Love is the Allocation of Our Dying

What does it mean to give your life away in order to give life to others? What does it mean to say that love is sacrificial, a taking up the cross, a form of self-denial?

In trying to puzzle this out I've meditated a great deal on this quote from Arthur McGill:
The way of Jesus is the way of self-expenditure.
Is that hyperbole? Dysfunctional? Is it suicidal? A thirst for martyrdom?

I don't think so, but I do think there is a martyrological sensibility to all this. This is what I think:

Love is the  allocation of our dying.

Life is a finite resource always slipping away. Every minute that passes is a passing of life, a movement toward death. Every moment we are being expended and used up.

But we have some choices in how we are expended. We can allocate our dying. We can specify the times and places of our dying.

My point here is that, because life is a finite resource, giving ourselves to others is a very real sort of sacrifice. It's not suicidal or dysfunctional, but it is sort of martyrological in that I am literally dying the minutes I spend with you. To be with you--to love you--is to die a little bit. A sacrificial giving of my life to you.

When we think of "giving our lives away" our minds tend to jump to big, dramatic gestures. And it can be that sort of thing. In crisis situations people do act heroically, giving their lives in a big single action to save others. But I wonder if the difference here is more quantitative rather than qualitative, a matter of degree rather than of kind. Because to love other people in small but tangible ways over a lifetime is a way of dying. But a slower, drip, drip rather than a big splash.

Which is to say that I do think there is something sacrificial and martyr-like in giving small gifts of love to each other. Love is a sacrifice, an expenditure.

Love is a beautiful way to live, which means that love is, in the final analysis, a beautiful way to die.

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17 thoughts on “Love is the Allocation of Our Dying”

  1. That is awesome. I've occasionally had the unhealthy kind of martyr complex, and I've often been shut out of loving people in bold ways by the fear of a martyr complex. This nicely takes what is valid out of the critique of martyr complexes, and leaves the anti-love subtext that sometimes creeps in with the critique to crumble on its own.

  2. Richard,

    I'd like to push back a little here. Giving in love is a wonderful kind of death, but loving is also life giving. So, in each moment of death, there is also a moment of resurrection.

  3. Thank you. This is great. It leads me forward to think that it is in this loving, this dying, that we find "real life". Is the existence of an organism (even one as beautiful as a human being) somehow just existence unless we love, and give our lives away, moment by moment?

  4. This speaks to what I was trying to say in my comment, and also is the best way I understand the "finding and losing life" passages in the gospels.

  5. I’ve been thinking about love a lot lately. I read an
    interesting book with a bad title, “Love 2.0” by Barbara Fredrickson. It
    is one of these studies in the science of relationships. She defines love as micro-moments of positive
    resonance. Here are some basic tenants of her research:

    1. Love is not so much of an emotion as much as it is an
    action that has to be performed.

    2. It doesn’t really matter who you love, she would argue that
    you are not participating in love if you are not directly with someone
    performing micro-moments of positive resonance.

    3. When you engage yourself in these micro-moments of
    positive resonance your overall health will improve forming new cells… etc. (I don’t
    pretend to be a science guy, and don’t really remember the evidence but I felt
    the evidence was substantial when I was reading).

    4. Then she gives many practical exercises to embrace this
    new definition of love. (They get a little weird for me, but some have been
    fun, such as counting and rating the times that you had meaningful exchanges
    with people in a day, or looking into the convenient store clerk’s eyes when
    you buy your gum).

    All that to say, I’ve been thinking about love and how
    Barbara Fredrickson’s definition of love fits into my own working definition
    that is more rooted in theology than in the science of relationships. Or, How
    do I relate the sacrificial love of Jesus with micro-moments of positive
    resonance? And is this even worth doing? I think my main annoyance with Love
    2.0 is that love is lacking anything sacrificial and becomes more of a device
    for self-improvement. But your post helps me bridge the gap a bit; “there
    is something sacrificial and martyr-like in giving small gifts of love to each
    other. Love is a sacrifice, an expenditure”. By engaging in micro-moments of
    positive resonance, keeping in mind our hourglass-like lives, love doesn’t have
    to be about self-improvement but can become more sacrificial and beneficial to
    all engaged. But I'm still wondering if working through moments of positivity can get me closer to understanding love as portrayed in places such as John 3. Our example of love there is more of a big splash than a drip.

    Also, I made a new year’s resolution to stop
    being a reader of your blog and to become a reader that comments. This is my
    first comment; End of April isn’t too bad I guess.

  6. I agree. Reflecting a bit...

    As a psychologist I often wonder what people mean by "resurrection." It's a word that gets thrown around a lot and I often don't know how it is being "cashed out," psychologically or experientially. What does it mean to experience a "moment of resurrection"?

    For my part, the experience of resurrection is freedom from the fear of death in the giving our lives away to others. More succinctly, love is resurrection, the moment where we move from death to life:

    1 John 3.14
    "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death."

  7. This made me think of all the years and moments we don't have recorded of Jesus's life in the Gospel narratives...sometimes what speaks the loudest is what is left out of the story. Which leads me to wonder, how do you think Jesus's love is different now that he is no longer "dying" in a perishable body, moment by moment? The way I see it, Jesus is still just as human as he ever was, now only with an imperishable body.

  8. Really like the idea, but I think it assumes that we as humans can choose how to spend our time from a wealth of better options than the option to love other people. Sacrifice intimates that there are better alternatives. Sure loving others can get messy, and there are times when I'd prefer not to connect, but given the value system I'm committed to, I'm not sure there are any better options to choose from in a typical cost/benefit scenario. I'd say love is more investment than expenditure.

  9. I have never thought about loving in this context--of love being the allocation of our dying. So simple, yet profound. Thank you.

  10. Thanks for the first time comment! Love that image of the stars, great metaphor for what I'm trying to describe.

  11. Richard,

    I've been reading your blog for some years now and I just wanted to say it's a very real blessing to my life, ministry, and walk with Jesus.

    Thank you

  12. Love it, as always. Working on thoughts towards writing a thesis on Jungian individuation and "the Way of the Cross". This piece, along with your Slavery of Death, will no doubt be integral.

    However, I'm still mulling around some tricky footwork here around the issue of "codependency" and addiction to self-deprecation. Obviously that's not what is here meant, but navigating the language through this pitfall is crucial. Furthermore, others have rightly pointed out how those in power can justify suffering through this martyrdom narrative, which, again, is problematic to the thought process. Any thoughts toward this?

  13. My thought on codependency is that in way it's self-serving in that it provides comfort to the codependent and allowing him/her to avoid the discomfort of the truth.

  14. "But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the
    earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But
    the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the
    love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a
    land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the
    only survival, the only meaning .”

    - Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

  15. Richard, thankyou for this. I found it enlightening and have quoted you shamelessly. Andrew Prior

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