My friend to her son: “Hey buddy, I’m so proud of you this morning! You’re being super sweet to your little brother. Thank you for being so kind and helpful!”
His three-year-old answer: “I’m going to try really hard to be super kind today so I don’t get punished!”
A young mom I love texted me this exchange, reporting that, given her firstborn’s self-serving answer, she’s questioning her parenting skills. I responded with all sorts of words about his little mind only viewing the world in concrete terms at his age, and that I’m proud of him for at least picking the pros (kindness) and not the cons (punishment)! I reminded her that as he grows he’ll understand and respond to more nuanced decision-drivers, and his kind choices will then (hopefully!) be governed by thoughts like:
- “I want to treat my siblings with love because I’m loved by God with love overflowing.”
- “Even if evil is returned by the person I’m being kind to, this is the right thing to do and honors God, and so I choose to be kind.”
But then, all my answers convicted me. I realized:
- I might treat others with love because God loves me with waterfalls of mercy.
- And I might choose in a proactive sort of way to be kind in the face of unkindness.
- I might even specifically do so because God’s Spirit has convicted me and I want to honor God, no matter the other person’s response.
- And because I’m being sanctified, I actually do choose kindness for reasons other than merely wanting to avoid discipline if caught in an offense.
But. Some days there’s such a fight within.
Some days I feel anger if the person doesn’t respond with gratitude: I’m disappointed and hurt if I try hard to treat others well and receive “punishment” in return. I still demand kindness and good in return for my kindness and good. Some days I act like a three year old.
I imagine you might, too.
We’re decades older than her son, but sometimes, for me, a beneath-the-surface skirmish begins: If I don’t receive a thank you for my kindness toward you, I’m angry. I might outwardly appear gracious, but God sees my heart. He knows I’m full of pride, offended that I wasn’t treated better. And that’s why I need Jesus so desperately.
A blanket of love
His love covers a multitude of sins. My sins. Like a blanket laid over my offense. He chose, because of the great love He had for me, to die for me and merit the forever-final forgiveness of my every sin.
And I can now follow His example. Because of His powerful love, I can choose patience and kindness toward others, even when I believe I’m the offended party. When I read of Jesus’ response, my spirit within me yearns to be the same:
But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (I Peter 2:20-23)
Because I didn’t deserve it, but was first loved by Jesus, I can love those who don’t reciprocate in the manner I believe I deserve. I can lay a blanket of love over the other person’s sins:
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:8)
I wrap a warm, cozy blanket (in my mind) around the shoulders of the person I’m angry at. The blanket is called “love” and “forgiveness” and “forbearance.” I give the grace I’ve been given.
I ask God, as I stand fighting the inward simmering anger I feel at the “offender” in front of me, to convict me. I repent that I see only the “multitude” of sins committed against me and fail to see or acknowledge my own against the other person, and my sin against God Himself. I ask Him to make this true of me:
I can love because He first loved me (I John 4: 7-21).
And when God helps me follow in Jesus’ steps in this way, I actually experience great joy as I cover the offense I believe has been committed against me. On days when my first reaction is to respond like a self-serving pre-schooler, I can choose differently.
I can instead cover those around me with pride-slaying, offense-forgiving blankets of love.
Related: 45 in the rear-view mirror