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Sep 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 25, 2019


Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. . . . 1 John 4:7-21

Intro: Wednesday morning, I drove three of my grandchildren to school

Before leaving their home, Calum complaining he had a stomach ache
– he suggested to me that he didn’t think he should go to school
• I assured him, he’d be fine once he got with his friends
◦ then he told me he also had a sore throat
• I felt that there was some a little sadness behind his complaint
◦ I know that school creates stress for him
◦ the thought of saying good-by to grandpa bothered him
– I said, “Just go until recess. If you still feel sick, then go to the office”
• later, my son Scotty told me, “Maybe next time don’t give him that option”
• it’s true – I caved-in to his manipulation
(But it’s possible Grandpa wanted to be with Calum as much as Calum wanted to be with Grandpa)

Our relationships are not only important, but crucial
– Johann Hari cites research into studies on loneliness
• it turns out, feeling lonely causes cortisol to spike as much as trauma
(cortisol is a hormone released in the blood stream in response to stress)
◦ loneliness creates as much stress to the body as being physically attacked
◦ being isolated from others creates a serious health risk
• loneliness increases:
◦ the damage of the major health risks and illnesses–e.g., heart disease
◦ the risk and severity of depressive and anxiety disorders
◦ the likelihood that a person will shut down socially
◦ becoming suspicious, fearful of strangers, and hyper-vigilant
◦ of being “more likely to take offense where none was intended”
– we need healthy relationships with other people to be whole persons

Our summer project has been to understand and practice repentance
– but to change the direction of our lives requires changing our brains
• the brain’s owner’s manual has been written over our lifetime
• something that is alarming if your think about it:
◦ almost anyone can write a chapter in my brain’s manual
◦ even complete strangers
(an AA quote: “The people who know how to push your buttons are frequently the ones who installed them”)
– we humans have this power

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits
(Pr. 18:21)
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body (Pr. 16:24)

• we can use this power to heal ourselves and others

John is sometimes referred to as the Apostle of Love

It is certainly a central theme in his writings
– we can tell by the way he talks about loving others,
• that he knows the concept is simple and it is true, but it is not easy
– love isn’t one specific feeling, attitude, or way of treating others
• love takes many different forms
◦ it can be a voluntary weakness or an unyielding strength
• and there are many ways love can unravel
◦ whatever philosophers, scientists, or poets may say about love,
◦ there is no life in Christ apart from love — for God is love

John specifies that we’re to love one another and our brother

Today I want to talk specifically about family, friends and neighbors
– from our closest bonds, as in marriage,
• to congenial interactions with others on campus or at the workplace
– the brain’s owners manual on this subject is fascinating

A friend in high school who vowed he would never have children,
– defined babies as organisms that functioned,
“They sleep, they cry, they eat, they poop”
• that was a prevailing view until about fifty years ago
• a baby’s nervous system was considered to be all reflex
◦ when stimulated, it could be activated or calmed
◦ but the infant was not aware of being a self performing an action
– in the seventies, researchers began filming infants and mothers
• they discovered, in the words of Colwyn Trevarthen, that “infants are actually born with playful intentions and sensitivity to the rhythms and expressive modulations of a mother’s talk and her visible expressions and touches.”
◦ even in their first year, “infants evoked ‘intuitive parenting’”
◦ babies are born with skills that later enable them to learn language
Catherine Mary Bateson noted that infants had other abilities, including rituals for healing ruptures in their relationship with their mothers
• these were confirmed by neuroscience in 1990s with new imaging technology that enabled researchers to observe activity in a living brain
Trevarthen, “Actions, even a newborn’s, are intelligent and conscious.”

A friend of mine has been effective in treating children on the autism spectrum
– typical symptoms include trouble communicating and social interaction
• my friend doesn’t offer a “cure,” but enables these children to progress
• her work is focused on toning the vagus nerve
– the human brain has twelve cranial nerves – the vagus is number 10
• its roots are in brainstem
◦ from there it receives and sends signals down into body and up into various structures in the brain
• its functions are both sensory (feeling) and motor (movement)
◦ it informs the brain of what is going on in the major organs
◦ it also affects the activity of heart and lungs

The vagus is the primary nerve in turning on and off the emergency system
(the technical term is the Autonomic Nervous System, which when activated triggers the sympathetic system and when calmed triggers the parasympathetic system)
– the sympathetic mode is frequently referred to as “fight or flight”
• the parasympathetic mode is a calm, restful state
• the vagus is constantly active in regulating various body functions
– it connects with muscles involved in facial expression
• it is responsible for activating the smooth muscles of the digestive tract
• the vagus also connects with the vocal chords,
◦ where it affects the modulation and intonation of speech
• the vagus nerve connects with the middle ear
◦ it is responsive to various sounds: potential danger or soothing speech
◦ the vagus nerve adjusts the middle ear to pick up specific frequencies

Imagine the role all these systems (face, voice, heart, lungs, stomach, etc.) play in relationships
– for instance, Stephen Porges refers to its role in the brain’s “Social Engagement System”
• facial expressions that communicate empathy and concern
• tilt head, nod – a comforting tone of voice
◦ this calms the heart and slows breathing of another person
◦ and all of this is unconscious
– the vagus nerve switches on the body’s alarm when in danger

Porges, “If our nervous system detects safety, then it’s no longer defensive. When its no longer defensive, then the circuits of the … nervous system support health, growth, and restoration. …the most important thing to our nervous system is that we are safe. When we’re safe, magical things occur. They occur on multiple levels, not merely in terms of social relations, but also in accessibility of certain areas of the brain, certain areas of feeling pleasure—being expansive, being creative, and being very positive as well.”

One other word on the brain

Scattered through various regions of the brain are mirror neurons
– these are what cause our bodies to jump when watching a scary movie
• I used to watch skateboard videos with my son Scotty – bad falls
◦ we saw some very painful spills
• the skater’s pain registered in various areas of his or her brain
◦ just watching the spill, caused activation in the same areas of our
◦ this is where we get our capacity for empathy
– Daniel Siegel refers to the ability to to feel what another feels “attuned communication”
• when we not only understand what another is saying,
◦ but feel what another is feeling
• we all need to be heard, but we also need to be felt

I have been in conversation with someone whose opinion differed from my own
– after arguing our positions for awhile,
• the other person says something, and for a moment I stop
◦ I was suddenly hearing this person differently
◦ then the conversation was no longer about defending my position
• I had not given up my ideas or changed my mind
◦ but I was now listening to the whole conversation
◦ not merely the specific words or phrases
– what happened was that in that moment, I have felt what she felt
• there was no longer any point in arguing
• my role in the conversation shifted
Siegel, “When we attune with others we allow our own internal state to shift, to come to resonate with the inner world of another.”
◦ what the Apostle Paul tells us is,
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another (Ro. 12:15-1)
◦ that harmony or resonance is a skill that is strengthened with practice

Conclusion: Can you see how our practice of prayer will help us in relationships?

We learn to regulate our own emotions
– then with our nervous system calmed,
• we naturally help to regulate the emotions of others
• or we are prepared for this to work the other way
◦ we allow others to help us regulate our emotions

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his own spirit than he who takes a city
(Pr. 16:32)

God designed our brains for relationships
In telling us to be righteous,
God intended us to do what was right in every relationship
(what is good, just, honest, appropriate, and loving)
If, like me, you believe you need growth in this area,
then together let’s do what will help us most
We can start by developing a calmer soul in silent prayer
And next we can take friendship seriously,
by being friendly and being a better friend
Most of all, I must be a safe person
Judgmental people are not safe!

Let your speech always gracious (Col. 4:6)

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