You might be tempted to say you aren’t really imitating anyone given our tendency toward being individualistic, but before you respond on the question let’s consider it a bit more carefully.
From the time you were born you have been imitating, learning what things mean and how the world works. You have practiced what you learned for such a long time you rarely notice or think about these things because they are habitual and come from where they are stored in the unconscious.
Consider empathy as an example and how it develops from the writing of Maurice Wagner inThe Sensation of Being Somebody:
“Empathy begins to manifest itself in the infant’s behavior soon after he is born. It becomes the basis of nonverbal communication all through his life. Before the child is able to understand the language of his household, he senses the emotions of the people speaking to him. We see his responses and sense empathically that he understands. How much he understands is open to question. We know he enjoys being liked.”
That said, we also can see from the words of this theologian and psychologist that if we were not enjoyed or emotions in our home were loud or not evident to us, we can be left with gaps that impact us. These give us glimpses of what causes us to hunger for a “better.”
What direction that hunger takes can vary, but it will begin its influence very early for each of us. And we were, are, and will be surrounded with people and things pointing to what they believe will be the “better” or “the good life” that we seek.
In Attachments: Why You Love, Feel and Act the Way You Do by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy, they point out the following:
“The persistent human cry is simply for someone to love us, to hold us tight. Our need for relationship is even more powerful than our need for food.”
How we attach to our moms and dads at the outset will put us on a trajectory that is powerful indeed. But there is another factor that is key.
We were made in God’s image and as most of you would agree, God is love and He desires our love and that love be a hallmark of our character. Few messages in the Bible are repeated more often than the exhortation to love, love one another, love Him.
In a book I have been reading I was provoked to deeper thought when I read these lines:
“You can’t not love. It’s why the heart is the seat and fulcrum of the human person, the engine that drives our existence. We are lovers first and foremost. If we think about this in terms of the quest or journey metaphor, we might say that the human heart is part compass and part internal guidance system. The heart is like a multifunctional desire device that is part engine and part homing beacon.”
James K.A. Smith in You Are What You Love
Our heart will long for love and will be bent toward loving something or someone. That doesn’t mean the choices will always be the best. What and who we imitate and then practice becomes habit and can begin to calibrate our heart in more than one direction.
Jesus makes clear that our relationship with Him begins in our heart and He notes that the heart is also what needs to be transformed. If the influences of our family and culture bend our heart to search for things and people to love that are not like what He created us to long for, it will become a ruling passion pulling us into all manner of trouble.
Matthew quotes Jesus on this subject in Matthew 15:18-19 (NIV):
18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
Our hearts were originally designed and intended to love as God loves, but if they are not, we will be searching for it. Augustine wrote in Confessions, “Things which are not in their intended position are restless. Once they are in their ordered position, they are at rest.”
When we think about the exhortation to love, most of us will think about John’s Gospel and epistles, but Paul writes often on this subject as well. His fervency is clear in Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV):
“12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
When Paul talks about putting on love it sounds as if he is using a clothing metaphor. James K.A. Smith writes: “It’s like love is the big belt that pulls together the rest of the ensemble.” I love that description.
If all this is true – and I believe it is – what makes loving as the Lord intended so complicated and often difficult to accomplish?
If you’re curious about that, check back in next time for some clues.