*Scroll to the bottom of this post for the audio version.
We puppy-sat Nora, a 14-week-old English Bulldog, last week, and my children, as well as many of the neighborhood kids, were enamored with her.
PJ, Nora, and Chai playing tug of war
But soon they discovered the not-so-pleasant side of caring for a pup. “She’s like a baby in her judgment but with a lot more mobility,” I reminded them when she chomped a plant in the garden, peed on the living room rug, or left tooth pricks in a Barbie doll’s arm.
“It’s a good thing she’s cute, huh?” I asked them. “Children and puppies. They require a lot of work, but at least they’re adorable.”
Chai was the only one who was happy to see Nora go back to her owners. Of course, the rest of us didn’t have a puppy clawing at our face all week either.
They glared at her squashed face a moment more and then relented.
I find I still have that mentality with God.
He loves me because there is something inherently endearing about me.
I would never say it aloud, but the belief is there sometimes.
But the older I get, the more I understand how untrue it is—of myself or anyone, no matter how honorable or upright we seem.
In Lamentations, Jeremiah speaks of “compassionate” women of Jerusalem cooking and eating their own children (4:10). Before the starvation brought about by the siege of Babylon, these same women would have been appalled at the thought, but distress revealed a darkness in their hearts that had been there all along.
It is hard for me, too, to imagine myself capable of the horrific acts I read about in news articles. But I am. Put me in the right (or wrong) circumstances, strip me of comforts and necessities, replace my upbringing with an abusive situation…
“But for the grace of God,” my father used to say.
This truth is actually not discouraging (despite how it makes us feel). Reminders of our incapacity for good help us see that the love of God is certain—no matter what we do or don’t do.
This past season my husband’s soccer team made a poster for their locker room, and they put it right above the doorway they walk through on their way to the field. It read, big and bold, “Play like you’re loved.”
Perfect love casts out fear.
The fear we all have of God (it’s a good and necessary place to start in our relationship with Him) is based on the right belief that we can never measure up. God answered this fear with a love that fully accepts our inability to deserve it. His love has no conditions for us. We cannot earn it, and He has never expected us to.
Yet we still “play to be loved,” and we are always disappointed to find that all our efforts effect no true change in us. We do all kinds of good works and find that the bitterness or envy or self-loathing in our hearts is still there!
How paradoxical that only when we give up the striving to change ourselves can we be changed—by a love that is not dependent on our changing!
In the early pages of The Practice of the Presence of God, written about and by Brother Lawrence, a lay monk in the 17th century, his interviewer shared this about him. “When he sinned, he confessed it to God with these words: ‘I can do nothing better without You. Please keep me from falling and correct the mistakes I make.’ After that he did not feel guilty about the sin.” … “Brother Lawrence was aware of his sins and was not at all surprised by them. ‘That is my nature,’ he would say, ‘the only thing I know how to do.’ He simply confessed his sins to God, without pleading with Him or making excuses. After this, he was able to peacefully resume his regular activity of love and adoration. If Brother Lawrence didn’t sin, he thanked God for it, because only God’s grace could keep him from sinning.”
It is biblical to sorrow over our sin, but when we beat ourselves up over it, it is a reverse kind of pride. We get down on ourselves because we believe we are capable of better.
But we’re not, and it is far more profitable to confess and move on into God’s unconditional love. Confession is simply admitting to God, “I am sinful, and You are not. I acknowledge that great difference and Your perfection, and I am grateful You did something about it.”
He did do something about our inability! He did something incredible! And the result of that amazing sacrifice is that He is in us! We are in Him!
The “Play like you’re loved” poster came from the team’s season verse, John 17:23, in which Christ says, “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
This day, let’s play, live, work, and be like we are loved!