What I’ve Been Reading: Love Does

I used to think that a book I’ve been hearing about, Bob Goff’s Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, would be just another compendium of motivational sayings and self-help steps. But now I know it’s an adventure story.

That phrasing of “I used to think…But now I know…” is exactly how Goff starts each chapter of Love Does. He describes how Jesus repeatedly told his listeners in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard it said…But I tell you…” (Matt. 5). With this parallelism, Goff draws attention to the dramatic difference Jesus brings between how we’re used to thinking about life and how Jesus invites us think about life.

A few examples of Goff’s sayings, and how I’m interpreting them, include the following:

“I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them.” We’re used to aiming for perfection; Jesus invites us to aim for presence. This tells me to put down my phone, put aside my schedule, put off my advice, and just be — just listen, at least for a little bit. 

“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” We’re used to aiming for “successful”; Jesus invites us to aim for “meaningful.” This tells me to care less what difference something might make on my resume (and care more what difference something might make in my own and others’ lives.

“I used to think clenched fists would help me fight better, but now I know they make me weaker.”
 We’re used to retaliation; Jesus invites us to reconciliation. This one needs some explanation: Goff isn’t so much describing physical fist-fights as he is describing our posture toward approaching others. Apparently, in his work as a professional lawyer, Goff instructs his clients to sit in court with their palms up — never with their fits clenched. Studies show, Goff says, that clenched fits make a person look and feel angrier, unhappier, and less patient, whereas open palms make a person look and feel kinder, happier, and more patient. I’ve tried it when interacting with customers at work and talking with friends at home, and it makes a remarkable, instantaneous difference.

In each chapter of Love Does, after offering one of those sayings, Goff tells a story that illustrates the saying. He describes failing embarrassingly at his first job as a waiter, getting his undergraduate degree in forestry, getting into law school through sheer persistence, winning over his wife’s affection through more sheer persistence, taking his kids on travels around the world, and helping to start a school for orphans in Africa, and helping to free innocent prisoners in Africa — just to name a few escapades. Through all the stories, the common thread is doing.

If you love something, do it; don’t just sit around making excuses that it’s hard, expensive, scary, or uncool or that you’re inexperience or unqualified. If you love someone, tell them. If you fail, get up. If you’ve been hurt, try to offer forgiveness. If you’ve been forgiven, receive forgiveness.

We’re used to thinking we have to deserve; Jesus frees us to know we can serve and be served. Because that’s what love does.

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