Christopher and I usually play violin together for a few weddings each year. Some couples lift up Christ as the One joining them together and giving the strength to keep their vows, and some use Bob Marley lyrics in the ceremony in place of Scripture or say that they will keep their vows, “for as long as love shall last.”
We recently played at a wedding where the bride and groom had written their own Christ-centered wedding vows. As I watched the sincerity on the groom’s face, the Lord gave me a deeper understanding of the way He wanted to love me through my own man sitting right next to me.
But what exactly is love?
What does it mean that God is love? Isn’t love a feeling? Isn’t it an action?
Recognizing the Gift
The apostle John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16 ESV)
Love is a gift from God, meant to be received and shared with those He has placed in our lives. But we can’t understand how to receive the little acts of love until we recognize the greatest gift of love—God sending His Son to die, paying the punishment for our sins.
Every time we see God’s love in Scripture, how he cared for the Israelites in the wilderness, gave them a promised land, and called them to return to him as they flocked to nations and their idols, it invites us to look ahead to the cross.
When we feel the sunshine’s warmth through orange and yellow leaves, get a little extra time from our baby’s extended nap, or take another breath into a body that functions relatively well, it points back to the cross, and ahead to a future home with Jesus, free from the evil and brokenness that shreds our emotions and darkens our ability to recognize love.
When we get an impulsive hug from a child, feel a baby’s grabby caress on our face, or hear our husband ask what he can do to help after he’s gotten up at 4am for work, it is a tiny reflection of the cross.
All of our loving acts or words are little sacrifices, springing from the greatest sacrifice God planned from the beginning of time.
When we keep going back to the pure love of the gospel, placing our faith in His Son, we invite the Spirit who has chosen to live in us to purify and perfect the love we can give to others—the lost moments of sleep to listen to a husband’s dreams for the future, scooping baby-turds out of the bathtub, and investing the time to fully answer a preschooler’s “why” question.
Preparing Your Heart to Receive
Reaching for Christopher’s hand during that wedding, I was overcome with the treasure of experiencing faithfulness, kindness, protection, and a peaceful spirit through the way Christopher treats me. All the good that I experience from him is a reflection of the way God loves me.
I was also pricked with memories of times Christopher has wanted to delight in me through a lingering hug, sharing a funny story, or inviting me to watch something the kids were doing together, but I was too busy to engage fully. I’ve often had my own idea of how I should be loved (basically, what I think should get done), rather than paying attention to the love already offered to me.
Many times I struggle under the weight of my own expectations of the meals, dishes, laundry, and emails I feel I should get done in a day, not to mention how I should be making all the right decisions in training my kids and making sure they get enough iron in their diet.
When I’ve convinced myself that it’s all up to me, I need someone to shake me enough to see that I’m trusting in myself, what Christine Hoover in her book, From Good to Grace refers to as the “goodness gospel,” trying to be good and do good apart from God.
Sometimes, I think I’m doing so well, being patient and understanding, until I reach the end of my limited patience and don’t want to adjust my expectations anymore of what should get done before everyone arrives for our son’s birthday supper at our house.
Sometimes I feel that unless my expectations are fulfilled or I force myself to act a certain way, I don’t even deserve to receive love. I forget that I could never earn God’s love, and that I don’t have to.
The God who is love, is living inside of us, covering us in His righteousness so that we don’t have to fear the day of judgment. When I let fear of people invade my relationships, and think that what I write, how I respond to my children, and how much I reach out to others determines my value, it’s an indication that I’m not resting in God’s approval and love. I fear the “punishment” of people’s disapproval or reactions instead of repenting and being in awe of the God who punishes evil completely. (see 1 John 4:7-19)
When my days are focused on entering into giving and receiving sacrificial love through Christ’s power, I can invite Him to enter in to whatever fussiness, diaper blowouts, or nose-wiping my circumstances bring.
A Woman of Faith
One encouragement God brought recently was through a biography about Sarah Edwards, the wife of the 18th century church father Jonathan Edwards. Most men of that time valued “getting their hands dirty” in their work, but Sarah cared for her home of 11 children while her husband spent many hours studying Scripture.
She often had to set extra places at meals, since pastoral interns, missionaries, and others would come to learn from her husband. Many times, Jonathan would eat his supper quickly and retreat to study some more, leaving Sarah to interact with the guests.
Some of her letters and journal entries revealed that she was often concerned about what other people in their church and community thought about her husband, especially since he was not like many pastors of that time who made “social calls” in addition to visiting members when they were in need.
When their daughter Esther’s husband died, leaving her with two little children, Jonathan traveled to assist at the College of New Jersey, replacing Esther’s husband as president. He contracted small pox after an inoculation, and his last words were about Sarah:
“Give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her that the uncommon union which has so long subsisted between us has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore will continue forever.”
How might God be inviting you to open yourself up to love and be delighted in?