In this second part of his article, Dr. Fayard says we should grow in love.
Published on: 02-08-2022
It would be both an oversimplification and plainly incorrect to state that the faith of the poet John Donne (see part 1 of this article) carried him through the plague of the 16th century unscathed. His Devotions rival Jeremiah’s Lamentations. He, too, questioned God’s care and presence, struggled with finding a sense of meaning through the severe and debilitating symptoms of the bubonic plague, and faced death with trepidation.
Donne struggled but did not despair, in the sense given by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, a survivor of a concentration camp. Frankl defined despair as suffering without meaning. These celebrated verses reveal Donne’s deeply held belief:
“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so.…
One short sleep past, we wake eternally.
And death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die.”1
What we believe matters.
So how do we get there while the plague of today is still raging? How do we line up our beliefs with life-giving and hope-inspiring convictions? As I described in part 1, having the fruit of the Spirit is, psychologically speaking, equivalent to having a resilient mind. And to enjoy the fruit of the Spirit, the branch has to be firmly connected to the Vine (John 15:1). As we abide in Christ, are there ways to “cultivate” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22)?
If you are like me and most everyone I know, we struggle with enjoying the fruit of the Spirit even when we are not facing the serious condition that Donne had to deal with. While detailing specifics for each virtue or fruit is beyond the scope of this brief note, let me share how you might “cultivate” one of them in your life: love.
Jesus provides the fundamentals for cultivating love in Matthew 22:37-39: “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (NKJV).
“Love the Lord.” You can’t love someone you don’t know. Get to know God by searching the Scriptures and meditating in His love. Ellen G. White, co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, recommends that we use our imagination to grasp in our minds what this means,2 to truly experience the love of Christ with “all your mind.” The imagination engages the mind, and its affects in the way that words alone do not. Like Donne, you will experience a “lift of the soul.” In today’s language, you may feel loved, which is to say, you will feel safe and never alone.
“Love your neighbor.” The psychological benefits of acts of service and a prosocial attitude are well known. Affective neuroscience has mapped the neural circuitry and neurochemicals involved. It makes us healthier and more resilient. Look around. Come out of yourself. See the needs around you and respond.
“As you love yourself.” What? Wait a minute! We have to die to self, don’t we (Luke 14:27)? Yes. The Bible perceptively deals with what psychologists call “self-enhancement bias.” This bias is the very human, extremely common, and well-researched tendency we have to believe that we are better than those around us. This may be why the Bible consistently highlights the importance of humility, gentleness, and self-control, and says less about “love of self.” How are we to keep this “commandment”?
Modestly and tentatively, let me share my limited understanding about this.3 First, the proper love of self can only take place in the context of true humility and awe for the love God has for us.
Second, the Bible does not teach that we ought to insult ourselves so that we can die to self. In fact, Paul tells us in Romans 12:3, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (NIV). In other words, be reasonable, don’t practice the self-enhancement bias, but also don’t denigrate yourself. Furthermore, in Hebrews 2, Paul cites the Psalmist (Psalm 8:5), who reveals God’s perception of who we are: “a little lower than the angels,” wearing a “crown of honor and glory” (Hebrews 2:7).
Those who are on the opposite end of self-enhancement struggle with a view of themselves that is far from the way God sees them. While we all need to love ourselves in a manner that is similar to the way we love our neighbor, those who struggle with having a “reasonable” view of themselves may want to cultivate a true sense of love and compassion and see themselves the way God sees them. If you are among them, consider how 1 Corinthians 13 may apply to you.
You may want to cultivate a self-talk that reflects what a proper love of self is like. How do you answer these questions: Are you “kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4) with yourself? Are you “patient” (v. 4) with yourself? Do you “easily” get angry with yourself (v. 5)? Do you keep track of your wrongs (v. 5)? If for some time you have not cultivated a proper love of self, very likely your self-talk may be denigrating and painfully negative.
Paul clarifies that love does not involve boasting or pridefulness (v. 4). It is not selfish, nor does it allow for wasting time comparing oneself with others (v. 5). Rather, it is full of joy when truth is spoken (v. 6). And the truth is that you are slightly less than an angel from heaven and crowned with God’s glory. You may wish to cultivate a self-talk that reflects the principles found in 1 Corinthians 13.
Finally, to cultivate resilience in the times of the “plague,” remember that what you believe matters. Remain connected to the Vine (John 15) to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5), cultivating the love of God, the love of neighbor, and the proper love of self (Matthew 22).
This commentary is the second of two parts originally published on the Inter-American Division news site. See the first part of the article here. Carlos Fayard is associate professor of psychiatry and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center at the Department of Psychiatry, Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Loma Linda, California, United States.
1. John Donne, “Holy Sonnet 10,” 1633.
2. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1898), 83.
3. For a detailed description, see Carlos Fayard, Heart at Peace (Doral, FL: Inter-American Division Publishing Association, 2021).