Oh no! Am I really going to put this out there just like that? Yup, I guess I am. Here goes:
When I was a teen there was a series of books from my church library I enjoyed reading: Love Comes Softly.
Yes, you read it correctly, I was a fan of a series that probably could be described as a “Christian Romance.” Now some of you are like, “You did? Me too!”, and others (my husband included, sorry Joshua) are thinking, “You did? Are you kidding me?”
Nope, not kidding. I really did like that series. To be fair though (as a teen) my favorite Christian fiction writer was Frank Peretti. It wasn’t until my later teen years that I discovered C.S. Lewis and Tolkien after that. Anyway, the truth is that I found myself wrapped up in the lives of the characters in the Love Comes Softly series and how God unfolded a love story and life journey that they could not have imagined.
I know the author made great efforts to “be real” in her portrayal of life and love. The series was full of struggles, misunderstandings, betrayals, hardships and loss. But as things tend to do in books and in the minds of readers: everything worked out and came together a little too neatly.
It’s easy to read a book, see a movie, watch someone’s life from afar and long for what looks like fairytale love. Too easy to spend life dreaming of perfect love that fulfills our every need.
It is another thing entirely to live love daily.
I, like so many, turn regularly in my Bible to 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter.” Sometimes I seek out this scripture for instruction, knowing the truth there can guide me as I daily journey to live love. I can turn to this scripture for encouragement when love in real life has let me down. And this section of scripture can provide hope for my love weary heart when everything (from the world around me, to the people in my home, to my walk with God) seems love-less.
My heart longs for a love like this:
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poorand give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Just reading through it again and I find my heart beating a little faster, my mind reeling with the beauty and intensity of this love.
Reflecting on scripture during Christmas and looking to the New Year offered me the perfect time to contemplate love as shown through Immanuel’s birth and in the relationships God has blessed me as I live love with my husband and helping my children to live love with one another and in the world.
And then Josh gave me this for Christmas. I’ve been seeing it consciously and unconsciously countless times daily. Ever turning this love scripture over in my thoughts, burying the truths deep into my spirit. The list is intriguing, as I can sometimes make it a fairytale list of love and crash back to reality when people can’t live up to it (me most of all).
I want so much to be loved and to love in this powerful, care-taking, intimate, life-giving way.
I was stopped (literally) in my tracks today by this reality: The very love I desire from people who can’t give it flawlessly is the very love I struggle to accept from the ONLY one who can love perfectly.
I want it/expect it/demand it from people who, even in their best efforts, will fail.
I shrink away/refuse to accept/ hold back from God, the one who fully, freely and perfectly loves me.
What holds me back?
I hold up a human standard of imperfection on the One who lives perfect love.
If I pay attention to my heart as I read scripture I find myself putting human brokenness on God. I can see Jesus with Peter saying, “You of little faith…why did you doubt?” And find anger or frustration. Or look to Jesus’ words with his disciples after calming the storm, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” And find impatience. Or I can remember Jesus’ response when his disciples were unable to heal the boy from epilepsy, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?” And thinking he is keeping a record of their wrongs.
But that is not the heart of God. If I don’t check my thinking I default to attributing human character shortcomings and my own brokenness to my understanding of God. And then I turn that to how I think God sees me.
When it comes to love this means I put my life experience of the brokenness of love on God’s perfect love for me.
For how much I want to be truly loved by God, it is scary to open my heart to perfect love. Scary because I’m afraid to be let down by the One who promises to never let me down, to never leave nor forsake me, to work all things to my good. Experiencing imperfect love can make me afraid to trust perfect love.
The parts of love I am most afraid to open my heart to are the parts I fear the most might let me down. I’m afraid because I’ve seen what happens when people lose their patience with me. I’ve felt the hurt when kindness runs thin. Felt the sting of envy. Seen relationships break from boasting and pride and hurting others. Watched love fade because of the destruction caused by selfishness and anger. And I myself have kept a record of my wrongs that stacks so high it seems love could never summit that mountain. Then there are the “always”… always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres… “always” seems to beg to find an exception. It seems impossible that love could never fail…
But God is love. in Him there is no darkness, His love is perfect, He loves me not because I am good enough but because He is, He first loves me.
God is love and he loves us with a love that is patient, kind, without envy or boastfulness, a love that isn’t proud or tainted by dishonor, His love isn’t self seeking or easily angered. He keeps no record of our wrongs. He doesn’t delight in evil and instead rejoices with the truth. God’s love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. His love never fails.
Who could have imagined a love like that?
No fairy tale can compare.
No failure on my end can hold it back.
Nothing can separate us from it.
Who could imagine a love like that?
I can stop dreaming of finding the fulfillment of perfect love and let perfect love fill me.
How about you? What holds you back from fully experiencing the love of God? What parts are you afraid to open your heart to for fear God might let you down? What aspect(s) of His perfect love lived for you do you need right now?
God- Paul was so right when it says that your love is so great that no one can comprehend it! Who could have imagined a love like that? But, whether we can imagine it, comprehend it, wrap our minds around it… you love us. No matter if we feel worthy or we don’t… you love us. So I pray Paul’s words from Ephesians 3 for us all today, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”