My 3 favorite 4-letter words

I am now so old that I can remember when George Carlin was young.

If you don’t even know who George Carlin was, it means you are now so young.

If you do know who he was, well, you probably can either recite the 7 dirty words you can’t say on television, or you may know someone else who can and does recite them. Only 5 of the 7 were 4-letter words. But they made George Carlin famous all the way to the US Supreme Court back in 1978.

My wife and I first saw Carlin when he was in short hair with a nice business suit and tie doing stand-up at Mr. Kelly’s on Rush Street in Chicago. It was the summer of 1970. His act was quite tame at that time. As in Al Sleet, the Hippy-Dippie Weather Man, if that means anything to you. Not so much as a single 4-letter word in his entire act, far as we can recall.

George Carlin went on to re-invent himself within the next couple years and, well, the rest is mostly “dirty words you can only say on HBO” history.

I have my own favorite 4-letter words. Don’t get too excited! They may b-o-r-e you next to the ones you had in mind. To me, though, they’re the most exciting words in the English language for reasons I intend to explain here.

My words are: LOVE, NEED, HELP. Those 3 can explain most of my 71 year life story to date.

You see, I grew up hearing expressions like “falling in love,” “take whatever you need,” and “just help yourself.” Like many things I heard growing up, I was rather overgrown before I got around to questioning them. Now, however, I wish I’d have questioned them a long, long time ago. Maybe on my 21st birthday would’ve been about right. If I knew then what I know now, my life might have been a great deal more productive.

Here’s what I mean.

The word most people are thinking of when they say “love” is not “love.” Not at all. It is the word “like.” Like is a feeling, an emotion, comes and goes, changes over time, and something we humans universally fall in and out of. Love is altogether different. Love is something permanent while like is temporary. Love is a forever kind of covenant. Like is a for-the-time-being kind of contract. Love is unconditional. Like is conditional. Actually, “conditional love” is an oxymoron. Try reading I Corinthians 13 from the Bible and substitute the word “like” wherever you see the word “love.” You’ll get the picture.

The word most people are thinking of when they say “need” is not “need.” Nope. It is the word “want.” Want is also a feeling, comes and goes, changes over time, and is something we humans associate with our wishes and desires. Most of us can be reasonably happy for a long time in life despite not getting everything we want. A need, on the other hand, is something we, well, need no matter what. Can’t live without it. And there aren’t too many of these when you really stop to think about it. Air. Water. Nutrition. Physical protection. All pretty basic stuff. Things that don’t change around over time. Needs don’t come and go. They stay or we don’t stay, simple as that.

Then there’s the word we often think of as “help.” And, no, we may not think of it quite like it really is, either. At least I didn’t growing up. While younger, I often thought of helping my parents as really “pleasing” my parents. I would strive as a child to please by helping. After awhile, I learned this was true of other people as well. If I wanted to help them, I would have to please them. And vice versa. If I really loved people, I would help them get everything they wanted in ways that made them happy. I’d be able to please people by taking care of their wants or desires. Then that would prove that I really loved them.

Au contraire.

How very messed up my mind was for all the years that I failed to question those 3 words. Love. Need. Help. Failing to question those words according to my own way of thinking meant failing to love the very people who needed my help.

You see, I was too busy trying to like the people who wanted me to please them. And you know what? I didn’t. I didn’t like having to please them, and I could never satisfy all their wants. So I was failing but never knowing why.

Until it finally registered in my mind.

I really did fall in and out of like with people. All people. I fell in like with them whenever I could please them by giving them what they wanted, and when I couldn’t I would fall out of like with them. I’d feel trapped in relationships with people I could never really please. Couldn’t meet all their desires and wants, so they’d be frustrated and they wouldn’t like me either. And, well? What a waste of my life until I finally caught on and started asking questions.

I’ve had to learn the hard way that my best life, my truest narrative, isn’t about liking that feeling that comes from getting what I want or giving what others want. Nor is it about pleasing others or even myself. It’s about loving others who need help. And it turns out these people are everywhere I go in this world. People who need help to just get by, or to stay alive.   That’s what like can’t and won’t give them but love always can and will.

Turns out that helping people who need to just live safely and securely is………..what I like the best, want the most, and get the most pleasure from in all of life. Jesus said, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Liking. Wanting. Pleasing. Those are the bi-products. The unexpected rewards that have come to me afterward. After my 3 favorite 4-letter words: Love. Need. Help.


Minding our own business

We can all gather a lot of different advice for our lives by reading the Bible. Most of it is good, I suppose. Some not so much, I’m sure. Much of it can be just plain hard to understand, let alone follow.

Here’s one I can I understand, but I have much trouble following. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). I’m about to explain why I’m having trouble following this.

To actually understand this or any other biblical advice, it’s best to understand the context. Context in itself is normally hard to understand. Especially when it belongs to the biblical writers and readers living so long ago and far away from us. But in this case, Paul the Advisor (aka the Apostle), made the context quite clear by writing it all this way:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was In the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…..” (Philippians 2:5-10).

Now I could say, kind of like Mark Twain, that the hardest part of the Bible isn’t what I don’t but what I do understand. But adding context even in these 5 verses to explain that one word of difficult advice, I still have to offer you this true confession.

About the time I go trying to follow the advice to, in effect, “think like Jesus did,” my own mind becomes aware of this problem that won’t go away. My mind is connected in relationship first with my own body and my own soul. And…….perhaps you’re not surprised……….my body and soul are very different from each other. They both seek to inform my mind’s decisions. And my own mind gets what we may call “triangulated” in between, caught in the middle, having to decide between two very opposing sets of information. In other words, my mind is conflicted. Decide it this way, and my body will be upset all the way down to my gut. Decide it the other way, and my soul will be kind of like quietly disapproving, if you know what I mean. Not angry or upset with me. Just not pleased with what my mind’s decision turned out to be.

Okay, so here’s what I’ve learned about how “not” to follow this good biblical advice. Are you ready for this?

My body is very narcissistic.

There, I’ve said it. My body wants to feel good. Sooner rather than later. It wants what it wants when it wants it. That includes bending my knees and kneeling when I want to kneel; preferably when my knees feel most comfortable doing so. And put a soft pillow down there first, okay?

Get the picture?

My soul is very altruistic. Wants others to feel good. To not be afraid, anxious, insecure. Wants whatever happens to be helpful for other people in doing and feeling well. Wants others to be all they can be. And I’m not talking pie in the sky by and by when they die. I mean now, here on earth as it is in heaven. Before they die.  My soul wants to empower others.

That’s my soul talking to my mind. Notice the difference?

If you do, then you can understand the difference between my mind and that of the Christ. You see, what Jesus Christ did with his own mind was that he chose to follow the advice of his soul at all times. When conflicted, and the Bible assures us he was conflicted even as you and I are, he always decided in favor of the altruist within. Oh, he had the same narcissist within as we do. But he just always sided with the altruist whenever he found his own narcissist opposing that inner altruist, whenever he found his body opposing his soul.

My mind doesn’t work that way. My mind likes to rationalize. Some would say I like to believe rational lies. I prefer to follow my body’s advice when it conflicts with my soul’s advice. And so whenever the Bible’s advice sides with my soul in times of those wilderness temptations and Garden of Gethsemane times of heavy perspiration, I’m not likely to think like Jesus. Not so apt to have the mind of Jesus in making my decision.  Not so willing to pray “not my will but yours be done” all the while my body is sweating like crazy.   Not so willing to humble myself and become obedient…….even unto death on the cross.

Up front I noted that not always is biblical advice good advice. Frankly, the writers themselves did not always have the mind of Jesus (hence the necessity of Jesus to come and speak for God in the first person; enough with that lost in translation stuff building up over time). Some not so good biblical advice privileges our body’s own narcissistic urges. Forget that altruistic empathy hogwash.  Yep. That stuff’s in the Bible, too. Hate your enemies is biblical advice. That’s the easy part to follow kind. And most easily understood.

Following Jesus. Taking his advice, and applying it in my own life.  Loving my enemy.  Altruism.  Empathy.  Siding with my soul that I’ll be with permanently rather than my body that’s only here for a relative “while.” Having his mind.

I’ve got my work cut out for me, but don’t we all? And when it comes right down to it, that is the business we’re all here to mind.