us. There’s something really healthy about that.
Paul: Yes, it’s just enormously healthy. When I was going through that hard time that I mentioned on our last podcast, with a challenging boss, I had a really close friend. I would open up my heart to that friend. Just because you’re in a Suffering J-Curve, Suffering J-Curve exposes the possibility of Repentance J-Curves/of sin in your life.
So opening your life up to moving between the different J-Curves so that—here’s another way—it is harder to be a victim than it is to be a sinner. A sinner can repent; but if you remember my Kayla story, Kayla was a victim. When you are wounded by someone, you’ve got to take that into the fellowship of His suffering—or that door to bitterness—will not be a door; it will be a vacuum that sucks you in.
Ann: I’m thinking for our listeners—I’m thinking for us even—“What’s the hardest thing in your life right now?” “Where would you say, ‘I am struggling here’?” I even like that thought, Paul, of: “Can we die to ourselves in the suffering of Christ? Can we give that to Him?” and “What’s keeping me from that?”
Dave: Yes; and I’m thinking—one of the things that I’ve learned, Paul, from you and from your book, The J-Curve, is—“When I’m in the death-suffering-struggle stage, open my eyes and realize Jesus is right here; He wants to meet me. He hasn’t abandoned me. I am fellowshipping with Him, and there’s part of that that’s glorious.”
I know that’s hard to have that perspective, especially if you’re in the dark right now;—
Dave: —but He’s there. You are actually with Him; you’re participating in something He’s already gone through for you.”
Dave: That is a beautiful thing. I know it’s crazy to think of that right now—and I don’t know when resurrection is going to come—it could be years from now; it could be this hour.
Paul: Yes, yes.
Dave: But endure, and participate in that suffering; because it’s worth it.
Ann: —and He loves you.
Paul: And the very simplest thing to do, when you find yourself in the situation that Dave has just described, is to go to Jesus and tell Him. Tell Him what you’re doing; it’s just a Hebrew lament. Tell Him where you’re at, and just start asking Him for His help, and just keep going back.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Paul Miller on FamilyLife Today.
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