Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Review: Be Happy You Are Loved

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Be Happy You Are Loved

Author: Robert H. Schuller

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (hardcover), Bantam (paperback)

Date: 1986 (Nelson), 1988 (Bantam)

ISBN: 0553268902

Length: 227 pages

Quote: "If loving yourself means admiring your body, your shape...then we are getting on the wrong track...At best it is cosmetic psychology, and what is needed is not a cosmetic treatment, but conversion."

For comments on the life and work of the Schuller family, and why these are Books You Can Buy From Me, see http://priscillaking.blogspot.com/2012/04/book-review-power-to-grow-beyond.html.

Now, about this specific book. It's hard to tell, because Robert H. Schuller recycled some material through more than one of his books, but I think I read this one for the first time as a middle-aged widow. This means that I'm in an ideal position to comment on this book. I am its target audience. Widows of any age live with the reality of having once been, and no longer being, loved in the way that seems most relevant to us most of the time. And I can say that I cannot imagine how any widow could ever find any comfort in this book.

There are several things neighbors and fellow believers can do to convince widows that we are still, in some utterly inadequate and unsatisfactory way, loved. For starters, if we're still working, you can support our businesses.

For me, personally, that's the only form of "love" that means much any more. (Except the kinds expressed by children and animals; I expect most readers are adult humans.)

Maybe disabled senior citizens feel loved when able-bodied people give them things, do the chores they're not able to do for themselves any more, or sit around chattering to help them fill up the time they can no longer spend doing productive work. Maybe when I'm ninety years old I'll want and need those kinds of "love" from my great-nephews. I'm only about halfway to that point now, though, and what I need to share with everybody now is that being offered the kinds of "love" that are appropriate for a ninety-year-old widow is incredibly discouraging to me at my present age. I don't know what's going on in the heads of the people who think they're supposed to express love through that kind of "help," but the nonverbal message I hear loud and clear is "YOU ARE USELESS. HURRY UP AND DIE!" and my reaction is "I'll dance on your grave first."

All widows are indeed to be pitied, but if what you want to express is love, what you need to be saying to us is "I need your help, and I'll pay for your time and trouble."

Frankly, although all these years of Christian practice have built up a habit of acting with good will toward all people, the only people I really care about are the ones who need my help. If most of the rest of humankind dropped dead, not only would I not miss them, I'd feel that (after the bodies had been disposed of) the world had become a cleaner place.

What Robert H. Schuller had to offer to a caller, whose plea he edits down to "I'm about to lose everything," is an oh-I'm-so-clever verbal brush-off. "So many people...need someone...to call on them, talk with them, hug them, encourage them, kiss them gently on the cheek...Someone not far from you needs your tender touch, your simple smile, your holy hug today."

Wrong. Telling people in trouble that they can get the love they need by patting strangers may have worked for a few particularly brain-damaged extroverts; it does not work for people with fully developed human brains, who perceive the difference between their own spouse's touch, their own parent's smile, or their own child's hug, and those of a needy social pest, so clearly that they're likely to report the touch of the pest to the police.

Since my husband died--actually it started while he was still in the hospital--there've been a lot of needy, lonely people, most of whom are male, who've wanted to plunk themselves right into my husband's place. At least in the bedroom, at the table, and sometimes (not that they know that this was an actual place in our home) the Truth Pedestal. They've been less enthusiastic about replacing him on any job...very few men would even dare to try that. And needless to say, none of them has been qualified to replace him in my life either.

I feel much lonelier after exposure to these pests than I do when I wake up alone in the morning.

When Robert H. Schuller talked about how to get rich, he was talking about something he understood, and although he grossly exaggerated the value of enthusiasm relative to the value of lucky breaks, he did have some good practical advice to offer. But when he's talking about love, he's talking strictly about the emotional feeling sick, needy extroverts apparently confuse with love. Whether he is one of them or not, he's telling people who don't have enough personality to be loved as human friends to try to slap Band-Aids on their feelings by making a lot of noise about loving everybody, impartially and indifferently, in the way a healthy Golden Retriever seems to love everybody.

For a fully developed human brain, that's not enough. At best those of us who have fully developed human brains may be able to enjoy a needy extrovert "friend" in the same way we might enjoy a Golden Retriever. We can't love them in the way we love our own actual friends, and we need to stop inflicting unnecessary heartbreak on the young by confusing them with the misbelief that they should even try.

Be Happy You Are Loved may be most valuable in explaining some of the obnoxious behavior we observe in needy extroverts. Consider the age-old question: What do you say when someone you love asks you what you think of something they have, or have done, and you don't like it?

Actually knowing and loving the person is the only way to choose among the possibilities. There are usually half a dozen different things you might say that would express your mixed feelings clearly enough to communicate good intentions, at least.

I have in my own personal closet a few garments that weren't my own personal choices. They don't fit into my "look," and I seldom wear them in town. They were either bought as gifts, or handed down, by relatives. The really wacky outfits came from relatives who were much older and are now dead. One day this spring, partly because some other clothes were in the laundry, it occurred to me that one especially "Mabel-ish" outfit does fit me and, as certain styles recycle themselves through fashion, has actually become trendy again. So I wore it and let the novelty of it remind me of whimsical, I think partly color-blind, Aunt Mabel all day long. Everyone felt moved to comment. All their comments tried to be tactful. And if they'd really been the kind of intimate friends I miss, they would have remembered Aunt Mabel...which nobody did.

You don't know that sort of thing about your neighbors and co-workers and so on. I don't. Nobody does. Nobody's supposed to, and those people probably wouldn't be pleased if you did. People are supposed to know what a true, close friend would say only when they are in fact true, close friends. Such relationships take time to develop and, once developed, aren't exactly models for how a lonely person in search of any kind of friendship at all should behave.

But here's Schuller, on pages 150-151 of Be Happy You Are Loved, telling the world to go ahead and imitate what his son's wife said to his son at a family dinner. Would "The story was okay, but you have others that I like a lot better" be a tactful, honest answer to give to your husband or some other family member? Very likely. To a casual acquaintance at work, church, or school? Possibly...if you can say which the other stories are.

And Schuller goes on, holding up as an example of a loving comment, "You would be a knockout if you lost a few pounds." From a mother to a daughter, as an answer to "I'm so fat and ugly that nobody will ever even ask me to be a bridesmaid," this communicates love. From a clueless Schuller viewer, as an unsolicited attempt to open a conversation with a top-heavy, medically underweight, young lady at church? Maybe I'd go back to that church some time if members of the church had ever thanked me for not making the obvious answer, "Oh, heaven forbid and fend that a repulsive creep like you would want to look at me!" This is the kind of sneaky verbal attack the Saturday Night Live Church Lady character made infamous; in real life it accounts for a great deal of Christian-phobia...

Is a book that contains advice like this altogether useless? Not at all. If you've been hurt by your church, reading this book can explain where a lot of the most tactless, obnoxious behavior you encountered, either before real harm was done or while you were trying to deal with the real harm that had been done, was coming from.

There is a crying, howling need, in Christian churches and in other organizations, for more appreciation of what introverts actually experience as friendly, comforting, encouraging behavior: Show respect to the other person. Maintain a decent distance. Focus on the job you and the other person are there to do. Win the person's respect by being competent. Talk, if you talk at all, about what you're doing, until it feels natural for you and that person to talk about other things.

Feel your emotions, and those of other people, in the way you feel the wind. It comes, it goes, and once in a great while you need to do something about it, but most of the time there's no need to talk or consciously think about it. Try to avoid talking about anyone's emotions unless you've become an old, time-tested, intimate friend whose wisdom the other person values highly.

I've seen far too many immature introverts--I hate to admit that I've even been one of them--who were seduced by the idea that pushiness can become a shortcut to friendliness, to friendship, or even to social status. It never works. It never will work, for us, because God has given us the capacity to appreciate something so much better...and pushy, noisy, emotional behavior merely alienates the people who could become real friends.

But at some point in our lives I think all introverts should read at least one book like Be Happy You Are Loved, with a clear sense of its historical context, just to understand what's causing others to behave in such off-putting ways. Most of these people aren't desirable friends and never will be, but it's helpful to understand that they are looking for friends, on whatever pathetic level they may be able to experience friendship. A few of them are young and confused, and may actually become good friends when given permission to drop the obnoxious act and be their nice, quiet, focussed, talented, and respectful selves.

And copies of this former bestseller are dirt cheap right now...which makes it an excellent choice if you want to buy it from me to support this web site. And yes, at the time of writing, Schuller was still living and might even have a use for the $1 I will send him if you send me $5 for a clean copy of the book and $5 for shipping.

Meanwhile, as noted before, local lurkers can look for the mold-exposed but cleaned and intact copy I read at the Mountain Treasures store in Gate City, which directs its profits to a legitimate local charity.