God’s goodness and love keep breaking through to me.
This morning I was reading a book and several pages into one chapter I had to set the book down and pray for forgiveness because I realized how far I have been falling short.
Do you do that? Do you fall short? Do you spend much time thinking about this, feeling guilty?
I do that. But lately? When I realize I feel guilty about something and I take it to God do you know how he always responds?
“I love you, Peggy.”
Right out loud in my head…
This is the moment when I leave guilt and I begin to desire to show the kind of generosity, perseverance and love I had been failing to show. I stop feeling bad and I begin to feel the strength and joy required to be who I was made to be.
This is really what it means to be a Christian. It’s not about gritting your teeth and doing the right thing, it’s about receiving God’s love and responding to it with obedience.
It really doesn’t happen any other way. I used to feel bad when I read, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” But feeling bad is just the opposite of what Jesus was expressing. It doesn’t mean that I wait to feel love before I do the right thing, but it does mean that there is no lasting motivation except love- all others will wear out: obligation, duty, expectation, demands, rules, need for affirmation.
Just after this remark from Jesus about obedience, is the promise of the Holy Spirit, who does the inner strengthening. Then Jesus promises that he will not leave us as orphans.
Like any relationship, there is the possibility that I will show love out of obligation. Once, a long time ago I had a boyfriend who became agitated about my upcoming birthday. “What are you expecting?” he asked with frustration in his voice. I almost laughed, “I’m not expecting anything. I would like for you to acknowledge my birthday somehow, but I have no rules about how you do that. I’d be happy with a hug.” We don’t put rules on people about how to love us because showing love is something we give freely, not something we owe. To be fair to this guy, he changed his perspective the day of my birthday and did something really sweet that cost no money and sprang from something he chose to do, not something he was obligated to do.
But how often do I do this same thing with God? I’m working hard and getting frustrated with not being able to “get it right.” I look at him and say, “What are you expecting from me?” and he says, “I love you, Peggy.”
Oh. Right. Deep breath. Relief.
I wish I had better words for all of this, but I do see that the more I get it- the more I believe God about his love, the more freely I love others. “Receive the love of God” is not one of the ten commandments because everything that God does is out of his love. He can’t do anything that isn’t love. If this makes you want to contradict me because you’re thinking about things like judgment, let me be honest and say you don’t know love if you don’t see the love in his judgment. Think about how parents love children, how lovers love each other: it’s not about measured obligations, but there is discipline involved, there are important boundaries that cause those within the relationship to feel valued and seen. When children are allowed to do whatever they want, they get hostile and when a lover doesn’t care whether you cheat, you begin to think they don’t care that much.
But that’s slightly off topic. Earlier this year it seemed like God was showing me that this year would be about believing that he loves me. The first things in the way were my own expectations of myself. I felt surprised (and a little relieved) to realize that what is in my way is not so much this huge list of sins, but this one super self-judgmental part of my head that I’d rather get rid of anyway.
And, do you know when these things dawn on me? When I am simply honest with God. When I talk to him without agenda and just let him in. All of it is more simple than I am prone to make it. But God is patient in his love. He has such a wealth of love to give that I could never be too needy for him, nor could I exhaust his ability to forgive and restore.