By Kerry Rohman – As an adult, removing myself from chaos sounds peaceful and relaxing. As a child, however, I thought this time of sitting out was boring, seemed like an eternity, and well, absolutely terrible. Like mother, like daughter. This week, my five-year-old daughter, Ava, had to experience the ever-dreaded TIME OUT. Her Legos, Barbies, and Shopkins would not magically clean up themselves as she hoped. Moping around and complaining didn’t work either to get her out of her job. Right when I sent Ava to the brown owl beanbag, tears started flowing down her face, and then came the phrase, “You don’t love me anymore!”
Whether she was trying to be manipulative is not the point. The point is that I had a choice to make. And, in this moment of childish rebellion and stinging words, I chose to love Ava unconditionally. Choosing to love her and saying so is easy for me; when she is making good choices or when she is making bad choices-just like God loves His children.
But, not so fast, let’s change the situation. If love is a choice, do we HAVE to choose to love everyone unconditionally? You know, those people in our life that are what Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life, calls EGR people? (Extra Grace Required people).
Let’s see what Jesus says about that question in his Sermon on the Mount:
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”-Matthew 5:44-46 (NASB)
I just want to let out a huge “ughhh” when I read that. Yes, I know, I should ‘do everything without arguing and complaining’ (Philippians 2:12). Yup, Jesus doesn’t suggest loving enemies, he commands it. Honestly, for me, unconditionally loving and sincerely praying for enemies, those who have wounded my heart at the deepest level is often hard work! Unfortunately, when I started this journey (and I am still on it), there were different areas I needed to improve in.
I needed to transition from conditional love to unconditional love. Conditional love may say: “I will only love that person if they listen to me, agree with me, love me back, don’t hurt me, if they speak highly of me, if they treat me well, etcetera.” It has conditions, standards, and expectations on how someone should act or respond. But in reality, we are not in control of how someone else expresses themselves. If our reasons for loving someone is their qualities, and then their qualities gradually disappear, our basis of love is over. That’s why only unconditional love lasts a lifetime. This does not mean that we are boundaryless and not ‘guarding of our heart.’ We choose to give the gift of unconditional love, even if it is at a distance, without expecting anything in return. Unconditional love says: “I CHOOSE to love that person even if they don’t receive me, even if they don’t love me back, even if they keep hurting me, even if they slander my name, even if they mistreat me, even if they don’t meet my expectations, etcetera.” Remember “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8), no matter what.
Another area of growth on my journey was fully receiving, experiencing, and understanding Christ’s love for me. It was hard for me to give away something I had not receive fully. I only noticed this was an issue for me after doing the Lambchow bible study on Love (https://lambchow.com/free-bible-study-love/). When I started to receive more love from Jesus and others freely, I was able to freely give love in increased measure as well.
It helped me, too, to try to see others the way Jesus sees them. I really pressed into asking Jesus how He sees His children and to reveal that to me. I even wrote down positive character traits of those EGR people in my life in a journal. I included prayers for them, similar to how I pray for myself and family.
This is a journey that I am still on, growing in and pursuing unconditional love. Sometimes, I get discouraged, but I try to give myself grace and unconditional love, just like I try to do with others. Ava did end up picking up her toys. But, what if she didn’t? Well, love is not determined by the one being loved, but rather the one choosing it. Just like Ava’s mess was not picking up her toys, mine mess was conditional love. You could say Jesus is leading me to “pick up my toys”.
We too can drag our feet about loving someone just like Ava dragged her feet picking up her toys. Is this an area where you need to “pick up your toys” and are dragging your feet?
May you continue to choose love and take Time Out to pray for EGR individuals in your life.
Prayer: Lord, Help us to love like you. Amen.
Jesus says in John 13:35 (NASB) “ By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”