We’d put the flowers on the front step quietly, ring the doorbell, quickly scamper around the side of the house … and wait.
Mom never disappointed.
“What beautiful flowers!” Then, feigning surprise: “I wonder who could have left these for me?”
In a moment or two, the front door would click-closed, but not before she’d left a piece of candy for Fritz and me. It was a well-rehearsed charade for all parties involved – two grade-school buddies and their moms.
Love as quid pro quo is excusable, perhaps even a bit cute, among grade-schoolers.
But it’s a terrible distortion of true love that many of us struggle to shed as we get older. Love, so often, is conditioned on what others do, or don’t do, for us.
Case in point: WalletHub says more than half the women it surveyed admitted they would end a relationship if they don’t receive anything for Valentine’s Day. (I’m assuming men were not asked, or perhaps quit the survey hastily upon being reminded that it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. It’s tomorrow, guys).
I winced when I read that statistic, but rapidly recovered as I considered how conditional love is for most of us – including me. It’s easy to love those who reciprocate, or better yet, love us first. Don’t you think?
Scripture gives us a startling description of true love: “Love suffers long and is kind…,” says 1 Corinthians 13.
In other words, real love is forbearing, willing to bear the slights of others.
God’s description of love is so radically different from ours: “Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.”
These precious verses are perhaps the most popular Scriptures chosen by couples for recital at their wedding. They’re a declaration of the kind of love God desires to develop in us throughout the course of our lives.
Relationships – whether the other person is a spouse, a friend, an acquaintance, or even an enemy – are God’s primary construction site for building genuine love into our lives.
That brings me back to Fritz and our moms.
Certainly they knew their young sons’ end-game: give flowers, get candy. And certainly the routine grew tiresome. (Truthfully, Fritz and I often debated how often we should ply our trade, our moral compass magnetized by a shared sweet tooth).
Our moms played along because, like most moms, they loved us unconditionally. We never saw them roll their eyes as they came to the front door; we never heard them complain that our flowers normally came out of each other’s front yards!
How do we love genuinely, even when feelings of love aren’t present?
Elsewhere in Scripture we’re reminded that love is a fruit of the Spirit – it’s a byproduct of right relationship with God.
In fact, Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. Love toward God enables genuine love toward others, and kills off our natural tendency to let love for ourselves corrupt relationships.
Happily, God has taken the first step in this relationship: “This is real love,” says 1 John 4:10, “ not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”
This weekend, as much of the world celebrates love – let’s celebrate the genuine love of God toward people like us who are so often unlovely. Let’s receive and hang on to the greatest expression of God’s love – Jesus Christ.
And then let’s ask for grace to truly love others.
Steve Massey is pastor of Hayden Bible Church (www.haydenbible.org). He can be reached at (208) 772-2511 or email@example.com.
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