On this post-fall side of heaven, receiving love with open arms can be a challenge. We know about God’s grace and he “so loved the world,” but accepting the full, glorious joy of his love into our heart can seem too hard to hurdle.
When we try to describe giving or receiving love with complete abandon, we often talk about babies: we delight in lavishing love upon them, expecting nothing in return. Wee ones are too small to be “useful” but we don’t mind one bit. We pour the full wonder of our hearts upon them and they revel in it; neither they nor we have any need of “earning” our love or favor.
But something happens. We grow up and learn we better carry our own weight, write thank you notes, repay kindness with kindness. What, at its best, would simply be us learning to let our own gratitude pour back into the world gets a little twisted up and becomes paying back. And we silently learn to keep track.
You give something to me. I thank you. I look for a way to repay. The next lunch? I’ll get it. Mow your lawn? Now we‘re even.
Instead of learning to be loved, we learn to be even.
And when we are old and our bodies start to fail and our money runs thin and we can’t pay for lunch and we can’t mow the lawn, it’s a long journey back to just receiving. To just being lavished upon.
My grandmother is a handful of sunrises away from her 90th birthday. Her body can’t keep up with her still swift-moving ideas and her funds are dwindling faster than her retirement income replenishes.
These “limitations” make it hard for her to feel worthy of love. And hard for her to repay the very kindness she aches for and her family delights to pour out … but that she also can’t help keeping track of.
A month ago, she asked me what book of the Bible talked about old age and dying; I found devotionals written for aging seniors. She asked me to make her a blanket with yarn she never used when she didn’t learn to knit like she planned at age 88; I knit her a cozy lavender throw. She loves, loves, loves her coffee and misses the mountains in winter, so I decided a snowflake coffee cup was just the right surprise.
When I present these goodies, she is overwhelmed with glee, so happy that dolphin noises come out of her: “Eeeeeeeee!” She snuggles the blanket and flips through the books and cradles the mug.
Then it comes: “Oooohhhhh, I have to pay you for these books because I asked you about talking to God. And I just wish I could think of something to get you and I wish I could take you to lunch and I wish I could get out and buy things for you. You do so much for me! This is too much!” And a wave of embarrassment at not “being even” steals just a smidge of the love and fun from her happy heart, even as I express my utter thrill at bringing these gifts and being in her presence for every moment I can.
I cringe a bit, but I am no different. I, too, learned along life’s journey to “keep even.” My response sounds just like hers when God pours out his sweetness and generosity on me, whether through his Spirit or the love of people around me. I revel in the moment until my own version of, “I just wish I could think of something to do for you! You do so much for me! This is too much!” kicks in.
So, together, Grandma and I will practice in the time we have. To this mother-of-my-mother who has kept me awash in love from the moment I was born, when my only impressive acts were breathing and sleeping and demanding everything I wanted by wailing my lungs out, I will now return the same delight, the same patience, the same you-owe-me-nothing-for-my-love. And we will both receive with delight God’s unmatchable love and grace, giving our thanks, and instead of keeping even with him, just look for ways to keep letting it pour out around us.