Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Do vs. Be

I recall someone saying that if you are ever having difficulty understanding why someone is doing a certain thing, try to remember that (most) people make decisions based on rational thoughts. With this in mind, you can try to understand what, in their rational thinking, caused/causes certain behavior or action.

This line of reasoning sounded great until I tried to put it into practice.

It turns out that ascribing others' motivation (rational thoughts) is quite difficult, if not impossible. There goes that idea.

I've been thinking of this flawed instruction as I've tried to understand why certain people do certain things lately. Instead of providing much clarity, I've raised questions within myself:

Do I express approval/love based solely on others' actions? To what degree are actions influenced by who the person really is down deep? How can I look past illogical (at least to me), frustrating, and/or hurting actions of others and live Jesus' new commandment to "love one another; as I have loved you"—to really "love one another" (see John 13:34-35)?

There is a distinct difference between performance and motivation. Performance is what we do—our actions; motivation is what moves us in our actions—who we are. I think of this difference frequently when I try to instill discipline in my children (and myself). It seems that focusing only on performance is very limiting because it would require the creation of an exhaustive list actions were outlawed individually, one-by-one. However, if I can focus on motivation, then perhaps I'll make some headway with discipleship (including good behavior) by teaching to embrace actions that are based on a good motivation.

I've been trying to put this into practice. For example, when David has difficult days—days where good actions are lacking—I make an effort to remind him (in word and deed) that I love him, even for the sole reason that he is my son (compare with Moses 1:3-8). I don't want my dear boy to think that I will ever not love him because of anything that he will do.

But this isn't enough. While putting David to bed after good days, I ask him to recount the fun things he did that day. After he lists his adventures, I help him remember things he did well, particularly actions I want him to repeat (e.g. sharing, helping). With these actions fresh on his mind, I'll ask him if he knows that I love him. He will assert that he does, after which I thank him for being a good boy and say something like, "I sure love that you're a big helper and very nice, but even more, I love you because you are my son. I will always love you. I love what you do when you're good, but you're my son and I love you just for that."

This seems to be working well for us, but, in addition, it is helping me find answers to my questions. I'm finding that I can love others for being themselves, independent of actions. Further, I'm observing (in myself) that actions can be quite far from the inner person, but shaping of motivation can yield better performance. Finally, I've seen that to love others as Christ loves them is a sort of circular activity. As I try to love them, I find that I do love them, which brings about more love, which is added to even more love, etc. (the development of this sort of love is really facilitated by service, too).

Do vs. Be
Apparently Be wins, because when we consider the love that others have for us, with God as supreme example, the love stems from who we are, not necessarily what we do. Our actions qualify us for certain blessings, but other rights are independent of actions, and this includes the right to love.

1 thought:

Maryann said...

As I struggle with understanding those kinds of things myself, I often feel that if we try to serve those people more and do things that would make them happy, we would find ourselve feeling more love and happiness toward them in return. Which is what Christ would have us do, and makes us more like our Father in Heaven.
Although, it is still something I am working on.