I used to think I was pretty good at loving people.
Merriam-Webster defines love as “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person; a warm attachment, enthusiasm or devotion“.
That sounds nice and easy, doesn’t it? And I considered myself thoughtful, encouraging, affectionate, and generally delightful to be around.
But then I had friendships and family relationships that were sometimes messy, complicated, and less than picture-perfect.
Then I gave my heart to, married, and moved in with another fellow sinner who thinks differently than me, communicates differently than me, and leaves his dirty socks all over the house.
Then I wore this hat called “Pastor’s Wife” and learned that church people aren’t perfect, that ministry (and people) are difficult, that hurts are hard to forgive, and that criticism is hard to shake off.
Then I had 3 babies that wrecked my body, my agenda, and my sleep patterns. Babies that depended on me for absolutely everything and couldn’t say “thank you” in return.
Then 2 of those babies turned into toddlers that threw tantrums and threw off my schedule and threw up on my lap. Toddlers that required repeated discipline, repeated trips to the bathroom, and repeatedly listened to the same books, same videos, and same songs.
Then 1 of those toddlers turned into a 1st grader that asks too many questions, voices too many complaints, pushes too many boundaries, and has way too much energy.
What of that that love now?
That feeling? Strong? Constant? Warm? Enthusiastic?
Oh. Now that sounds exhausting.
How many times will love require me to change the same poopy diapers, answer the same questions, break up the same sibling squabbles, calmly discipline the same disobedience, guard my tongue and my tone during the same conversations, show grace in the midst of the same misunderstandings, and forgive the same hurtful offenses?
How many times?!
Apparently Peter was wondering the same thing when he asked…
“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)
I hear myself in his question. “God, I get that I’m supposed to love and forgive…I’m even pretty generous and decent at it…but how many times? I mean, how many times before it’s acceptable and fully justifiable for me to loose my temper, throw my fit, or demand my way?”
“Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)
In other words, you keep loving, keep serving, keep forgiving, without keeping count.
The thing I’m realizing more and more is that the closer I get to the Light, the harder this love thing gets. My sin, weaknesses, and selfishness get more exposed and uncovered. I begin to see my intense lack of love in the little things I do, the careless words I say, and the attitudes that distract my heart. But God’s grace exposes these things not to shame or pour guilt on me, but rather to deliver me from myself. The mirror of God’s Word shatters that simple Webster definition and replaces it with a shorter but far more complicated one…
“God is love” (1 John 4:8).
So what is love?
God is. Period.
Now love is only defined by the very nature of God – everything He is and what He does flowing from the love He perfectly possesses.
So if I want to really know how to love or if I ever really want to do it well, I’ve got to look at the One who created it and also commands it.
The One Who is merciful and kind even to the ungrateful and the evil (Luke 6:35).
The One Who forgives our iniquities, redeems our lives, shows mercy, satisfies us with good, works righteousness and justice for the oppressed, shows compassion and does not deal with us as our sins deserve, removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west, forgets our confessed sin and yet remembers our frame and knows that we are dust (Psalm 103).
The One Who knows a little bit about having to be repetitive…
“You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst…
But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders you performed among them…
BUT You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
EVEN WHEN they made for themselves a golden calf…and had committed great blasphemes, You in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness…
You gave Your good spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst…You sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell…
So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in Your great goodness.
NEVERTHELESS, they were disobedient and rebelled against You and case Your law behind their back…
THEREFORE You gave them into the hand of their enemies…and in the time of their suffering they cried out to You…
AND YOU HEARD them from heaven, and according to Your great mercies You gave them saviors who saved them…
BUT after they had rest, they did evil AGAIN before you…
YET when they turned and cried to You, You heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to Your mercies. And You warned them in order to turn them back to Your law.
YET they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules…and would not obey.
MANY YEARS your bore with them and warned them…
YET they did not give ear…
NEVERTHELESS, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for You are a gracious and merciful God…”
– from Nehemiah 9
Phew! Those Israelites sound exhausting. Waaaaaay more difficult than my delightful, easy to love self, right?
Ugh. I wish. But my heart is full of the same disobedience, the same idolatry, and the same forgetfulness. Thankfully, God doesn’t love me based on how I am or what I do, but based on the value He has put on me.
The Easton Bible Dictionary defines mercy as “compassion for the miserable“. He saw my miserable state and instead of turning away, He dove right in…
“BUT God shows His LOVE for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
– Romans 5:8
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation (satisfying the wrath of God by the offering of the atoning sacrifice of Christ) for our sins.”
– 1 John 4:10
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
– John 15:13
How could I ever get over that love?!
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
– Luke 7:47
Here, Jesus isn’t saying the the woman was forgiven because of her great love, but she showed great love because she had been forgiven.
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
So as hard as it is to love (especially when people are miserable). As hard as it is to repeatedly forgive. As hard as it is to be patient and kind and humble…
Dwelling on, saturating myself in, and not allowing myself to get over Christ’s great love and the Father’s unending forgiveness for me will be what compels me to do the same for others.
Seventy seven times. To infinity and beyond.
This Valentine’s Day may we swim deeply in the waters of His grace, expanding our definition of love, and striving (albeit imperfectly) to live it out…until the day that love is perfected in us.
“Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love BEARS ALL things, BELIEVES ALL things, HOPES ALL things, ENDURES ALL things…
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
– 1 Corinthians 13
Slow to anger
Abounding in love
Good to all
All who call upon You
You will rescue and forgive
This is why I live
You lived the life I could never live
You died the death, oh, that I deserve
You rose to life and now You live
That’s how You forgive
The measure of Your love
That You came and died for us
Let us not forget
That’s how You forgive…
– Shane and Shane