Tag Archives: love is

Lessons in loving Japan from a week of painting walls (and ceilings, and doors, and stairs).

a pot of paint and a cup of tea

Last week I was in Aomori. It’s a fairly remote place on the northern part of Honshu and apparently the snowiest area on planet earth, which I can easily believe.

I was there to help a friend get his new home ready for his wife and five children to move into. For me that meant painting. Pretty much six solid days of it. And in the midst of that I learnt a few lessons about what it will look like for me to love Japan.

It was very much a labour of love. For a few reasons:

  1. I was painting everything white, and whilst I admit it makes the place brighter, I’m not a huge fan.
  2. There was an awful lot to be painted.
  3. It all needed three coats of paint.
  4. The stairs.

Oh, those stairs! It was whilst painting those stairs that I almost cracked. I mean, look at them!

A big wooden staircase

That twirly bannister . . . those battered steps . . . so . . . many . . . panels. And my friend wanted it all painted white. Essentially I was going to be painting a bunch of incredibly awkward surfaces, with a colour I wouldn’t have chosen (three times over!), for someone else to enjoy.

I’ll be honest, when I finished the first coat and stood back to look at my work, I almost cried.

Staircase half-painted and looking super ugly

A whole world of ugly, right? I really wanted to give up. Or at least work out a way to cut some corners. Was it really worth the effort it took to get into all the twists and edges and cracks? After I had finished the second coat, it looked a bit better from a distance. Maybe that was enough.

But then my friend related his daughter’s reaction from being shown the staircase over Skype,

“Oh, Daddy! It looks like a palace!”

That put pay to my tiredness. Sure, my friend had mentioned several times how much he liked the house, how much brighter it looked, yadayada. But knowing that his daughter was delighted with how it was looking: that got me working with joy.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered one of my favourite stories from the Bible: the story of when Jacob met Rachael. It’s a classic boy-meets-girl, boys-falls-in-love-with-girl, boy-promises-to-work-as-a-shepherd-for-seven-years-in-return-for-girl’s-hand-in-marriage kinda story. And then we get this beautiful verse,

‘So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.’

Seven years of hard labour, waiting all the time for the girl he loved. Not even Westley could boast that.

So as I was giving that staircase its third coat of white, I reflected on this story and how it links to the question I’ve been thinking about recently: Do I love Japan or is it just lust?

One of the points, you might remember, was that ‘Lust demands instant gratification but love waits.’

I totally agree with that, but I think we need to make sure we don’t misunderstand what ‘waits’ means here. It’s not a sitting-around-doing-nothing sort of waiting. And it’s not a go-and-do-your-own-thing sort of waiting. It’s a serve-and-actively-seek-the-good-of-the-other-person-whilst-you-wait kind of waiting. It’s the kind of waiting that Jacob did for Rachael for seven years. It’s the kind of waiting that God did for Israel for many more years. It’s the kind of waiting that a man is meant to do for his wife, or the girl he’s pursuing. And it’s the kind of waiting that I should do for Japan.

So the question is: am I willing to wait? And am I willing to labour whilst I wait? Am I willing to paint over the same spot again and again in a colour that I wouldn’t choose so that someone’s daughter will get giddy with excitement at the idea of moving into a palace?

Am I willing to love Japan when that love requires a labour of love?

You know, I think I am. Because I think it will be worth it. That’s why love labors, because the wait is worth it.

Beautiful white staircase

Do I Love Japan? Lust subverts our calling. Love fulfills our calling.

In my last post I opened the question of whether I love Japan or just lust after it. And I was surprised by the response. Not that my post went viral (or anything remotely close), but I had a fair few people message me to say that it struck a chord with them. So I’ve decided that I will unpack those points on the love/lust difference, trying to think about them in a wider sense.

So here we go,

Love for Japan

Courtesy of ku.sagi on Flickr. Original.

Lust subverts our calling. Love fulfills our calling.

Why? Because our calling is love.

We are designed to be in community. We were made to cultivate and care: for each other, for this planet, for culture. We are wired so that we get most fulfillment when we give, not when we get. And the world is wired so that it flourishes most when we live from love, not lust.

Now, look there are lots of things that I really enjoy in Japan. If you’ve been around here for any length of time you’ll be able to join me in reciting the list: onsens, soup curry, snowboarding, canned coffee . . . it goes on.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying those things. In fact I think I’m meant to. But love insists that such things are to be enjoyed in a way that befits a love for God and for people. Love recognizes that good things are to be enjoyed in such a way that others enjoy them too.

Lust differs from that because lust is about me. Lust doesn’t share. Lust is selfish, greedy, and uncaring. That’s why sexual lust is so devastating. It turns people into objects–literally–and then simply uses them. Lust takes something good and twists it to meet our self-centered desires.

Love serves others, but lust serves ourselves. And the results are really ugly.

But our lusts can be insidious. We can lust in a way that looks quite respectable, even admirable, to those on the outside. Lust truly does subvert, to the point that we might not even notice it ourselves.

A lust for fame or success can be just as subversive to our calling of love.

To quote from that apparently-soon-to-be-revisited classic Zoolander,

“Do you understand that the world does not revolve around you and your do whatever it takes, ruin as many people’s lives, so long as you can make a name for yourself as an investigatory journalist, no matter how many friends you lose or people you leave dead and bloodied along the way, just so long so you can make a name for yourself as an investigatory journalist, no matter how many friends you lose or people you leave dead and bloodied and dying along the way?”

OK, once you’ve stopped quoting the rest of Zoolander let’s continue. (I should also point out using that quote doesn’t mean I agree with the definition of love from that film.)

But in all seriousness, that kind of “I’ll make it whatever it takes” attitude can very easily lead to a lustful attitude where people who get in the way of our ‘success’ become obstacles to be avoided, pushed aside, or manipulated to meet our end. In other words, they become objects to used rather than people to be loved.

And the thing is that our original intention may have been noble. We might have drawn up our agenda with people in mind. But as D.A. Carson puts it,

“People don’t set the agenda. People are the agenda!”

Lust, in whatever form it takes, distracts us from both our specific callings, whatever they might be, as well as our general calling to love God and love our neighbour. You can’t build both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of self. Trust me, I’ve tried. Like, really, really tried. It doesn’t work.

Thoughts, questions, stories?

Do I love Japan, or is it just lust?

Chase After Love

I mentioned in my last post the question of whether I genuinely love Japan or whether I simply lust after Japan. I get that’s a slightly strange statement so let me explain what I mean.

This is something I’ve been thinking about ever since a conversation I had with a Scottish friend last Summer. He’s lived in Japan for about nine years, so he’s seen a fair bit of life here.

We were hanging out in Starbucks (don’t judge me, it’s a convenient meeting spot) and on the table near us was another Westerner, chatting with a Japanese girl. My friend overheard him whilst he was waiting in line and afterwards told me that the guy had been boasting about how much he made teaching, and how he had lots of money for ‘play.’ The guy’s tone made it clear that he was talking more ‘playboy’ than ‘playmobile.’

Anywho, afterwards we were talking about that whole subject. Not so much the sex-industry in Japan, but more the fact that some people come to Japan with the sole purpose of getting what they can and then leaving when they’ve had their fill. In other words, they come to Japan driven by lust, not love.

And that made me remember this post my friend wrote, based on teaching by Benjamin Nolot (one of the folk who head up Exodus Cry) on the difference between love and lust.

You should definitely read the whole post, but here’s the main points:

  • Lust subverts our calling. Love fulfills our calling.
  • Lust exploits. Love protects.
  • Lust consumes. Love pursues.
  • Lust seeks instant gratification. Love waits.

When it comes to human relationships these differences are devastating. And I think the principles apply more broadly as well.  I can be tempted to view Japan with lust, rather than love. I can be tempted to join the ranks of those who come to get their fill of Japan, when I’m meant to be here to pour myself out for Japan.

And so these last few months I’ve been wondering about my motives for being in here. Do I love Japan, or is it just lust?

Because I have to be honest here: I’m no better than that guy in Starbucks. As they say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” And that’s a grace that I need to have continually pouring into my life. And a grace that I need to be continually working out in my life.

And so I think this is an important question to ask. And not just for me, but for all of us, wherever we are. Are our actions, our words, our plans driven by love for the people around us, or are we motivated by a desire to get what we can?

So in my next few posts I will go through those points, thinking through how loving Japan looks different to lusting after Japan, and hopefully also helping you think through how you can better love those around you.

Lessons from Japan: Sometimes Loving Children Looks Like Being a Horse

In case you weren’t aware, back in July I went out to Tokyo as part of a ‘Kids Gospel’ team. We hooked up with churches and ran clubs with them throughout the week where we taught the kids some English gospel songs and then performed them at a concert on the Saturday.

At the first church we went to there was one girl, Sara,  who decided early on that my role on the team was mainly to give her piggy back rides – or in Japanese, “be a horse!” which makes much more sense to as a concept, but hey. So every time we took a break from teaching songs or playing games I would find her tugging on my arm, asking me to crouch down so she could jump on.

Me, being jumped on by a large number of small Japanese children

Now she was a cute little girl, even by Asian standards (it is a well acknowledged fact that Asian children are the cutest on the planet although there is debate as to whether Japan or Korea tops the list) meaning that I was initially fairly helpless to refuse her requests for piggy backs. And I enjoyed it. For the first 15 times.

But towards the end of the week I was tiring of constantly running around with a 7-year-old hanging off my neck and my patience was starting to run thin. I would still “be a horse” but my horse impressions were becoming increasingly Eeyore-like.

But on the Thursday evening I was planning the team devotions for the morning I and had the thought of looking at 1 Corinthians 13 –  you know the passage, it’s the classic wedding reading, ‘Love is…’ In particular I was struck by the truth that ‘love is patient.’ As a team we were committed to modelling for the children God’s love and so I realised that I would need to demonstrate this sort of patient love to Sara, and the other kids, otherwise, as 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us, I would be ‘nothing.’ (I had already resigned myself to the fact that no matter no loving I was, when it came to singing I would always be a ‘clanging gong’.)

So, Friday morning arrived, we looked at and prayed through Paul’s exhortations to love and went into the church hall. After about 2 minutes Sara arrived and about 12 seconds after that she was asking me to “be a horse.” So I did.

By the end of Friday I was exhausted, having lost count of the number of times I had carried Sara around the hall. Not to mention the other kids who also wanted in on the fun.

Later I was chatting to one of the missionaries who works at the church and she mentioned how much Sara had been jumping on me. Then she told me that it was possibly because Sara had no Father and so she didn’t often get the chance to play with men.

In that moment I was profoundly struck by the opportunity that I almost missed. Not an opportunity for me, but for Sara. For me, Sara was becoming a chore, giving her piggybacks was something I had to endure. For Sara, I was a chance to enjoy childhood, getting piggybacks was an experience for her to treasure.

The passage from Corinthians says that love is not just patient but also that love is ‘not self-seeking.’ I had missed that. I saw these ‘in-between’ moments as dead time for me to get past. I didn’t consider that for Sara they might be much more than that. (The idea of ‘the in-between’ is from the insight of Jeff Goins. His blog is definitely worth checking out: http://goinswriter.com.)

So now I think with sadness about when Sara will next get the chance to ride around on someone’s back. When will that be? And how many other children in Japan – or indeed elsewhere – are waiting for the Father figure they need to “be a horse”?

Now I know this story doesn’t really prove anything. It doesn’t prove that there are many absent Fathers in Japan. It doesn’t prove that children need male role models or piggybacks. It doesn’t prove that the Bible is true or powerful. Although I do think all those things are true.

But if you’re the praying kind, I hope this inspires you to pray for missionaries in Japan to be filled with 1 Corinthian 13 style patient, other-seeking love.

And whoever you are, I hope this might make you think twice the next time a little child asks you for a piggyback ride and you’re tempted to say no. I hope you’ll consider those moments from the viewpoint of a child who just wants to enjoy being with you. 

Go on, be a horse!