Originally published Thursday, 13 February 2014.
Since the beginning of the month I've been writing little heart shaped notes and leaving them for my boys to find each morning. On the notes I've shared how much I love them, how I see God at work in them, and something special about them that I love and enjoy.
Sadly, it doesn't take long before my efforts to express my love are overshadowed by my own sin. How quickly I can go from words of love to stinging sarcastic remarks! One moment I tell them I love them and the next I raise my voice in frustration.
It's the month of love. The card aisle at the store is lined with sweet messages of affection and love. There are heart shaped candies, balloons, trinkets and treats just waiting to be purchased for our loved ones. Flower vendors stand at the road side just hoping we'll see them and feel tempted to show someone we care enough to buy a bouquet or two.
But what is love really? Because obviously I can say I love my family but saying it doesn't actually make me do it. Buying cards and teddy bears can't be it because if it were, February ought to be the most crime free, joyous month of the year. No, it must be something more.
I talk with my boys all the time about loving each other. They bicker and fight; hit and blame. I intervene and talk about kindness and love. We talk about how the Bible tells us to build each other up, not tear each other down. Then my youngest always reminds me--"Mom, we can't love each other perfectly."
Isn't that the truth!
How can I teach my children about love when I fail to express it myself? How can I show them real love, love that goes deeper than chocolates and sweet words of prose?
"We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us." 1 John 3:16
Here's what I know is true: real love is the love God has for us through his Son Jesus Christ. And it's only through Christ and because of Christ that we can know real love. In fact, 1 John 4:19 says, "We love each other because he loved us first." Without God's love, we cannot love others. Oh, we can feel warm fuzzies, we can respond in kind when someone else is loving to us, but real love is impossible without Christ.
Self-sacrificial, other-serving, grace-giving love is the love Christ has for us. It's this Love that left heaven above to lie in a cattle trough on earth. It's this Love that left riches unimaginable to live a life of poverty, poorer than the birds and foxes, having no home to claim as his own. It's this Love that dined with the outcasts, walked with sinners, and washed the dirty feet of a traitor.
It's this perfect Love that became sin so that we could be freed to love one another.
When I instruct my boys in what it means to love one another, I have to first teach them about this Love that died for them. They have to understand that apart from Christ's love for them, they are unable to love. And that only the real love of Christ, poured out for them on the cross, frees them to love others.
When it comes to my own struggles with love, I have to remember that Christ loved because I couldn't. He loved in my place. Every person he touched, every sinner he forgave, every kind word, every selfless act, has become mine. Because Christ lived a life of perfect love, God looks at me and sees not my sarcastic comments or selfish rants but the perfect and righteous love of his Son. And in exchange, he took on all my sins, every unloving thought, word and deed. As he paid the price for my sins on the cross, God turned his back on him, rejecting him in my place.
This is love.
So when I and my children struggle with love, we can't fix it with good intentions, sweet sayings, or tasty treats. We simply can't love others on our own. We have to repeat it over and over until it's engraved on the walls of our hearts, "He loved me first, He loved me first, He loved me first..." Because real love is just not possible without Christ.
This Valentines Day, as we make our heart shaped cards and give out red and pink treats, let us all remember the source of real love--because He loved us first.
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:7-10