Love Actually

True confessions. There have been moments when I have sat in church with an unsettled heart filled with anguish, hurt, bitterness, and maybe even a little bit of the “h” word. To be honest, a heart filled with this type of ick can be consuming and poisonous to the soul. As the ick lingered within, conviction swooped in through the words of the pastor preaching about forgiveness. Dear God, how did you know to preach this to my heart today? Conversation and questions evoked from this particular sermon, “How does one forgive? How can one forgive betrayal? What does forgiveness look like? I want to do the right thing, but please help me navigate through forgiveness when that’s all can do is harbor these feelings that come with the aftermath of heartache and hurt.”  I wish I had the magic answer to help not only myself but others navigate through the path of forgiveness.  The only solution that has managed to help my own heart is to purge the “hate,” releasing and surrendering what I cannot control through prayer.  And repeat until peace trumps the anguish that has settled within.  Romans 12:9 – 19 has often helped to free myself from the bitterness, hurt and even hatred:

Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

 “Let those around you, even those who have hurt you, see Jesus through you and your actions,” were powerful words once spoken that shook me to the core.  Love with abandon. Love without fear. Love without judgement.  

“Love means giving up-yielding my preferences, comfort, goals, security, money, energy, or time for the benefit of someone else.” – Rick Warren.  

Love has been a word that has crossed my path more than usual lately, and it is the inspiration behind the following messages that have been laid on my heart to share.

Undeserved Love:   The first message came through one of my morning devotions where Jesus is asked why he would choose to eat with sinners and tax collectors.

Mark 2:15-17   While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Think about that for a minute. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Jesus’s life on earth was spent helping those who were in need, not only from physical ailments, but those who also needed acceptance and love. How many people need to experience love and acceptance? What if you or I could truly be the hands and feet of Jesus, offering people a chance to live a life of freedom – free from shame, condemnation, and bondage from their sins and wrongdoings by showing them love through our words and actions?

Sacrificial Love:  Another moment came recently while watching the Passion of the Christ. I watched the Passion years ago before I had a true understanding of Christ’s journey and suffering. This year I was committed to re-watching it through a different lens.   I will admit it was difficult to watch, yet convicting in so many ways. The entire time Jesus was whipped, beaten, kicked, and mocked, He knew what lie ahead-the suffering that would lead to death. Jesus’s death on the cross would be the ultimate sacrifice for sin, making a personal relationship with God available to us.  As I watched him suffer, I wept knowing He did this for me, for you, for all who believe in Him.  The people He loved not only betrayed him but denied that they ever knew Him. And yet, Jesus didn’t curse their name, He didn’t hold a grudge, or get upset. As He stretched out on the cross, nails pounded in His hands and feet, and His body marked for death, He prayed for those who persecuted Him, crying out to God, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they have done.”  Oh my heart, can I offer the same level of forgiveness and love to others that Jesus displayed here on the cross?  Everyday I have a choice to harbor the ick or with the help of God’s Spirit, I can love and pray for those who have done me harm.

Wounded Love:  My final point is told through the recent heartache of a woman named Lydia. Lydia has loved the same man for almost her entire life. Sadly, her and her husband parted ways after decades of being together in what so many thought was an infinite bond. Her heart still aches and longs for the only man she has always loved. His heart, however, has fallen in love with someone else. What complicates things is that the life Lydia and her husband built includes grown children and grandchildren-a family they shaped, knit together with unconditional love. What was once a close knit family is now trying to pick up the pieces, doing their best to navigate through this new family-dynamic.

I recently paid a visit to Lydia and what surprised me was the welcoming of her now ex-husband into her new home. Against the advice of some friends and family, Lydia welcomed him in for the holiday. She had a place for him at the table and gave him an opportunity to be with the entire family. Her loving, giving, gracious part of her heart bypassed the bitterness and pain she still harbors. Lydia, in her humbleness, attributed her welcomed invitation to being “emotionally weak.”  What she doesn’t understand is the love and sacrifice I witnessed that day despite the hurt that shown in her eyes. Thank you Lydia for showing me the love of Jesus through your actions.  

Final Thoughts:  From the written words of Steven Furtick in his new book Unqualified, “Look at every human soul Jesus encountered, from the disciples he handpicked to the sinners he ate dinner with, to the thief he forgave on the cross. Jesus saw the best in people at their worst. He met them in their messes, in their realities, in their most desperate moments. He loved them and believed in them when there was nothing lovable or admirable about them.”

Love, actually.   “This is my command:  Love each other.” – John 15:17

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2 thoughts on “Love Actually

  1. I loved reading this essay. I’m having a bit of a crisis of faith lately. I’ve not been to church regularly and I need to go and be in that atmosphere and listen.

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  2. Steph, a very thought provoking piece of writing. It is always so insightful how you express your spiritual encounters. Coming from all you have been through and the full circle of being so angry and now being able to see through your clear, focused eyes is a true gift from God, for us.
    I found the questions you raised in the beginning so interesting. The questions about being in church that I believe are in all of us who sit there pondering on life. We all ask those things in many different ways about different individuals and situations in mind.
    Yes, it is fascinating when the message seems to be directed right at you. That has happened to me.
    Keep your thoughts and observations coming Steph. You have a true gift of writing, being able to touch people and express what many have in their hearts. Thank you, and God bless you and your family.

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