Okay, I admit it… I’m guilty of selfish love. I’ve demonstrated love at times for all the wrong reasons. I’ve done nice things at times, just to hear a thank you or an ‘atta girl’.
Case in point: One day, when I was young, I cut a neighbor’s carefully manicured tulips which lined her front sidewalk, then I carefully arranged them in my small hands to form a bouquet. I marched proudly to her front door. Upon ringing her doorbell, the nice woman greeted me with an oh-so-welcoming smile, and I very sweetly offered the flowers to her FOR A PRICE so that she could buy them for her bed- ridden mother. I mean, who wouldn’t be impressed with a kid who was thoughtful enough to offer a sale that would have put a smile on an invalid’s face? Right? (If my sister is reading this, she’ll verify this story is true.) So, why am I telling you this? To show you the lengths I’d go to in order for the neighbor to think I was a thoughtful individual. Well… last I remember, I believe that would be called manipulation. You know, “I’ll do this, if you’ll do that. I’ll bring you these flowers so that you’ll have the opportunity to fawn over me. (The fawning worked, although she didn’t give me any money.)
Sadly, as an adult, I’ve become more sophisticated using similar tactics. I’m ashamed to say that too often I seemingly love, or do acts of kindness, with the same kind of payoff in mind. “I’ll fix this meal so that you can appreciate me… I’ll volunteer for that job so that you’ll recognize my hard work… I’ll go visit someone in the hospital so that people will see that I care. ” You get the idea? Unfortunately, this is manipulation in the form of kindness. It isn’t necessarily a conscious decision that I make. In fact, more often than not, I don’t even realize that my heart is wrong until I experience a failure to get what I want.
So, how about you? When you took that meal to a family in the neighborhood, what if they hadn’t so much as said thank you? What do you suppose you’d be thinking if that would have occurred?….When you let that person in heavy traffic merge in front of you, and they didn’t so much as give you a wave of gratitude, what do you think you were saying to yourself?…. How about your thoughts when one of your children, or a spouse, or a friend doesn’t show any appreciation for your sacrifice? (“This is how you treat me after all I do for you?!”)
These insights aren’t meant to condemn you in any way. They are, however, windows into your heart that warrant a peek, because what I hope you’ll see is that love is NOT a “so that”. You’d fail miserably in loving, if your motive would be to get something back. Face it, you have no control over others’ responses. Try as you might, the individual who is the object of your loving efforts may not respond in kind. So, when your motive in loving is to get something back, you set yourself up for failure and frustration. And who needs that?!
Now, let’s take a look at love that isn’t manipulation. Let’s look at Jesus. His love for us was sacrificial. He stood to gain only rejection, pain, and judgment. 1st John 4:19 says,
“We love BECAUSE he first loved us.” Notice the word “because”…. His love wasn’t a “so that.” He didn’t go to the cross SO THAT he’d get something back from us. In fact, quite the opposite. All but John, the disciple, and a few women “got out of Dodge” before the crucifixion because they were afraid for their lives. (For those of you who are younglings, Dodge City was a town in the old TV series ‘Gunsmoke’ where the cowboys did NOT want to be. If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, then ask someone who is older than the Starbuck’s franchise.)
So, based on the above, we have 2 motives which can move us toward love:
Motive # 1:
“I’ll love you SO THAT I can feel good about myself. ” This choice is self- focused, and out of our control. It is manipulative, and is driven by our desire to get recognition (meaning we’ll continue to try and love if we keep getting an acceptable response). This will definitely set us up for failure because we can’t make someone else love us. It’s motivated out of the need for appreciation, reward, and recognition. (Remember my flowers for the neighbor story at the beginning?) It’s a getting kind of love.
“BECAUSE Jesus has loved me, I’ll choose to love you. ” This is an initiating love. It’s motivated out of the realization that Jesus died a death we deserved. We’re not doing it for the warm fuzzies; we’re doing it because we have a thankful heart. It CAN’T fail because we don’t do it for a result; we do it because we’re grateful to Jesus for His initiating love. So, whatever the response of the other person we’re trying to serve, it doesn’t change the motive. (Action looks very different in abusive situations. I’ll touch on this in the future. It’s still a giving kind of love, though, in that you consider what is in the best interest of the abuser which may necessitate some radical action.)
Consequently, the giving kind of love from us can only be possible unless we have come to realize the fact that the cross has already given us all the reward we need…. love and forgiveness which has wrapped us securely to establish our value, purpose, and identity.
Now, we will fail quite often to love unselfishly, but our turn-around-time can come more quickly and more often. We need the Holy Spirit to continue to remind us of what is true, regardless as to how it feels.
So, I’m challenging you to become more aware of why you do what you do. The bad news is that we’ll never love perfectly because we’re broken. We can, however, become more mindful of what needs to change. The good news, is that BECAUSE God loves us in Christ, even though we’re imperfect, He knows that our hearts longingly desire to be more like Him…. not perfect, but perfected.