Chai dog and I walked in Lincoln Marsh last week. As we meandered slow, with many sniff stops, I saw an older woman and a large dog approaching us. When there was still some distance between us, they turned off onto a side path. I noticed a younger woman, in her early thirties perhaps, ambling along several yards behind the woman with the dog. She and I met as we reached the spot where the path split. Her face lit up with a bright smile when she saw Chai. “Can I pet her?” she asked. She knelt down in her pink patterned pajama pants next to my dog, putting her face close, allowing Chai to give it a gentle lick. “She’s very pretty,” she said.
“Why, thank you,” I answered her.
I noticed the woman with the other dog had stopped and was watching us. I guessed she was the mother of this child-woman who looked up at me with eyes clear of any guile. She chattered a little more before getting to her feet and bouncing like a happy puppy down the path. Her mother and I waved at each other and then continued on our separate ways.
“Oh, Lord, how you must love her!” The words sprang into my mind unbidden, surprising me. She had been so straightforward, so lacking in self-awareness, receiving joy so freely from Chai, from me. A strange longing rose up in me.
What next popped up in my mind surprised me even more than my earlier thought. “I love you as much as I love her.”
Really, Lord? I have such a hard time believing that. I feel so complicated and double-minded, devoted one moment, self-focused the next, every motive mixed.
A couple days after that walk, I attended a women’s retreat led by the very gifted writer and speaker Jen Pollock Michel. At one point in the weekend, she taught on the parable of the prodigal son and asked, “How do you see yourself, as undeserving of grace and goodness or as having earned them?”
Her point was that both come from a “wage mentality,” of thinking we are capable of working for God’s love.
I vacillate between the two attitudes, but most often I think of myself as undeserving. I won’t actually say it, even to myself, but deep down I feel others can be objects of God’s free grace, but I have to earn it and I have fallen so very short (this is such a strange form of pride). He’ll still love me, I think, but I know He’s shaking His head with disappointment, that who/what I am is not what I should be.
This is my second blog post in two weeks on this topic; clearly it is something I need to hear. So, once again, I preach the Gospel to myself. Based on the number of other women at the retreat who shared that they, too, struggle with this, I remind you to preach it to yourself as well.
“God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. … So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” Romans 5:8 and 11, NLT
We can’t earn it.
We don’t have to try.
He loves us.
The same day as the retreat, Leaf and Twig posted an incredibly applicable photo and poem. Please check out “Look of Love.”