A wise and prophetic writer, C.S. Lewis, once said “love is never wasted. For its value does not rest upon reciprocity.” Yet, daily, hourly… and sometimes even by the minute in our years of life, we waste love because it is not given from a true heart. Much like we often listen just to respond, we far too often love just to feel some form of it back. Unfortunately, when we don’t get the kind, frequency and depth we want back, we strip it away from the receiver like some dog toy left abandoned by an easily distracted pet.
There aren’t too many of us who don’t know Corinthians 13:4-8 – some of us even know it word for word. Perhaps it was read at your wedding, or is on a decorative item somewhere in your house. But in our sinful human nature to want everything back exactly like it is given and we miss the blessing. Like an ungrateful giver, we often miss the forest through the trees. Life lessons over the past 3 years have taught me something I would like to whole-heartedly and transparently share with you: love, much like can be ascertained from John 4:7-12, is the commitment to the well-being of others without conditions. Did you catch those last two words? Without conditions. Not, “well I love him, but..,” “i would love him if only,” or, better yet, “i did love him but.” Ahhhh forgiveness. A word that literally strikes fear in so many of us. Is the first to forgive the weakest or the strongest? Do we forgive but not forget? Am I a bad Christian if I DON’T forgive someone? Let’s dissect forgiveness before we get back to how it plays so integrally into love.
Forgiveness is, first and foremost, a choice. It has been often said that forgiving someone frees the offended and hurt person more than the perpetrator. Holding onto anger, resentment and bitterness can eat away at the soul of a person with a big heart. The sooner in life you learn to move on without the apology you never got, the better off you will be. Forgiving takes courage. It’s a leap of faith and trust that laying aside every ounce of your pride and righteousness will mend a situation or give you peace. Forgiveness doesn’t usually come easily, nor quickly – causing anguish and regret throughout the process of truly and completely forgiving someone for what they did – no matter how “big” the hurt was. Loving, much like forgiving, are tangible and visible signs that faith has transformed our hearts.
Let’s put this into a “real life” scenario for those of you who might be drifting, feeling uneasy about how many times love has been thrown out in just a short 400 words, or just struggling to feel connected to this blog and how it fits into your life. Ladies and gentlemen, the kind of love your heavenly Father has for you is something you, nor I, could ever replicate and, even if we try, we will fall short of daily. Divine love is exactly what we should all be striving for, yet so many of us can’t grasp that kind of love. It’s not the kind where you post pictures on social media and boastfully comment ‘#mcm.’ Love does not boast, remember? It’s not the kind of love where you get home from a long day of work and your wife has dinner on the stove, your favorite cocktail poured and tells you all the kids are in bed already so she wants to help you relax tonight. THAT kind of love is easy. It’s what 90% of us think all of our “committed” (be it married, engaged or seriously dating) friends’ lives are like. Yet, much like us falling short of being perfect daily, our version of love falls short of the kind of love God wants us to have. It’s nearly catastrophic to me and incredibly disheartening to hear that the divorce rate in American now hovers above 50%. Nearly HALF of all who commit their hearts, love and vows to their friends and family and God, bow out on those promises. Is it because we don’t actually UNDERSTAND the truly meaning of love that God set forth in His word and made the staple and command of marriage? Or is it just because divorce (breaking up) is easier than having to work at something that isn’t wine and roses daily? If God gave up on us through the trials and tribulations of our lives like so many give up on their partners, we’d surely be struggling to believe there was an eternity of happiness in a place far greater than this earthly world! We fail God daily… daily. “Yet,” like so many contemporary Christian artist lyrics say “his love for me remains.” Why when our spouse fails us by not having the dishes done when we get home or remembering to call us the second they leave work, do we jump to disown? Let me guess, forgiving someone for messing up over and over and over again makes you look dumb? Man, Jesus must be one huge idiot then! Forgiving us time and time again while we continue to fall short of His glory, question His plans and provisions and dishonor His name. Dear friends, I am not mindlessly instructing you to put blinders on and steamroll full speed ahead when things aren’t right with someone or they have hurt you. I am, however, reminding you that easy is good and good is easy. Love, need I remind you of our ol’ favorite Corinthians, “is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Always perserveres…. what a novel idea. Not a Harlequin romance novel. Not a Facebook status update novel. A BIBLICAL novel. The one where we remind ourselves that loving difficult people shouldn’t be all that hard; afterall, Jesus does it everyday for us. Loving people who have done us wrong isn’t something that makes us weak, stupid, spineless… unless of course we are calling Jesus those same things and are ok saying that with the same mouth that asks for blessings and provisions daily?
If you could pick just one “difficult” person to love, who would it be and why. Write it down. Take a moment to think through the feelings that made that person come to mind. Did he/she do you wrong in some way that you have deemed “unforgivable?” Or are they just a difficult person – rough around the edges, temperamental, negative, close-minded? God doesn’t always give you the people you want, He gives you the people you NEED! Those who will test you to the point of exhaustion so He can gauge your ability to forgive and love above all else. Now take a moment and write down some of the things that you love about that person… things they do or say, unique characteristics, memories you have shared with them. If you can find nothing to put on the “good” side – this is NOT your person. This is NOT the person that God wants to teach you the true meaning of love through. We all have one… the ex-boyfriend who just can’t seem to get it together but we just can’t seem to get him off our mind either. The co-worker who goes from bringing you donuts one day to talking ugly about you in the breakroom with other department heads. The friend who is always ready to jump on that paid flight to a fun destination but has never invited you to one outing or event. THESE are your “Jesus tests.” These are the people God has divinely placed in your path to see just how much you can embody the love He had for you when He gave His son on the cross to die for your sins. If the above exercise was healing and cathartic, do it with others in your life who you have found difficult to love but unable to forget.
As we always do, let’s end in prayer. Love is a tough one… it’s something we ALL struggle with and surely do imperfectly, carelessly, or just not fully enough. Talking about it makes some people cringe. Walls and barriers of trust create impenetrable spaces of confusion and fear. Let’s pray on exactly that… Father God, this “love” thing you have assigned to me to be better at sure is a tough one. How you did it for us with us and in spite of all of our flaws, marks and sins is beyond me. Today, and henceforward, speak life into the ugly, stubborn and selfish parts of me that keep me from loving others like you have so graciously loved us just because they haven’t acted exactly the way I feel like they should have or done the things I want them to. Lord help me to be daily mindful that I fall short of your grace and glory daily and you still extend your mercy and love, so why do I feel entitled enough to give anything less than love to others who fall short? I beg of you to come into my heart and make room for forgiveness for those who have wronged me, hurt me, scarred me, broken me, clipped my wings… Lord remind me that forgiveness is a gift – a release of a burden that weighs down my heart and gives it less energy and vigor to love. Remind me as well that it is not my job to judge those who have wronged me, for vengeance is thine. God teach me daily to love without the need for reciprocity; to give with the heart of a true giver- a joyful, honored, blessed giver. Bless me so in my walk with you so that I may be a proverbial candle… burning myself up to give others light.