How To Love The Lord Your God

Jesus told us “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (Mark. 12:29-30).

Even though this commandment forms the basis of all other commands and is most important for us to remember and obey, it can also be easy to overlook. It sounds so simple: “Love God, check. Yup. I’m good.” But Jesus went into more detail than just “love God.” He started out by reminding us Yahweh is echad. He is united, preeminent, and the only one worthy of the title Lord.

With that reminder in place, Jesus goes on to quote an Old Testament passage telling us how to love God. The way we should love our Lord isn’t left up to our imagination or emotions. We’re told what we’re supposed to to read article, "How To Love The Lord Your God" |

With All Your Heart

As today, most people in Jesus’s day didn’t just think of the heart as a muscle pumping blood. It was seen as the “seat of emotions” and the core of your “inner man” (labab, H3824). In Greek, kardia metaphorically referred to the “center of all physical and spiritual life” and the “fountain and seat of thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors (G2588, Thayer). That’s the first way we’re supposed to love God — with all our emotions, thoughts, and yearnings that come from the very core parts of who you are inside. Read more

Thoughts on A Book of Celtic Wisdom

I recently read a little book called Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue. A blog reader mentioned the idea of an anam cara, or “soul friend,” in a message, and I simply had to look it up. You can usually tell how interesting I found a non-fiction book by the number of sticky notes poking out by the time I’m done reading. Case in point:

Soul Friends |

It’s not that I agreed with everything in the book, but rather that I found its musings on the nature of life and connection between people fascinating. The first quote I placed a note next to was also one that I’d read in the article that initially pointed me toward this book.

Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend. So anam cara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.” In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam cara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam cara you could share your inner-most self, your mind and your heart. (p.13)

I love this idea, which comes from Chapter 1: The Mystery of Friendship. I’ve been toying with the idea of incorporating it into a new title for this blog. Perhaps “Soul Teacher”? I’m not sure yet.

A couple pages after this quote, the writer takes this discussion in a direction dear to my heart. He describes Jesus as “the secret anam cara of every individual” (p. 15). Isn’t that a beautiful picture? Jesus is our “soul friend,” our most intimate companion, teacher and spiritual guide, the One to whom you can reveal your most hidden self.

Consequently, love is anything but sentimental. In fact, it is the most real and creative form of human presence. Love is the threshold where divine and human presence ebb and flow into each other. (p.15)

Can We Heal Ourselves?

I loved the first chapter of this book. It was in later chapters that I became frustrated with aspects of O’Donahue’s ideology. In Chapter 3: Solitude Is Luminous, he talks about healing wounds in a way that really resonates with me, but I feel his solutions don’t go deep enough.

It’s true we often seem “destructively addicted to the negative” because confronting it seems to difficult. “If we maintain our misery at this surface level,”O’Donohue writes, “we hold off the initially threatening but ultimately redemptive and healing transfiguration that come through engaging with our inner contradiction.” I’d agree with this — we have to get to know ourselves before we can learn, grow and change ourselves. But O’Donohue isn’t advocating change so much as self-acceptance though befriending “the negative” and recognizing “that it is not destructive. It often seems that morality is the enemy of growth” (p. 115).

There are simply some things in our lives that shouldn’t be accepted. It’s not healthy or safe to befriend the dark side, and we can’t always turn negatives into something benign just by being nice to them. I have to believe it’s possible to grow and remain moral at the same time.

And yet, O’Donohue has a point that we must beware going to the other extreme of spending too much time analyzing and dragging up our pasts. Searching for your problems over and over again won’t help you overcome them, and self-knowledge is only useful if you can act on it in some way to heal and grow. He compares people who go through endless cycles of self-analysis to gardeners who dig up their potatoes every day and replant them a different way.

People in our hungry modern world are always scraping at the clay of their hearts. They have a new thought, a new plan, a new syndrome, that now explains why they are the way they are. …. Negative introspection damages the soul. It holds many people trapped for years and years, and ironically, it never allows them to change (p. 122).

The very next line is where he lost me: “It is wise to allow the soul to carry on its secret work in the night side of your life” (p. 122). Much like he suggests befriending our negativity is the best way of dealing with it, he believes our wounds can heal themselves if we give our souls space and approach our ” hurt indirectly and kindly” (123). But our souls aren’t designed to heal themselves. They’re healed by God.

I feel this idea of self-healing is connected to the writer’s idea of the divine residing inside our souls. Though he references Christianity heavily, that’s not the only theology O’Donohue draws on — the theology of this book is a mishmash of Irish Catholicism, Celtic paganism, and mysticism. He’s not comfortable with the idea of a “faraway divinity,” and so adopts the idea that the divine is within us. He’s missing a third option, though.

Biblicaly, the divine is outside us, but He’s not far away. “The word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart,” and the living Word wants to dwell inside us (Deut. 30:14; Rom. 10:8). I suppose you could say the divine resides inside us after we submit ourselves to Christ, but we have to ask Him in — not start out looking inside our own souls for the answers.

You Have A Purpose

I want to share with you a passage in this book that I found hugely encouraging. It’s also from Chapter Three.

To be born is to be chosen. No one is here by accident. … Your identity was not offered for your choosing. In other words, a special destiny was prepared for you. But you were also given freedom and creativity to go beyond the given, to make a new set of relationships and to forge an ever new identity, inclusive of the old but not limited to it. … Destiny sets the outer frame of experience and life; freedom finds and fills its inner form. …

You were sent to a shape of destiny in which you would be able to express the special gift you bring to the world. Sometimes this gift may involve suffering and pain that can neither be accounted for nor explained. There is a unique destiny for each person. Each one of us has something to do here that can be done by no one else. If someone else could fulfill your destiny, then they would be in your place and you would not be here. … When you begin to decipher this, your gift and giftedness come alive. Your heart quickens and the urgency of living rekindles your creativity. (83-84)

This past Shabbat, the speaker at my Messianic congregation talked about Leah. She was not as pretty as her younger sister Rachel and she was unloved by her husband. She probably thought she didn’t make much of an impact on the world. And yet, her example of faith is recorded in the Bible for everyone to read, and her children founded the priestly lineage of Levi and the royal lineage of Judah, among other nations. She’s a direct ancestor of notable personages like Moses, David and Jesus Christ Himself. Her life matters more than she ever knew.

You also have a purpose in this world, even if you can’t see it. This isn’t to perpetuate an idea that you’re a “special unicorn” who is better than other people. Rather, it’s to say that of us has a unique gift that’s of real value, and you have a hand in shaping how it impacts the world.

Why I Still Believe In Soul Mates

There seems to be a movement in some of the Christian relationship blogs I read to debunk the “myth” of soul mates. The argument can be summed up in this quote from’s article Myths About Soul Mates: “Believing that ‘the one’ is out there, waiting to ‘complete you,’ inevitably leads to discontentment and maybe even divorce.” Another of their articles, Hoping for a Soul Mate, quotes Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman as saying, “Nothing has produced more unhappiness than the concept of a soul mate.” If you’re not familiar with these arguments, I encourage you to glance at one or both links before reading on.

click to read article, "Why I Still Believe In Soul Mates" |
Photo Credit: Anne Edgar via StockSnap

Defining “Soul Mate”

Just so we’re all starting out on the same page, here’s a composite definition of what the articles I referenced above seem to mean when they use the term “soul mate”:

A soul mate is your perfect match, who complements all your weaknesses and strengths and loves you unreservedly for who you are. There is only one soul mate for each person, and you’re on a search to find them so they can “complete you.”

These articles say this is an impossible ideal and it becomes dangerous when we start holding the person we’re in a relationship with to impossible and unrealistic expectations. And I do acknowledge this is a danger if we’re focused on the idea of finding one perfect mate (see this scene in Ever After for a humorous example of a few problems which can result).

Given these compelling arguments about the dangers of having an expectation like this in dating, you might be wondering why I’m writing a post about believing in soul mates. I have a slightly different take on the idea of soul mates, though.

My Idea of a Soul Mate

I imagine there are several people out there who have the potential to be our “soul mates.” For me, I think this would look like a relationship where I feel safe sharing my inner thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Someone who can understand, relate to, or at least appreciate the parts of my mind which I so rarely share, and with whom I can connect on a “kindred spirits” level. It almost goes without staying that this kind of connection must have a spiritual/religious component as well — I doubt I could be in this kind of relationship with someone who does not share my faith. I think there’s also a bit of truth in the idea of finding a mate who “completes” you, not in the way that most people might think of it but in the way that God meant when He created a husband and wife to be two parts of a whole.

As I mentioned, in this theory there are multiple people with whom the potential exists for forming a soul mate connection. You might meet several, but your goal should be that your relationships only reach a “soul mate level” with one of these people. I suspect that there’s a point in a good relationship where the other potential soul mates no longer matter because a “sole soul mate” relationship has been forged.

This is where the idea of commitment comes in. Once you choose to marry someone, you’re also choosing to cultivate  a soul mate relationship only with them (the first article I linked to actually touches on this point). This is also why can be dangerous to form deep emotional intimacies with someone of the opposite sex who you don’t intend to marry (or whom you’re not sure yet if you will marry) — sharing your heart without the promise of commitment to a sole soul mate relationship seems like a good way to get your heart broken.

click to read article, "Why I Still Believe In Soul Mates" |
Photo Credit: Andrew Welch via StockSnap

Personality Theory

I’m sure not everyone will agree with this idea, and really I don’t expect them to. There’s so much variation in our individual personalities, tastes and ideas that it seems ridiculous to expect everyone to want and expect the same thing from a romantic relationship.

Jane Eyre (INFJ) and Edward Rochester (ENTP or ENTJ)

When David Keirsey wrote his personality theories based on Myers-Briggs, he suggested that each of his four personality groups would be looking for, and be, a different kind of romantic partner. He describes the Artisans (Myers’ SP types) as Playmates, who are “exciting and fun” and usually end up married to Guardians (SJ types), who are looking to fill a Helpmate role. Rationals (NT types) want a Mindmate with whom they can have intellectual discussions and explore “abstract rather than concrete” ideas. They often marry the Idealists (NF types, like my INFJ personality), who are searching for Soulmates.

What Idealists wish for in their spouse is a Soulmate, a spouse who knows their feelings without being told of them, and who spontaneously expresses words of endearment, words that acknowledge their mate’s unique identity. Idealists want the marital relationship to be, as they put it, “deep and meaningful,” Other types will settle for much less than this.  … suffice it to say that Idealists are asking their spouses for something most of them do no understand and do not know how to give. (Please Understand Me II, p.146)

Well, that sounds depressingly unattainable. Honestly, when I was reading this book the first time the beginning of this paragraph had me nodding and thinking it sounded exactly just right, but that final sentence is really discouraging. Still, I don’t think I have such unrealistic expectations as Keirsey describes Idealists as having in other parts of his book (though it does sound idyllic). Maybe he’s right and 80-85% of the population will tell me I’m crazy to hope for a “soul mate.” But hopefully someday I’ll be able to say, like the bride in Song of Songs, “I found him whom my soul loves” (Song. 3:4, WEB).


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