My last post got me thinking about love. (Too bad Valentine’s Day was last month. But this is very me, you know, to be a little behind.) Specifically, it got me thinking about a mother’s love.
Yes, perfect love is all the things the Bible says it is – patient and kind, not self-seeking or easily angered. Perfect love does not envy or boast and is not proud. Perfect love keeps no record of wrongs. Yes, it is all those things. Yes, this is my model for love. (Yes, I fail at this love. Often.)
As I wrote last time, a mother’s love is also a sacrificial love. We make sacrifice upon sacrifice for our children, giving and giving and giving – because we love. But a mother’s love is not only sacrificial. It’s also unearned.
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
Christ’s love is particularly powerful because He loved us first, before we knew him, before we loved him, before we could do anything to earn or deserve or win over or merit his love.
I have loved my children before they could love back, and even despite their total inability to love. I loved them before they could do anything to earn or deserve or merit my love, and they won over my heart before they could talk or even control their bowel movements – let alone actually do something for me that might make me love them.
In fact, on paper babies are even a little bit unlovable – they change our entire lives, deplete us of time and energy and relationships-as-we-knew-them and are so entirely demanding when first born that if they weren’t so darn cute I’m pretty sure our species would have become extinct centuries ago.
And yet – we love them. We give our lives to them.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Jesus loves us through what he did for us. He loved us before we knew him by doing something huge for us. He went to the cross – for us.
Mothers also love through doing. Especially when our children are still babies. We change a thousand dirty diapers and wipe spit-up and snotty noses and dribbling food and give careful baths and warm milk. We clean healing belly buttons and little bottoms, apply lotion to cracked skin and hold heads and hands while toddlers are sick with the flu. We blend baby food and bake sweet potatoes and make meal after meal while sometimes only eating leftover hotdog and PBJ for our own lunches and dinners. We love by doing.
A mother’s love is sacrificial and a mother’s love is unearned. A mother loves by doing, but also, sometimes, by not doing.
Sometimes love means not giving your children everything. Sometimes it means making them wait, allowing them to get a little hurt as they try to figure something out on their own.
Sometimes love means withholding things from our children because something better is on the way.
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. (James 1:17)
God always, always wants the best for us. He will always take the wretched, the unimaginable, the ugly, the horribly hurtful and redeem it, turning it into something that will glorify Him. This might not happen in our lifetime, and it might not happen in a way that we can understand, but it will always happen. We are like the kids in the backseat of the car, whining to get out because Mom drove right past McDonald’s and didn’t stop for fries. Of course, Mom didn’t stop for fries because she was driving to Disneyworld for a weeklong family vacation.
Sometimes we can’t understand what God is doing in our lives, but we trust that because He loves us, He wants the best for us. Sometimes our kids don’t understand what we are doing, or how our actions could possibly be loving, but we hope that they learn to trust that because we love them, we want the best for them.
But sometimes love is even more nuanced than forgoing the fries in favor of a family vacation. Sometimes love is admitting weakness.
My grace is sufficient for you, my power made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Those words seem written especially for me. I feel weak, all the time. I feel weak when I fail to hold my tongue and yell at my husband or lash out at my whiny toddler. I feel weak when I’m just too tired of schlepping to take my kids to a playdate, even though I know they’d have fun. I feel weak when a decision I make ends up disappointing someone.
I feel weak when I simply can’t figure out how to pull myself up from the depths of depression or sadness and I feel weak when I am totally overwhelmed by my ordinary life. I feel weak when I can’t control my too-strong emotions or my too-quick tongue.
I feel weak all the time.
And that weakness usually makes me feel inferior, less-than, not good enough.
My grace is sufficient for you, my power made perfect in weakness.
But God says that His grace is enough for me. What He gives is sufficient to cover over my weaknesses and my imperfections, and my own weakness actually allows his own power to be perfect. My weakness can be good.
And it can be good when I admit my weakness to others — to my friends and to my family, to my counselor and to my doctor, to my colleagues and my neighbors and my readers and to my God. And, strangely enough, I can love my children by admitting my weakness, by asking for help, by relying on things outside of myself. I love my children when I hire extra babysitters and give my daughter formula for one feeding every day — both things that earlier in motherhood I thought were “weak.”
God never says my weakness makes me unworthy or not good enough or not able to love well. All He asks is that I come to him in my weakness and rest in his grace. Weakness is not bad. It’s humbling, yes. Humbling and hard. But it’s not bad. And admitting weakness is a way to love well.
A mother’s love is a sacrificial love and an unearned love. It’s a love that loves by doing and a love that loves by not doing. It’s a love that can admit weakness, and call for help, and rely on grace.
For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)