Have you ever been struck by that crushing defeat when your heart crumples inside and you realize that you have nothing to offer God? Physically, emotionally, spiritually, monetarily? It happens to me all the time. I’ll be exhausted from a string of long days and say, “I’ve got nothing left, God. I’m empty.” I’ve come to believe that God’s loving, tender response is, “Of course you have nothing left. Of course you’re empty. You always have been.”
The incomparable C.S. Lewis tells a story of a father who gives his son some money in order that the son may buy his father a gift. The dad just bought himself a present – which I do frequently in the form of shoes and frappucinos. Maybe the child picked out the present and handed the money to the cashier, but still, the money was the father’s all along the way. The dad didn’t get any richer.
Few things brighten up my day more than seeing the children I have tended since their infancy. Ever since they were born, I’ve cuddled them, fed them, sung to them, changed their dirty diapers, and told them over and over and over again, “I love you. Katie loves you.”
Babies generally don’t start saying intelligible words – let alone intelligible sentences – until they get to be about two years old. And yet, whenever they start babbling away in their younger months, I begin to coach them. “Say, ‘I love you, Katie.’” Why? They can’t talk. They can’t string together sentences. And even if they could, they would just be repeating the words I told them to say.
But, oh my goodness, words cannot express the joy that erupted in my heart the first time, “I love you, Katie,” came out of those little mouths I love so much. Several years after diapers and bottles, the little princess climbs in the car when I pick her up from school. She giggles and gives me that impish grin and says, “Katie! I didn’t know you were picking me up today. I missed you. I love you, Katie.”
Needless to say it always makes my day. It didn’t particularly surprise me – I’ve been training this child to string those words together since she popped out of her mom. Still, it gave me the greatest joy.
Now, do I think this wonderful four-(almost five, as she constantly reminds me)-year-old understands the depths of the meaning of love? I think she knows that I will take care of her and probably give her ice cream. She knows I’ll play with her, protect her from harm, and discipline her. Oh yeah, she’ll tell you that I put her in time out when she misbehaves. I used to worry that the day after I put her in time out, she wouldn’t be excited when I walked in the door. Even on the toughest days when it seemed like she spent more time sitting in time out than playing with me, she never ceased to believe me when I told her that I loved her. I know that because she would always tell me that she loved me too, and she would throw her arms around my neck and we would bounce back to playing.
Children learn to repeat words because they hear them. Children learn to repeat actions because they see them. Children learn to adopt attitudes because they are exposed to them. When you tie together words, actions, and attitudes, you get a lifestyle. I have no problem saying that I prompted these children to love me because that’s exactly what God did to me. God created me, (Psalm 139:13). He put His own spirit inside of me, (2 Corinthians 1:22). He gave me a heart that longs to know Him, (Jeremiah 24:7). And then He did the craziest thing ever: He loved me. (There are far too many verses to cite but a personal favorite is Jeremiah 31:3).
As the moon reflects the sun’s light and the sun is honored in its shining, so I love God because He loved me and He is honored by my love, even though it is but a reflection.
Another child I watch was just over two the first time I successfully coaxed him into telling me that he loved me. It came out a bit choppy and with a touch of impediment, but it brought a smile to my face and joy to my heart. “Yes,” I smiled and planted ample kisses on his cheeks as he laughed. “You do love your Katie.”
I don’t think my love for God is any different and I don’t think that upsets him. I believe God takes the greatest delight in loving a person who is incapable of loving Him back. He doesn’t mind waking up (except that He never went to sleep) to come get me in the middle of the night when I cry. He loves it when I stand wobbly at His feet and reach my arms up to Him, fussing because I am completely unsatisfied with life until my Father is holding me.
Why is it important to me that the kids I take care of love me? What does it matter? I won’t lie: a huge part of it is because it makes me feel good. Who doesn’t love being adored? But the holier reason is this: it would be best for that child to love me. Why? Because I provide the food, care, protection, and love. It makes my job a lot easier when kids run towards me, not away from me. Children are deceptively fast. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully capable of catching that child. My legs are longer than his entire body. It slows down the process when they run away from me and some times it’s dangerous. Some times there are things going on that could hurt them and I need them to come to me as quickly as possible. Anyone who has ever taken a small child to a public place will understand this. Restaurants, grocery stores, or those death traps known as parking lots are all places where you want your children right next to you or at least disciplined enough to come when you call them. I want these children whom I love so dearly to love me because I want them to eat the food I give them, submit to the shampoo I put in their hair, heed my voice when I call them, and delight in the love I shower upon them with all my heart and soul.
Why is it so important to God that we love Him? It’s the greatest command if you believe what Jesus said in Matthew 22:36-40. God knows the truth. He’s the one who loves me. He’s the one who feeds me. He’s the one who cares for me. He’s the one who protects me. He’s the one who saves me.
When we perceive that we are loved by someone or something, we get attached to that one or that thing. I doubt you need examples to believe me but I’ll give them to you anyway. You rarely get coffee at a coffee shop. It’s ridiculous to pay four dollars for a cup of coffee when you can make one for free at home. So you walk in for a rare treat of a purchased cup of coffee and the person behind the counter smiles, asks you how your day’s going, and chats with you while your drink is being made. It sure is nice for someone to look you in the eye like that and smile at you, which in return makes you smile. Suddenly four dollars for a cup of coffee doesn’t seem so ridiculous because it comes with a steaming side of attention. Going to the gym really is about getting in shape – but the stares and compliments certainly don’t hurt – and then you’re working out with two motives instead of one…then it switches back to one, only it’s a different one than the original. Maybe fictional characters move you to tears and make your breath catch in your chest. Maybe those fictional characters become personal friends. And speaking of friends, has anyone else noticed how difficult it is to have a friendship with someone of the opposite sex and not consider what it would be like to have a romantic relationship with said person? Why is that? It’s so annoying! Well, it’s because you’re going to want to spend more and more time with people who make you feel good.
I am not saying that it is easy to perceive that God Almighty loves you personally and intimately, because my dear friends, it is not. The enemy and the world will do everything in their power to keep you from realizing that God even thinks about you, let alone loves you radically. Bad things happen and it makes you feel like you can’t trust God. Scary things happen and it makes you feel like you have to fend for yourself. Lonely things happen and it makes you feel abandoned. Then a barista chats and smiles with you, your hard work is praised, your confidence is boosted, your emotions are stirred, and not so suddenly, God’s love is not something you crave or even think twice about because you are getting a lesser, but good enough love from somewhere else.
If your lesser loves are being stripped away, maybe it’s because there’s a Greater Love who refuses to let you settle for “good enough” when “more than you could possibly ask or imagine” is readily available.
You bet your butt God trains us and prompts us to love Him. He designed us to love, to admire. He knows that if we do not love and admire Him, we will love and admire something else and that something else cannot love us as well as He can.
You bet your butt I trained and prompted those children to love me. I wanted to be their favorite babysitter! I wanted them to want to spend time with me. Maybe this is verging on pathetic, but I wanted them to miss me when I left because I certainly missed them. I miss my children. I long for them to fall asleep in my arms. That’s one of my all time favorite things. I love pushing them on swing sets and holding their hands as they learn to walk. I love seeing what crazy, ridiculous thing they’re going to do in the new day. I used to come home and tell my mom what the baby had done that day and just gush about how cute it was and how adorable the child was and how I just melted inside from all the wonderfulness.
Could you possibly conceive that this is how God Almighty feels about you? God desires an intimate, personal relationship with you. He loves going through your day with you. He loves hearing about all the horrible and wonderful things that happened during your day. Can you imagine God in Heaven beaming with excitement, pointing at you, and saying to the angels, “Look! Look! She’s walking away from that guy who just wanted to use her! I’m so proud of her! No, I’m not surprised, I taught her to walk but just, look! She’s doing what I taught her to do!”
“Look! Look! He’s fighting injustice! I’m so proud of him! Look at how strong he is! Of course, I gave him his strength and I taught him to fight, but look! He’s doing it! He’s so strong!”
You think God doesn’t delight when His kids do what He’s taught them? When we love Him? Sure, He loved us first but that doesn’t seem to matter to God.
You think my mom doesn’t love it when I make her chocolate chip cookies? Sure, she spent years teaching me how. I wouldn’t be able to do that if she hadn’t shown me. But that doesn’t matter. When I pull the cookies out of the oven and the house fills up with the smell of Heaven, there’s nothing but delight in my mom’s nostrils! I mean: heart.
God will spend years – my whole life time, in fact – loving me so that I will love Him back. Not with love of my own creation, of course, for everything I have was given to me by Him. I suppose you could say that I’m loving Him with His own love.
He loves those who are empty. Everyone’s empty. He loves us. His love naturally draws us closer to Him. Coming in contact with this Loving Being radically alters your heart so that there is nothing for you but to be near Him and love Him as much as your feeble heart can. He is none the richer for loving us. He gains nothing by it. Who gains? We do. Therein lies true love.