Turning Points Magazine & Devotional

June 2024 Issue

Faith Keepers

From the September 2023 Issue

The Powerful Power of Love

Online Exclusive: From This Point Forward

The Powerful Power of Love

Emotional neglect is the scourge of our day, creeping into homes and silently ravaging the hearts of millions. According to Jonice Webb in Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, “Many fine, high-functioning, capable people secretly feel unfulfilled or disconnected.” These people ask, “Shouldn’t I be happier? Why haven’t I accomplished more?” According to Webb, these questions are often prompted by invisible forces from childhood. The problem isn’t what did happen to these people, but what didn’t happen. Somehow their emotional reserves weren’t filled.

“Pure emotional neglect is invisible,” wrote Webb. “It can be extremely subtle and it rarely has any physical or visible signs. In fact, many emotionally neglected children have received excellent physical care. Many come from families that seem ideal.” But these silent problems have arisen from sins of omission rather than sins of commission. Many parents simply don’t make their children feel loved. And emotionally neglected children tend to spend the rest of their lives running on empty.1

That makes love a powerful power, a potent force we can either use or abuse.

Professor James Hatch, former professor at Columbia International University, often told students we’re all born with cups inside our hearts, and those cups need to be filled with love. If we don’t get the love we need in childhood, we’ll spend the rest of our lives looking for it, often in the wrong places.

Emotional neglect ravages many marriages, homes, relationships, and even churches. Loneliness is a pandemic among our elderly, but it’s just as bad among teenagers and young adults. Actress Anne Hathaway said, “Loneliness is my least favorite thing about life. The thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone who will care for me.” Another famous actress, Liv Ullmann, said, “Hollywood is loneliness beside the swimming pool.”

There’s a Hollywood crowd in every city and village—people caught up in themselves while oblivious to the emotional needs of those around them. Love is freely given or cruelly withheld in relationships that touch us every day. Every living creature needs love, even the dogs and cats on the street. That makes love a powerful power, a potent force we can either use or abuse.

For that reason, it’s important to determine which groups we allow to influence our lives. It’s also important to be an influencer whose great-heartedness touches others in ways they can recognize and feel. You are an influencer, for good or ill, by the way you express or suppress the love of Jesus Christ.

Opt Out of the Unloving Crowd

As Jesus-followers, we’re to steer clear of companions who don’t love us as we really are or whose influence has a depressing effect on our ability to love others. Those who love us care for our best interests. They build us up. They encourage us, bear our burdens, and pray for us; and we do the same for them. But most people are self-seeking, self-serving, and selfishly willing to pull you down. The Bible constantly warns us to bypass the wrong crowd and avoid walking in the counsel of the ungodly, standing in the way of sinners, and sitting in the seat of mockers (Psalm 1).

Sometimes all it takes is an affirming word.

Jonice grew up in a Christian home surrounded by love, but as the middle child, she struggled with the attention shown to her older brother and younger sister. On her first night at her university, she attended a party where alcohol and hormones flowed in equal amounts. By the end of the night, she experienced passionate “love” from a male student, who left her pregnant and abandoned. Thankfully, she returned home to find out how much her parents truly loved her, and she experienced a level of God’s love she’d never known before. Yet one evening in an unloving crowd changed her life forever.

In a world where love has become twisted, distorted, and turned inside-out, emotional neglect has driven millions of people into depression, despair, and even suicide. As the people of God on this earth—those who receive and relay His love—we must avoid the unloving crowd, and we must never be part of ravaging the lives of others by selfishness, lust, bitterness, or self-righteousness. Opt out of wrong crowds because what you read, watch, listen to, or participate in profoundly influences you.

Opt Into the Loving Crowd

Instead, opt into a loving crowd. How wonderful that we’re already members of the right crowd in Christ, part of the family of God. We must become people who demonstrate God’s love in a way that increases our circles of influence and counteracts the plague of emotional neglect.

God’s love is on constant display. Look around you.

Sometimes all it takes is an affirming word. Worship leader and songwriter David Ray tells of a time when he was a fragile, insecure 21-year-old artist in a band called “Better Days Ahead,” which was made up of four college buddies. The band had just signed with a Nashville label, and they were touring when their record was released. David was eager to see if anyone would write a review.

“Although I was not the lead singer,” he said, “we decided to give me one song to sing lead on, since I was the writer. That song was called ‘Don’t Be Long.’ It was an appeal to God to be present as the Comforter in the midst of pain. Honestly, it was not a great song. The final line of the chorus said: ‘Hold me ‘til I’m fast asleep and things will be alright.’”

En route to a concert in Houston, David read a critical review in a Christian magazine. The writer especially disliked the song “Don’t Be Long” and specifically singled out the final line of the chorus.

David railed about the comments to fellow band members. He’d been hungry for validation, and the critical review made him question his abilities and talent. He was still fuming when he arrived for the concert. Several family members lived nearby and showed up for the concert, even David’s grandmother, herself a talented musician. But the woman wasn’t fond of loud music with guitars, and David, already hurt, was worried if she would enjoy the evening. Her husband had died a few years before, and his death had been a terrible blow to the whole family. He wanted his grandmother to be blessed, not upset.

David’s grandmother was ushered into the green room, and she immediately came up to David. “David,” she said, “I just love your music!” David smiled half-heartedly and thanked her. Then she said, “Do you know what my favorite song is? It’s the song you sing, ‘Don’t Be Long.’ I can’t tell you how many times since Roy died I’ve just needed God to hold me until I fell asleep.”

David later wrote, “It was as if all the air from my over-inflated indignation came rushing out of me. I was instantly ashamed of my anger. In my eagerness for validation, I had missed the point. The song I’d written hadn’t been meant to thrill a national audience or a cynical reviewer. God meant that song to comfort my grandmother.

“That moment still reminds me that God’s idea of success is different from our own. We long for fame and fortune, but sometimes the Lord just wants us to bless one person with His love. God’s love is poured out in infinite measure on a solitary individual in the same way it is poured out collectively on a million souls. I’m still a fragile, insecure songwriter. I’m just a bit older now. But I often remember my grandmother’s words and think of how much love God has for one of His daughters to allow my words to bring her comfort. And I think about just how much love God must have for one of His sons to teach me to find joy and success in the simplest obedience.”2

God’s love is on constant display. Look around you. Who gave you air to breathe? Eyes to see? Family and friends to comfort you? Who most loves you in this world? Thank God for His love and for those who pass it on—grandparents, siblings, parents, pastors, friends. Think how they influenced your life, and be part of that powerful chain-reaction. Sometimes just a word of affirmation, a compliment, a hug, a kind gift, or an earnest prayer can counteract the critics and stabilize someone’s soul.

Keep the circle of love tight. Opt out of unloving groups; opt into supportive environments. Let’s rid the world of emotional neglect and fill the cups of others with the power of God’s powerful love.

Sources:

1Jonice Webb, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect (New York: Morgan James Publishing, 2012), xv-xix.
2Based on an interview and email exchange with Robert J. Morgan, and used with permission.

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