I am good at loving.
I’m quick with encouraging words and enthusiasm, as in “I LOVE your new haircut and the way you’re bravely stepping into something new.”
I’m well practiced at keeping my circle wide and my hands open, so that I can welcome you to our dinner table or offer to help when it’s needed.
I’ve learned that loving in a way that matters always requires sacrifice. Sometimes that sacrifice is as small as giving up my nap time to pick my neighbor’s kids up from school and sometimes it’s as big as agreeing to move away from the opportunity to work at my dream job so that my husband can pursue his.
I can recite 1 Corinthians 13 which tells us that love is patient and kind, not envious, boastful, proud or rude. And although I know I’m not perfect, I have to say that my self assessment tells me that in important ways, my life is moving in the right direction toward these loving ideals.
And even though I get it, that love is words and deeds, fun and sacrifice, that loving is our primary commandment from Jesus in regards to God and everyone around us, I’ve realized something lately.
I am not good at being loved.
The last few months have been tough. I haven’t felt well. The winter months has been unexpectedly depressing. My husband has been putting in a lot of hours at work, including traveling out of state. My kids are active and busy and it requires a lot of stamina to parent them through each day.
Wonderfully there have been friends and neighbors who’ve noticed, who’ve listened, who’ve offered to help.
Can I bring a meal?
Can I watch your kids?
Can I have you over?
That’s how it should be. If I saw someone struggling, I would do the same thing. Except that when it’s me, when it’s my struggle, when I’m the one being offered the meal, the help, I find myself refusing, demurring.
“Oh we’ll be fine.”
“That’s nice of you but I know you’re busy.”
“Don’t worry about us.”
I engage in these strange negotiations with people who are trying to love me, turning their simple offers of help into a haggling match reminiscent of an open air market in the middle east. In the end, the other person in the exchange has to nearly force them self on me in order for me to accept their offer of kindness.
But I’m learning.
Mary Carole, a woman my mother’s age who I attend Bible study with, persisted despite my protests and has been coming over a couple afternoons each week so I can rest. It’s been a sweet gift, knowing that help is on the way after a long day.
Jane, the pastor who is my supervisor at work, offered to take my kids for an afternoon when my husband was out of town last week. I struggled to say yes. After all, she’s my boss, a pastor! I should be serving her, not the other way around.
Except that if I really believe that, I’m missing the point of Jesus’ whole ministry. Jesus kept trying to explain to his disciples that the first would be last and the last would be first. He tried to reorient them from a kingdom of crowns and thrones to a kingdom of humble service. And when, on the night before he was to be crucified, they still didn’t get it, Jesus got down on the floor and washed all 24 of their dirty, sandal-shorn feet, demonstrating the sincerity of His willingness to love them by giving of himself, a willingness that would lead to His death the very next day.
I told Jane yes. And she loved me by making muffins with my kiddos while I took a shower and put my laundry away.
Because in Christ we are no longer male or female, slave or free, pastor or employee, we are people beloved by God and called to love each other by offering whatever we can. We love sacrificially – and we let others love us that way too.
Jesus did. The same man who got down on His knees to wash the dusty feet of his protesting disciples sat back in joy as Mary washed His feet and anointed them with perfume.
He loved and was loved.
I’m learning to do likewise.