“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:10-12
By Emily Hanenburg
How are you at receiving love?
Have you ever stopped to think about how you receive the love that is being offered to you? I think the hard thing about love from people is that it is imperfect and is variable. We all are different; our needs, wants, circumstances and backgrounds are different, and our expression of everything, including love, is different. But, despite those differences we all, or at least most people, have a desire to be known and loved.
That desire meets us square and plainly at Christmas time. Just as is the case for hope, peace, and joy, this time of year, in supposedly being the most wonderful, often brings about a rise in expectation for feeling loved and seems to profoundly highlight any lack. But, is it truly that there is a lack of love, or rather, is it that we cannot see and receive the love being offered to us because it does not come in the form that we would prefer?
It is something that I have been thinking a lot about as I have been preparing my heart for Christmas. For the last several years, my mom has suffered a chronic illness that has consumed much of her ability, not to mention her time and attention. That being the case, my mom, put simply, cannot love me in the way she used to, in the way that my friend’s moms love them, in the way that I would really want to be loved sometimes. I know for certain my mom loves me. It is not out of intentional withholding, but more out of inability. In the midst of that, I have to be willing to seek out and accept the little bits of love she can give rather than being disappointed. If I am only looking for love in the way I expect, I can miss the most important and real expressions of love being given to me.
For you it might not be in quite the same form. Maybe there has been a loss in your family, maybe it feels like people don’t understand you, maybe there is someone in your life where it feels like no matter what you do you just cannot make them happy, maybe you are experiencing the disloyalty of a friend. Or, hopefully, you may feel very loved this Christmas. If that is the case, receive it and give it, but know there will probably be a point when someone lets you down. Now if just being able to scrape up and piece together little bits of people’s imperfect love and willing to see and accept the love of the people around us is not the answer to everything. The love of people, however earnestly given, just cannot meet the greatest need that we have. Unlike the humans in our lives who try their best but can never perfectly meet all our needs, the One who made us and knows us completely can absolutely meet the depths of our need to be loved.
So then, the question really is not if we can receive the love and care of the people around us, but can we receive the love of God that He is pouring out into our hearts and lives?
“In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the sacrifice for our sins.”
At Christmas we celebrate love, not because there are more interactions and gatherings of people we care about or that there is an emphasis on acts of love done for others… even those are a beautiful glimpse of love. We celebrate love because the world received the greatest gift of love possible. It was love that was promised, not because as humans we earned it or even understood that we needed it, but because God knew our greatest need and met it. Sometimes what we need and what we want are two different things.
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.
When Jesus came to earth, the greatest gift of love sent from God, He came to a people who had lots of expectations for how God was going to show up in their lives. For hundreds of years, the people of Israel had looked forward to a Messiah, a Chosen One who would rise up and rescue them. As a people group, they had either been in captivity by Babylonians, Assyrians or oppressed by Romans for hundreds of years. The prevailing thought was that the Messiah would bring Israel out of the oppression they had suffered for so long and into its former glory. The people would be free once again. What they did not realize was that the captivity of their hearts was so tremendously greater than the physical bondage they had suffered.
Most people had expectations how the savior of the world would come. When Jesus came as a baby and lived His ministry on Earth culminating in His death on the cross, it was in opposition to that. Because of His love for us, He came to save people from their sins rather than from the circumstance of the Roman occupation. It was pretty hard, and for most, impossible for them to receive the love God had for them. We can see throughout the Bible, the rejection of God by His people. When Jesus walked the earth, He was completely rejected by the people he came to save.
That can be the same for us. We have to be careful that we do not fall into believing that God loves us when He gives us what we want or changes the circumstances we are in. When He died, He gave us exactly what we need. The freedom to live in His love because we are saved grace not by performance.
“But all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to be children of God, who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.”
That means that God’s love for you is not on the basis of who your family is, how good -or not- that you try to live, nor because of the opinion or judgment of any person, or the fulfillment of your own expectations. If you have received the Love of God in believing that Jesus Christ came, died, and rose again for you so that you could have relationship with God, you are a perfectly and completely loved child of God. When God sees you, He does not see failures, He does not see shortcomings, He sees Jesus perfection on you. He sees you with great love because He sees that His Son died for you. I write that not just to those who are looking into what Christianity is, but just as much for those who know and love Jesus. Even among people who have followed Christ for a long time, the deep struggle of believing that God’s grace and love is not earned by following God well enough, but truly is a gift given through faith is a continual pursuit.
We have to have the humility of heart to accept that the love of God is a gift that we cannot earn; we also have to have the humility of heart to receive the gift of God’s love in the form of Jesus because we trust that it is the best way… even if not necessarily the way we expected it or want it.
“We love because He first loved us.”
No matter what is going on in your life, no matter how wonderful or not Christmas is for you, I pray that you will know and receive God’s love for you because it is a love that never goes away and never changes because it does not depend on us. As you wake up Christmas morning, and every other morning, know that you are loved and receive that… and then, in knowing that, go out seeking to love God and love others.
Further Reading: 1 John 4