“Mrs. McCready?” the young boy inquired as we passed each other in the school hallway one day. “Yes?” I replied. “I lo-o-ve you!” he sang as he threw out his arms wide.
So simple. So unaffected. So genuine. And such a blessing to me that day and any day this boy simply expresses affection for me or any other fellow human being with whom he crosses paths.
You can’t get more real than the love of a child. So…what happens to children as they get older? How do they lose this sense of genuine openness to others? They grow up. They grow out of this childlike simplicity and trusting love for others.
Of course we want them to grow up, but loving others truly and unaffectedly is something we should never outgrow, especially as believers.
We’re more likely, however, to be really good at faking it in front of others the older we get—our emotions, our thoughts and our actions. We can say the words “I love you” and even express it with gifts or inquiries of supposed concern when deep down we have other motives. Or we get really good at making excuses for our cutting remarks and sarcastic barbs by claiming we have had a stressful day or that we were only teasing.
Further, the very people we throw those nasty words at are the ones we turn around and hug later, expecting that all will be forgiven and our expressions of love received without question.
We’re all familiar with virtual reality, but our love is too often a virtual love. The online etymological dictionary defines virtual as “being something in essence or effect, though not actually in fact.” Our love as Christians should never be like that.
A sharp, pointed text has been darting through my mind lately that cuts through all this essence of love into the real thing. It says, “Let love be without hypocrisy” (Romans 12:9).
That is a convicting command. We do a really good job of wearing masks in the church. They are carefully fashioned to assure others that we have our lives all together. We like to be seen as the ones who have it all put together and are always able to offer help to others in the church with problems. It is our job after all, as ministers of the gospel, isn’t it?
We’ve become so busy convincing ourselves that we’re fine and it’s the people around us that need help, that our spiritual pride takes over and care and concern looks and feels more like judgment and condemnation.
That’s when I am in danger of faking love. Underneath all those supposed expressions of love, my motives are really to make myself look and feel good. I begin to think I’m fine without the need for friendship, love, and help from others, so I just keep on giving out, “loving” others. That’s what God has called me to, right?
Right. But it must be right in actual fact, not just in essence or effect. The only way I can know that is to get on my knees before God and really seek Him. I need to pray.
I need to ask God to test my motives constantly, to take time to make every thought captive to Him, to preach the gospel to myself every day to remind me of my need of Him so that pride doesn’t creep in and I begin to wear that super-spiritual mask of virtual love instead of real love.
We dare not forget the depth of our own corruption and need for God’s grace to resurrect us. I love how Dane Ortlund put this in his book “Gentle and Lowly”:
“…we can vent our fleshly passions by breaking all the rules, or we can vent our fleshly passions by keeping all the rules, but both ways of venting the flesh still need resurrection. We can be immoral dead people, or we can be moral dead people. Either way, we’re dead” (p.p. 176-77).
Being in the church, working in the church, interacting with people in the church, we are often dangerously close to totally missing the truth that we preach because we are so busy keeping all the rules but underneath we are ruled by our flesh. If we are not on our knees in our hearts, continually having an attitude of prayer before God we can’t maintain real love. We will really be dead people walking around “loving” others instead of being ones who have been resurrected to the life to which we have been called.
In fact, our love will be as nothing, according to I Corinthians 13 (see v.v. 1-3).
As pastors and wives, we often navigate relationships that are supposedly based on love and turn out to be hypocritical and fake. We bear the hurts and scars of those virtual loves. What can we do? We need to heal from our hurts surely, but, ultimately, we can’t stop others from loving us hypocritically. We can only do something about how we love others.
We can maintain real love for others for God’s glory when we pray and pray and pray some more. It’s the only way to melt away the mask and live in a true Christian community.
So…get on your knees. Test your heart. See if you can open your arms wide and say to the Lord and His people: “I lo-o-ve you!”
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