I realized something the other night when I was doing my daily reading (I started spending my devotional time at night because it’s it’s easier to stay up a little later than get up at 430, at least it is for me). And no, it wasn’t that the letters looked really small, and I had to squint to see them. I mean, I did, but that’s only because my glasses were in the other room and I didn’t want to get out of bed and go get them.
It was simply a realization about myself, one that I’ve thought about on several occasions, but still need to remind myself of every now and then.
I put conditions on Jesus, in the way of accepting His love. I don’t mean to, but I’ve always done this—even though I know better.
Jesus will love me if I change, and become a better person.
He will love me if I become a better Christian, and a more consistent disciple.
He will love me if I do not lust, covet, or steal.
He will love me if I am nice to people I don’t particularly like.
He will love me if I am different.
He will love me if…
Along similar lines:
He won’t love me if I look at that woman in the little dress.
He won’t love me if I get angry in traffic, and call down curses on the guy in the BMW.
He won’t love me if I don’t pray two hours every day.
He won’t love me if I get frustrated with my kids.
He won’t love me if I stay the way I am….
Following that was this realization:
I had been harboring similar thoughts about Jenny.
She won’t love me unless I can change.
She won’t love me unless I lose weight.
She won’t love me unless I become the strong Christian man that I sometimes pretend to be.
She won’t love me unless I can be all the things I think she wants me to be.
She won’t love me unless….
And the most difficult realization was this:
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the person I thought she wanted me to be, and the person I thought God wanted me to be. So much that I had allowed myself to lose sight of the person I actually was, and forget what brought my wife and I together in the first place. And what had brought me to God.
I would wonder how I could become someone worthy of the kind of love my wife had shown me, and God had shown me.
It seemed impossible.
So it seemed that the best possible course of action would be prayer. Lots of prayer.
And over time, it came to me that I had always thought and expected Jesus would better love the person I should be, rather than the person I was. I knew I would never, never be the person I ought to be, and if that was true, then the only love I would be able to accept from Jesus was that sort of…obligatory, parent-style love—He loved me as a child because he had to.
It kind of astounded me, because I’d read so many books, and heard so many sermons about the unconditional, relentless love of Christ. This was knowledge I’d always had in my head, and even in my heart occasionally. Yet it’s still something I forget.
I forget because it’s so easy to believe that God’s love carries the same conditional nature as does my own.
Because I love conditionally, I expect the same from God.
Why should I love someone that treats me shabbily? Why should I love someone who doesn’t respect me? Or for that matter, why should I love someone who is not worthy of my love? Why should I be loved myself, when I have done those same things to others?
Scripture says I should love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, and soul. And love my neighbor as myself.
That’s the trick, I think.
How can I love my neighbor if I don’t love myself?
Yet if I do not love myself, and I know that God loves me (Jesus loves me, this I know…), isn’t that like saying that God is wrong for loving me? He’s wrong because he shouldn’t love me.
But he does.
This is something I know at the core of me, and it is what makes it possible to live, when the world really is a cruel and terrible place at times.
It feels strange to need continual affirmation of that love from He who is love, but as a human, and a weak one, that’s exactly what I need.
I need to know He loves me.
Similar to needing to confess my sin to Jesus regularly, I also need to be loved by Him as Father, as Abba. I don’t just need to know He does—I need to feel it, too.
I need to know in my heart, and feel in my heart, that Jesus loves me without condition, without expectation, and without limit.
But how do I obtain that assurance?
I can only speak for myself, of course, but for me the answer lay in prayer. In entreating the Lord for understanding. For forgiveness. And for love.
Also, I gave Him my negative thoughts, and asked him to help me change my perception of myself. I asked Him to help me see myself as He saw me, and to be able to love myself, and others the way He loved me.
It didn’t happen instantaneously, but over time, I felt His love drape across me like a warm quilt.
And things began to change. I was able to understand my wife’s love for me in a way I had not been able to before. I saw her as God did, and He allowed me to see myself as she saw me for just a moment.
She had not married me to make me a different person, or because I could do or not do any particular thing.
She married me because of the person I was when she got to know me.
She married me as a work in progress.
She married me as a man who doubts sometimes.
She married me as a man with fears, as well as hopes and dreams.
She loved me—loves me—exactly as I am. Not as I should be. Not as some ideal person who did not exist.
And it’s the same with God.