Friday, June 29, 2012

Love Is a Test

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4.16)

If It Were Easy

I came home from school one weekend with the dark cloud of an economics midterm bearing down. I’d attended the lectures, taken detailed notes, and done the reading. Yet it seemed like a thick sheet of glass stood between the material and me. No matter how hard I banged on it, it wouldn’t budge. On Sunday afternoon, I stole into a tiny room in the far corner of our basement, praying for some kind of epiphany that would send me into the exam—less than 24 hours away—primed to pass it with flying colors. There was no epiphany, at least not the kind I hoped for. Instead, my father pecked on the door to see how I was doing. I burst into tears. “I don’t understand why I can’t get this,” I sobbed. “Why does it have to be so hard?” Dad let me cry myself out. After sitting in silence for a minute or so, he said, “If it were easy, everyone would do it. And if everyone did it, then it wouldn’t be worth your time, would it?” That gave me a new brain cramp. Before I could ask him to explain, he said, “Think about it.” Then he left.

We never spoke of the incident again and chances are Dad doesn’t recall it. It was one of many father-son moments that shaped my life, yet probably didn’t seem like much to him at the time. Still, I’ve thought about this particular afternoon many times. To this day, I’m not exactly sure what Dad meant. But here’s what I got. I’d been handed this problem to learn something about myself. The exam would prove I could be tested. Absent a miracle, I wasn’t going to ace it. It would come back with all sorts of red ink and an unflattering grade on the last page. Was I ready to admit I wasn’t up to snuff? Could I be strong enough to accept other people were better than I at mastering the material? Could I bring myself to realize doing my best would be its own success—one more valuable than proving my comprehension of bell curves and supply-and-demand theory? If I could work through that, it would be worth my time no matter the grade. At first, I didn’t see it that way. But my incredibly wise father did. When the test came back with a C+, I got it. I’d done my best. No, I didn’t get everything right. But I passed.

Sometimes and Some Days

I often hear my father’s counsel when struggling to honor Christ’s command to love God completely and our neighbors as ourselves. Sometimes it’s easy, even though it’s hard to say why. Sometimes, love for God and others flows unabated. Sometimes, circumstances make love come naturally. Sometimes, it’s the people; some are more easily loved than others. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than waking up on the right side of the bed, of being in the mood for love.

Yet there are just as many, if not more, times when loving God and others is hard work. Some days I’m convinced I don’t know how to love God that much. Some days asking me to love my Maker above all else asks too much. Some days I don’t want to love my neighbors as I want to be loved. Some days I bang my head against a thick sheet of glass that feels as though I’ll never break through and reach a place where I can love God and everyone around me to the degree Jesus requires. That’s when I hear my Dad say, “If it were easy, everyone would do it. And if everyone did it, then it wouldn’t be worth your time, would it?”

Power to Love

Love is a test, and passing it depends on our willingness to be tested. “We have known and believe the love that God has for us,” 1 John 4.16 says. Mastering the knowledge of God’s love is hard, since God’s love surpasses all the love we’ll ever give or receive. That’s why John inserts “and believe” in his statement. Sometimes raw faith that God loves us is all we have to shatter the glass curtain that prevents us from loving. But summoning the courage to trust that we are worthy of love equips us with power to love as Jesus teaches. If God loves me without condition—whether I’m an A-student or a floundering failure—how can I not love God boundlessly? How can I not love those around me, regardless if they’re “as good,” better, or worse at loving than I am?

The key to passing love’s test is refusing to drop out. “God is love,” John writes, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” If love were easy, everyone would do it. It's because not everyone is able (or cares) to meet Christ’s standard that loving is worth our time. We won’t ace every test. There will be times when we cry salty tears of frustration, thinking we’ll never comprehend God’s love or do it exactly as Jesus teaches. Nonetheless, we can’t drop out. When we abide in love, God becomes our home and God makes a home in us. God finds us when we retreat to a quiet corner, trembling and teary at the prospect we won’t pass the test. We want God to make a miracle, to break through our reservations, and—presto-chango!—turn us into perfect lovers. But God’s not going to do that. Instead, God’s Word will come to us in the gentle honesty of the Spirit, reminding us not everyone is as loving as Jesus commands and that’s why submitting to love’s test is always worth it.

When we abide in love, God becomes our home and God makes a home in us.

Postscript: Happy Anniversary!

Four years ago today, Straight-Friendly inched into the blogosphere. For a while, it was a lonely little place—just me and the keyboard, banging out a few lines a day, hoping to reach someone who'd been told that God has no use for them because they don’t fit the "acceptable" mold. But the God Who does love us, every one of us, as we are made to live out God's purpose, is faithful. Friends, old and new, found this place and the conversation took on a life of its own. Along the way, we grew steadfast in love for one another, stumbled onto many surprising truths in God’s Word, and upheld each other in hours of weakness and sorrow. In the course of 900 posts, 2241 comments, more than 78,000 discrete visits, and over 100,000 page views, I’ve been blessed beyond measure to share this experience with you—to learn from you, to pray with you, and to count all of you as dear friends.

What a gift of grace you are to me! And how grateful to God I am that you’re here, pushing this little ministry forward, holding it in your thoughts and prayers, and rejoicing in the goodness that God has showered on all of us, jointly and individually.

So I wish you “Happy Anniversary” and leave you with a favorite passage, 1 John 3.1-2:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know God. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when God is revealed, we will be like God, for we will see God as God is.

Until that day…

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