Love God. Sounds easy enough, especially given the careless way these days the word is tossed out. You know what I’m talking about: “I just love those shoes!” “I’m loving this weather!” “She’s so easy to love, she’s so adorable!” or, “Love ya, girlfriend!”
Of course, anyone in any sort of meaningful relationship; marriage or partnership; parents (or step-parents) or grandparents; siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins; friends, neighbors and church family; knows that love is not simple. It requires the opposite of careless. It can require more, sometimes, than we think we are capable of giving, perhaps even more than we really are capable of giving.
For me, loving God is what I must do in order to be able to truly love others. Loving God has to come first, because it’s the power I receive from that loving relationship that gives me the strength I need to love others in my daily life.
So what does loving God entail?
I tend to think of my relationship with God in terms of a parental relationship; for example, what, as a child, was required of me in my relationship with my mother and father (or other parental figures or people in authority such as teachers). And, like my interactions with these individuals has, my relationship with God evolves over time; deepens and matures with knowledge and understanding.
When I was nine or ten, a friend and I tampered with the US mail. A neighbor was out of town for several weeks and my friend’s mom was responsible for picking their mail up and putting it into their house. One day, she sent my friend to do it, and I tagged along. Full of the logic of a young girl, my friend said, “Let’s open it up, maybe there is a love letter in here somewhere!” So, right then and there, standing at their mailbox, she tore into the three or four envelopes she was holding, only to discover there was nothing juicy whatsoever; only a bunch of bills. Sighing, she said, “Oh well!” and thrust the opened mail at me and darted off, leaving me standing there with my mouth open and the evidence of our wrong doing lying limply in my hands. Feeling helpless and certain that this was not a good situation to be in, I decided to throw the mail into the storm drain. Afterwards, I rushed off after my friend, hoping we’d not be found out. For the next three weeks, this deed hung over my life and I worried and fretted that I was going to get into big trouble. Of course, this is what eventually happened. The neighbor received late notices for bills they had never received. They asked my friend’s mom if she’d perhaps mislaid some of their mail. She became suspicious and asked my friend who immediately sang like a canary. My parents were informed of my role in the mess and, yes, I got into big trouble. In addition to a (rare) spanking, I was required to go over to the neighbor and apologize. My parents also decided that I would be grounded for three weeks; and by grounded, this meant that, other than for meals, going to school, and the necessary bathroom runs, I was to stay in my bedroom. For. Three. Weeks. And my friend? She was not allowed to go outside to play for one day.
As unfair as that may seem, I wasn’t really that upset about my punishment. Although I had not actually been the one to open the mail, I had not done the right thing with the evidence. What I should have done was go directly to my mom and tell her what happened. Peer pressure, of course, kept me from doing the right thing; I didn’t want my friend to think I was a baby. Actually, I was relieved that the other shoe had finally dropped and I could sleep without waking up in the middle of the night worrying or look at my mother again without feeling terribly guilty. Although my three weeks in confinement may have seemed harsh to others, I vaguely recognized then (and certainly know now some 40 years later) that my mom and dad didn’t sentence me without long and deliberating thought and conversation. They wanted me to learn from this experience so that I would think twice before doing something so foolish again to be sure, but also to remember that I must always go to them in times of trouble and uncertainty. Truthfully, I believe they were more concerned that I carried that heavy load of guilt for three weeks than they were by what I’d done (or been an accomplice to, at any rate). This experience taught me a lot about respect; respect for others, respect for authority, and respect for myself.
When I think about my relationship with God, I am reminded of that episode in my life, and the connection of “love” and “respect”; especially to those in authority. And who else has the ultimate authority over my life but God? Loving God means respecting God, and respecting God means offering my presence, trusting Him as I release my burdens and wrongdoings, seeking forgiveness and guidance, and following His instructions; trusting that He has the best intentions for me; that He has my back.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all of your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13