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I was head over heals in love with our fourth child, knowing that she probably would be our last. She was (and still is) funny and filled with joy. Along with her Daddy, she was challenging me to be less serious. Then her determined nature began to show itself. I should have known we were in for quite a ride when she was about eighteen months old and told me "No, that!" as I took an outfit from the dresser that she did not want to wear.
The more I did things that seemed loving - an extra story, letting her choose an outfit, ... - the more she wanted. I said no to more in an effort to preserve my sanity. Then she became more difficult and I felt my heart start to harden towards her. At some point I realized love isn't always pretty, sometimes it has to say no, stand firm, and endure the backlash. I just didn't know how to love this little girl God gave us to raise.
What is love anyway? Is it mushy, gushy feelings? Is it just feelings of deep affection for someone? It really goes far beyond feelings. Jesus tells us to love our enemies! You can't do that on feelings alone. I think God's love is based on the high value He places on each person, the same value He wants us to place on people.
Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love God and that the second is like it - love your neighbor as you love yourself. I can try to do that, but my selfish nature really doesn't want to put much effort into loving others. I mean what have they done for me anyway?
Then in John 15:12, He gives a new commandment:
"...that you love one another, just as I have loved you."
That will look a lot different than loving as I love myself. And a lot better.
I know there is only one way to love like that - lay down all that I hold onto that gets in the way and let God love through me. That is scary. The things I hold onto are what keep this protective wall built around me so no one can see the insecure, frightened woman behind the "has it altogether" facade.
As I started to consider how God loves us and what that would look like if I live it out, I headed to my concordance. I just love research, digging into a topic to learn all I can. I searched for all of the places the Bible tells us about God's love.
I found some of its characteristics: it provides and protects, is just, merciful, everlasting, lavish, unchanging, compassionate, sacrificial, tenacious, and for everyone.
Somewhere in the middle of all that study, all that knowledge I was trying to stuff into my head, I realized I had missed something vital:
God's love isn't learned by studying it.
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We learn how God loves by LOVING others and experiencing God's love ourselves.
I understand God's compassionate love when I walk through cancer with a friend.
I understand God's sacrificial love when I give up my desires in order to serve.
I understand God's unconditional love as we raise our children.
I've come to the conclusion that I don't really know how to love, not like God does anyway. If I want to know more about God's love, I have to let go of my fears (which usually are the result of my selfishness and pride) and just love people more. I can learn how to do that by watching those who really know how to love and by soaking up God's love letter to me.
It has been a rocky ride, but that little girl is eighteen now. She loves Jesus with all her heart and loves people, especially children. She has stretched me, often to the breaking point. Maybe that is the point - I have to be broken before I can love as God does. There have been many times I have cried out to God asking Him to teach me to love her - I'm still learning.