Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I Love You, Too

I don’t know about you, but I find that my human relationships often can teach me a lot about my relationship with God. Sometimes because my human relationships are so similar to my relationship with God. And sometimes because my human relationships are so different from my relationship with God.

Now, one of the things that I’ve learned from my human relationships is that if I love someone, I need to tell them. Love is not meant to be a secret. If I love someone I can’t keep it to myself. For example, whenever I talk on the telephone with either my daughter or my son, we always end our conversation with one of us saying “I love you” and then the other one will come back with “I love you, too.” It seems very natural for me to do that with my kids.

But as a divorced woman who dates men, I’ve learned that when I’m in a romantic relationship with a man, it’s not so easy because the words “I love you” come with all kinds of baggage. Not too long ago, there was a man in my life whom I dated for a couple of years and I grew to love him. It wasn’t something I could keep to myself, so I told him. “I love you,” I said. And he said to me… “Thank you.” Ouch! Thank you? That’s not what you’re supposed to say when someone says “I love you.” But he couldn’t bring himself to say “I love you, too” so he said “thank you.”

It made me think of my relationship with God. God tells me “I love you” again and again in my life and often the best I can do is say “thank you.” As a recipient of God’s grace, “thank you” works. But I also need to respond to God’s grace. How do I move from a thank-you relationship with God to an I-love-you-too relationship?

Do you remember when Jesus was quizzed by a Jewish expert in the law who wanted Jesus to cut to the chase and tell him what the most important law was? Jesus couldn’t answer the question because he couldn’t identify the one most important law. He had to give two. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”(Matthew 22:37-39)

For Jesus, these aren’t two separate laws to live by. They are two parts of the same law. The way to love God is by loving our neighbor. It’s not just a matter of saying “I love you, God” over and over again. It’s about showing our love for God in the way we treat other people.

Our God says to us, “I love you.” Through Jesus Christ we know those are more than just words alone. “I love you,” he says. Our lives are given in response to God’s love. Not just with the words alone, but with lives that say “I love you too.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It Don't Come Easy

There certainly is more to forgiveness than saying the magic words, “I’m sorry” and “You’re forgiven.” At no time in our lives are we challenged to be more Christ-like with one another than when we’re called upon to forgive. Forgiveness is where the Christian faith gets practical. We do more than just talk about the way God’s grace has changed our lives. We have the opportunity to put God’s grace into practice, to love other people the way that God loves us.

True forgiveness is never easy. If you find that it comes too easily for you, I wonder if you’ve really forgiven at all. When forgiveness comes easily, it most likely means one of two things: either the person didn’t really hurt you that much to begin with, or you have gone through the motions of forgiveness, but haven’t really forgiven from your heart.

If you bump into someone in the elevator and say, “Excuse me” and they reply, “That’s OK”, is that forgiveness? Hardly. Forgiveness isn’t necessary for the petty things people do to us; it’s reserved for the really big stuff. It isn’t necessary unless someone has really hurt you. The more deeply another has hurt you, the harder it is to forgive them, and the more you need to forgive them. (For your own sake as much as theirs; carrying around anger and hate isn't healthy.)

Jesus taught that true forgiveness comes from the heart (Matthew 18:35). Whenever I hear people express their forgiveness too quickly I assume they are going through the motions of forgiveness without truly forgiving from the heart. They are saying the words, “I forgive you” because as a Christian that’s what they’ve been taught they should say. But when you’ve been deeply hurt in your heart, you have to forgive from your heart, and that is more than words. It doesn’t happen within 60 seconds or less. For some of us, it takes a lifetime.

When you forgive, you recognize that another person has hurt you. You don’t make excuses for their behavior. No matter what the reason may be, they have caused you pain. You have every reason to be angry with that person. You may even have every reason to hate her or him. But you choose to love instead. That’s forgiveness.