In the early months of my marriage, about 21 years ago now, I remember sitting on the front step of the house we were renting. I’d just moved to a town I’d only seen once, relocating my 4-year-old daughter and myself from Kansas to Minnesota. John and I had known each other all of nine months before we married. All our communication had been by phone and letters. We’d been a few years away from the internet and email, much less cell phones.
But as I sat on the front step that day, I had something that I really needed to talk to God about. He already knew what was on my heart because it was always there, just below the surface of my bravado, my fear, my anxiety. “God,” I said, “I don’t know how to love.”
I know I thought I loved my husband – at least as much as I knew how to. And I loved my daughter – as much as I knew how to. But the truth was that I was primarily grateful that John wanted to marry me, to keep me when no one else had. And I treasured my daughter, but I wasn’t sure I loved her the way other parents loved their children because I could be very impatient with her and sometimes cold to her if I was angry with her.
I grew up with a very conditional, controlling mother who managed my step-father, my half-brother and myself with fear. It would be kind to say she was simply a poor example of how a wife should treat her husband; a mother, her children. I knew from her example what I didn’t want to be, but the only option it often left me with was a glorified ideal of a woman I was not equipped to be. And so…my dilemma posed to God that day.
But He answered me immediately and surely: “That’s why I gave you John.” Those words sunk deep into my heart, and I’ve never forgotten them – even on the days when I thought God’s gift of John was a punishment or misunderstanding because John had done something to disappoint me, anger me or hurt me – which happens. Everyone will disappoint us, anger us or hurt us eventually. They’re only human, just as we are.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what God assured me. John has been gentle, kind, patient and – most certainly – long-suffering, to the tune of 21 years. He’s shown me how to love my family and friends. But I’ve also been thinking about God’s love for us. So often I’ve read 1 Corinthians 13 from the perspective of the one who is supposed to love others. As I spend more time in the Word, though, I realize that this is a description of God Himself.
Our heavenly Father is so patient with us. He meets us where we are and really expects so little of us. He waits and waits for us to be ready, always the gentleman. We make the same mistakes repeatedly, and just as often He forgives and forgets them. When you look at the parables that demonstrate His love for us, He is the father of the prodigal son who runs after the boy as soon as he sees him; he doesn’t wait for the boy to reach him. He’s the woman who searches desperately for the lost coin as if it’s the only one she has and celebrates with her friends when she finds it.
We see His love when Peter steps out of the boat and starts to sink when he looks at the waves in dread. When Peter calls out for help, Jesus doesn’t say, “Hold on. I’ll be right there.” He doesn’t tell the other disciples to help Peter. The distance between Jesus and Peter is a breath when Christ reaches out to pull him out of the water.
We may feel like we’ve strayed from God and have to make our way back to Him. We don’t! I am confident that if, at any time, we turn to call to Him, we will be startled to see Him a breath away, waiting for us. Yes, we need to repent, but we don’t have to wait. And we don’t have to beg and grovel to get in His good graces again. We don’t have to “prove” our authenticity to Him.
I don’t think God wants our self-deprecation. After all, He sacrificed His only Son to free us from that sort of behavior. God wants our heart and the obedience that comes from loving Him with all our heart, all our soul and with all our strength (Luke 10:27). So if you think you need to clean yourself up first, forget it. You can’t do it yourself, and Christ has already done the work for you. If you think you have any reason at all to wait to reconcile yourself to God – or to accept Him as your God, Christ as your Lord and Savior – you don’t. Do it now. He’s right there, waiting for you with His arms ready to embrace you – again and again and again. That’s love!