Love in Action at Work and in the WorldBlog / Produced by The High Calling
American culture is a culture of narcissism. Recently, I was in a bookstore and noticed that Christopher Lasch’s book The Culture of Narcissism, published in 1979, is still in print and on the shelves after some thirty years. It is a hard-hitting critique that our culture is characterized by a “narcissistic preoccupation with the self.” We live, Lasch said, in a culture of self-absorption and entitlement, where “it’s all about us.”
I think Lasch’s book became a best-seller and remains in print today because his basic thesis has withstood the test of time. The narcissism Lasch described has not disappeared; it has merely taken on new forms. We are in love with ourselves. For example, consider our celebrity culture and the self-esteem and self-help movements that appear to be “on steroids.”
This is not a new problem. It’s as old as humankind. The ancient Greeks told the story of the vain, self-absorbed young man Narcissus, who was consumed by his own self-love and incapable of loving others. He wasted away and died, leaning over a pool looking at his reflection in the water.
In a world and culture of narcissism, one could not hear a more radically different word than the words from 1 John, “We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (3:16).
Laying Down Our Lives at the Office and Home
But what does it mean to “lay down our lives for others”? That phrase easily evokes images of a once-in-a-lifetime noble and heroic act that most of us can’t imagine doing. We think of firefighters who enter burning buildings or rescuers who die while attempting to save others. We think of martyred saints like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Oscar Romero who die for their faith or for speaking the truth.
Such heroic, sacrificial acts of love seem lofty and distant, but they prepare us for what the writer of 1 John says next. “Laying down our lives for others” is not at all limited to great acts of heroism or dying for a cause. To lay down one’s life for another is simply to respond to people in need: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” (v. 17). God calls us to open our hearts to the needs of people around us. This involves practical, concrete acts of love in the ordinary matters of everyday life.
Love Is Always Active—The Knowing and Doing Gap
The writer of 1 John further describes the call to love others by saying, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (v. 18). True Christian love is grounded in the nature and character of God and in the Incarnation. Such love is not simply an emotion we feel or an idea we talk about. As God in Jesus Christ showed his suffering love for us in the painful act of laying down his life for us on the cross, we also are called to act for others. Love is something we do, not simply something we believe. It’s not pious talk, but committed action. Love sees the pain, suffering, or need of a friend, neighbor, or even an enemy, and does something about it. Love is practical and concrete, not abstract or theoretical.
Most of us have a problem with this. We know that we should love others, or we want to do something for them, but we fail to act on our intentions.
Recently I found an interesting book called The Knowing and Doing Gap (Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, Harvard Business School Press, 2000). It’s an organizational management book that explores a common problem in businesses and organizations: they know what they need to do to change or improve things, but they fail to act. The authors note that one of the main barriers to turning knowledge into action is the tendency to assume that talking about something is equivalent to actually doing it. How true I think this is of love in the Christian life. We talk about it all the time, but talk can easily become a substitute for action.
The book tells the story of a mining executive whose company was acquired by a larger corporation. Under the new management, he spent two weeks every month flying back and forth to company headquarters in Australia. While at the corporate offices, he spent most of his time sitting in a darkened room watching overhead presentations projected on a screen. There were plans, reports, and strategy presentations, but no action. He says, “I kept trying to remind my associates that we weren’t in the business of making plans and overheads, but in the business of mining and smelting copper. . . . If we had been in the business of making presentations, we would be doing a lot better than we were.” He left the company after one year.
We’ve all experienced the problem of all talk, but no action. What would it mean for you to reach out to someone in your workplace with an act of love? What are the needs of people around you at work? How can you address those needs with more than words? How can you bear witness to your faith and help create a more caring and trustworthy world? You could ask these same questions about your neighborhood, community, school, and church.
In a culture of narcissism, it’s so easy to become self-absorbed and preoccupied with our own lives.
I don’t know what there is for you and me to do this week. All I know is that there is someone who needs us. Someone needs you.
Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:
- Read 1 John 3:16-24. What does it mean to lay down our lives for others in the office or workplace? In the neighborhood and community, at school, or at home?
- What are the needs of people around you at work? How can you address those needs with more than words?
- What would it mean for you to reach out to someone in your workplace with an act of love? How can you bear witness to your faith and help create a more caring and trustworthy world?
- Consider some practical ways to encourage people this week:
o Send an email
o Write a card
o Make a call
o Show up in someone’s office door
o Get together for lunch or coffee
o Invite someone to your home
o Listen with your undivided attention