It was a place where I felt embraced, and others felt it too.
It wasn’t so much a physical embrace like a hug. It was more a knowing that here in this place, this relationship I was both invited to give something of myself and to receive something.
It wasn’t a power struggle where others would withhold until they received some met need. It wasn’t a life-sucking relationship like a tick on a dog.
It is a relationship of mutual self-giving self-sacrificial agape love.
I know for myself that when change that is forced on me is not so readily accepted. I can actively resist it and push back, whereas I have observed in myself and others that when the change is nurtured within the context of embrace, something happens at a deep level. The change is bedded.
Embrace is one of those concepts we may not readily warm to. We like to have power, be in control, to eliminate risk, yet it is the very mode by which God comes to us.
Miroslav Volv writes this
On the cross the circle of self-giving and mutually indwelling divine persons opens up for the enemy; in the agony of the passion the movement stops for a brief moment and a fissure appears so that sinful humanity can join in.
We, the others – we the enemies – are embraced by the divine persons who love us with the same love with which they love each other and therefore make space for us within their own eternal embrace.
An embrace involves always a double movement of opening and closing. I open my arms to create space in myself for the other. The open arms are a sign of discontent at being myself only and of desire to include the other.
They are an invitation to the others to come in and feel at home with me, to belong to me. In an embrace I also close my arms around the others – not tightly, so as to crush and assimilate them forcefully into myself, for that would not be an embrace but a concealed power-act of exclusion; but gently, so as to tell them that I do not want to be without them in their otherness.
I want them in their openness. I want them to remain independent and true to their genuine selves, to maintain their identity and as such become part of me so that they can enrich me with what they have and I do not’. Miroslav Volv
Paul, in his finishing lines of his letter to his friends in Phillipi, writes this.
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The friends who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Philippians 4:21-23
When we read this word ‘Greet,’ we generally would think of saying ‘hello’ and maybe putting out a hand to shake.
Yet the original hearers would have heard the Greek word ‘aspazomai’ which means to enfold in one’s arms and so to welcome and embrace another.
The relationship Paul had was one of enfolding and embracing. A relationship of openness and trust, grace, and peace.
I want to be very clear. The embrace I am talking about goes way deeper than a physical hug. A physical hug is not required. Embracing is about being open to including others in relationship.
How do we embrace well?
1. Recognize it is a work in progress.
Getting to know someone on a deep embracing level will always take time. I would never advise being completely open and vulnerable to a total stranger. Embracing involves trust, which involves consistent experiences, repeated time, and time again.
The one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion Philippians 1:6
Remember that God is involved in the work of your embracing. Its a good work and the renovation work will be completed in perfect timing.
Embracing, if its to be genuinely significant, requires a humility where we recognize that the embrace goes both ways. What they have to offer me in their image-bearing self has significance. Am I humble enough to receive a gift from a poor man? I regard them better than myself.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Philippians 2:4
3. Look to the interests of others
What does my brother or sister need? Am I spending time prayerfully thinking of others, and now I may be Christ to them? As I write this, it is my wedding anniversary of 28 years. I am thinking and pondering over how I can bless my wife today. Can I, in some way, outdo my demonstration of love to her from yesterday?
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4
4. Imitate Christ
Now, this is the easy one. Just do what Jesus did. Not quite that simple is it, but think of the ways Jesus embraced others. Ponder on the people who Jesus embraced and who embraced him.
Jesus was welcomed into the mealtime conversations of lepers and thieves. I wonder what Jesus was receiving from these embraces. Love, connection, laughter, joy?
You can receive the same when you embrace others.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus
Knowing the love of an embracing relationship will transform both you and the other.
I recently spoke on this topic. You can view the slides here and listen here.
Questions to consider
- What are the dangers of embracing?
- Who has embraced you, and what did you receive by this gift?
- How can you form a community of embracers (some would call this the Church)?
Image cc: Mike_tn