Would you rather get rid of the symptoms or find the true source of the pain?
Charles grew up in the mid-1800s, a time when authoritarian parenting was expected and respected. His father cared deeply for his family and took the raising of responsible children very seriously. Any form of foolishness would not be tolerated. Charles’ younger brother, James, had a habit of being clumsy–the kind of behavior that often results in broken dishes, torn clothing, or chores left undone. After several attempts to correct the boy’s behavior, his father presented an ultimatum: after any such event, James could expect to receive a lashing.
The plan worked.
Or did it?
Years later, the father was proudly recounting his successful correction of the younger son’s clumsiness. He recalled that after having laid down the ultimatum, James never fell again. His older brother, Charles, now an adult, felt the freedom to finally correct his father’s misconception. “Father,” he said, “Actually, James never stopped falling down, but I always managed to wash his knees, and to brush his clothes, so as to remove all traces of his falls” *[Spurgeon, The Early Years, 24]. Later, it was discovered that James was not so irresponsible after all. He had a real medical condition that caused his ankles to function improperly.
You and I may think we have solved a problem when we manage to make the symptoms go away. But perhaps the issue is not so cut and dried. Leveraging ultimatums often drives the problem into hiding where shame spreads like a field of thistles in the deeper places of the soul.
Loving relationships value the content of the heart more than keeping up appearances. “What will people think?” is replaced with “What do you think?” “Now look what you’ve done!” is replaced with “Please tell me how you are doing”. Loving relationships create places of safety and acceptance where failure creates opportunities to give and receive grace.
We love more fully when we love others both places of greatness and not-so-greatness.
This is the way Jesus loves. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16).
What a relief! God loves me according to His grace not according to the measure of my performance.
How does this translate on the relational level? I am discovering that I can only give to others only what I have first received from the God the Father, through His Son, Jesus. “In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
He washes my knees, brushes off my clothes, and removes the traces of my falls. I love the best as I learn from the Best.
“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2
*C.H. Spurgeon Autobiography: The Early Years: 1834-1859