I am such a good Christian when no one is around. I pray. I sing. I study the Word. I’m kind. Generous. Empathetic. Selfless. It’s quite impressive, actually, what a great example of humility and godliness I am when I’m alone.
Then I get around people, and everything starts to unravel. The other day, for example, I single-handedly managed to
* disappoint a good friend,
* make all three of my children cry at the same time—and no, they did not deserve it,
* pick a “difficult conversation”—not to be confused with a “fight”—with my husband…on his BIRTHDAY (and no, he didn’t deserve it, either.)
What a train wreck I was that day. And this, unfortunately, was not an isolated incident. In fact, I can be found disappointing people several times a week. Probably more than I care to know. Please don’t tell me if I have. Seriously. Don’t.
Weird. What is it about other people that makes me such a horrible Christian? It would be so much easier if I could just stay home alone and pray for you, don’t you think? I’ll pray from afar, meditate about how kind and generous I’d be to you, should we ever meet face-to-face. You benefit from my prayers. Nobody gets hurt.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (I John 3:16-20)
Recently, I made a prayerful decision to love people better. To really open up my life, my home, my schedule and my heart to others. To take all my good intentions and put them into practice. It seems the more I open up my life, however, the more massive the train wreck becomes. Turns out that loving people up close is WAY harder than loving people from afar. Turns out that people are messy. I’m messy. Turns out, I’m not very good at this love thing, after all.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18-19)
I have to admit, it’s times like this I’m tempted to analyze and criticize myself, wondering why I’m such a disappointment to people. Oh, what the heck, let’s just lump God in there, too. “Why am I such a disappointment to people AND TO GOD? Who wants to hang out with a disappointment, anyway?”
And my critical mind anxiously replies “NO ONE, THAT’S WHO!” Not your husband. Not your children. Not your friends. Not your God. Nobody loves you, everybody hates you…go eat worms.”
And when I start thinking like that, I’m tempted to check out, completely. To chuck the whole “Love Plan” and take a nap instead. To simply go back to my life of isolation and good intentions where I can feel really good about myself. You like me. I like you. The end.
And so I run. I must run. Run as fast as I can. Recklessly, relentlessly. In all my messy, sinful, disappointment-of-a-state—and do the exact opposite of what my flesh and my mind tempts me to do.
I run into the arms of God.
Because if anyone’s got the love thing down, it’s God. He doesn’t just KNOW about love…He IS love. Turns out, if I want to love well, I must be immersed in Him. Immersed in LOVE. Not in my good intentions and well-scheduled Bible study time. But in an intimate, daily relationship with LOVE. Who am I to think I can love without LOVE?
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (I Timothy 1:15-16)
This is where Christ is most fully displayed in me. Not when I can self-righteously boast of my private prayers and my holy thoughts toward you. But where God allows me to fall flat on my sinful face so you can watch Him display His unlimited patience toward me. This is where you—along with all my disappointed and wounded friends and family—look at me and miraculously see Jesus, instead. Not because I behaved perfectly, but because I didn’t. Because in my bad behavior, you saw a merciful God who refuses to leave me in this state. Who despite my repeated tendency to sin, has a repeated tendency to forgive.
Who continues to pick me up, dust me off and send me back into the world to show more love. Deep love. Messy, vulnerable—and often painful—LOVE.
And maybe, just maybe, if you see Him do that for me, you will believe He’d do that for you, too. And that, my friend, is love.