Apr 23, 2014

Loving Imperfect People

Mornings like this see me staggering into the kitchen in search of a large cup of coffee. And I don't even drink coffee. Up all night with my teething baby and then awake at 5 a.m. with my energetic toddler has me running low on energy and even lower on grace. On days like this, it's all I can do to get my husband off to work, take care of the kids, and try to do at least a little housework. I'm exhausted. And all I want to do is crawl back into bed.

I don't feel like calling that friend who had a rough week and needs a word of encouragement, because how can I encourage when I feel completely drained and have nothing left to give? I don't want to walk across the street to invite our lonely neighbor over for a cup of tea, because that would require cleaning the house first, and I just don't have the energy. I try to ignore the tiny voice in my head telling me that I really should send a message to that new mom to offer to watch her baby so she can take a shower and sleep for a couple hours, or take her out for coffee so she can have some adult conversation for a change. It's been a rough year of one-sided friendships and trying to serve without receiving anything in return and feeling so exhausted that even the thought of trying to make one new friend leaves me in a cold sweat. Surely God wouldn't ask me to keep giving of myself during these months when I'm too exhausted to even remember to put on deodorant in the morning!

All around me, I see other moms with smiles on their faces and circles under their eyes. And I recognize the weight of the world on their shoulders because I feel it, too. We have this ideal of what a perfect mom looks like. You know, the one with the spotless house and supermodel abs even after five children, the one who buys all organic food and has a romantic weekend get-away with her husband once a month, teaches her children to read by the time they're three, and goes on a missions trip to China, where she adopts two more children and starts a fund to help a orphanage in Uganda. We feel threatened by her – and she doesn't even exist. 

Let's just be honest with each other for a minute and face the brutal truth: we are not perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect mom. Or a perfect wife. Or a perfect friend. Our tummies will always droop a little over the top of our jeans. And sometimes we leave the house without brushing our teeth because the kids slept in late and running the water in the sink would have woken them up too early. It's okay to admit that some days all you want is to have fifteen minutes to pee by yourself without your toddler peering between your legs and asking if you're going to poop so you can have a cookie.

Because some days are harder than others and we're still trying to figure out how to wear all of the hats that make us who we are as a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter, a friend... the list goes on. And there are days when friendships are lost and hearts are bruised and we feel like we're losing ourselves from giving so much and not getting back. These early years are rough, and it's tempting to use that as an excuse to take a break from the rest of life. To hide ourselves away because loving others is messy and not everyone will love us back, and chances are, there will be more bad days than good.

But then we read about when Jesus went to rest to get away from it all and ended up feeding five THOUSAND people who were hungry for more. And He didn't turn them away. He never said He was too tired. He was carrying the heaviest weight known to man and yet He never used it as an excuse to stop giving. Even in the desert after fasting for forty days, when it would have been so easy to speak a word and turn the stone to bread. Even at the cross, when it would have been so tempting to save Himself and end the agony and suffering. But He didn't.

So how can we?

How can we keep giving and opening our hearts and trusting when people aren't perfect and there's no guarantee that any of this is worth it? How can we love and forget our selves and be content in a world we know is not our home? How can we muster the strength to serve when there are days when we can barely crawl out of bed in the mornings?

We do it because that's what we signed up for when we said “Yes, Lord.” We do it because He chose us first before we ever knew Him. We do it because ours is the God of Redemption and He can redeem even the hardest days and bring something beautiful from the ashes of our mistakes. We do it because Jesus never turned us away and never stopped loving us even when we betrayed Him and nailed Him to a cross. We do it because He cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” and kept on giving and forgiving right until the very end when His own Father had to turn away and He was utterly alone. And yet still He chose to love us.

In the face of such truth, how can we not give every ounce of our being to show that kind of selfless love to everyone we see? How can we stop giving of ourselves when He gave EVERYTHING to save us and to give us hope?

We can't.

And it's hard.

On His last night, Jesus' first request of His disciples was, “that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) If it was important enough to repeat three times in two sentences, it's important enough to live out.

Jesus knew that imperfect people love imperfectly. And so He interceded on our behalf that last night. Always thinking of us. “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23)

So what would happen if we stopped comparing and started loving? If we started seeing ourselves and others through His eyes? Started spreading grace instead of hate? Started forgetting offenses and choosing to see the good in others?

What would happen if we gave of ourselves with no thought of return? If we truly loved each other as much as we love ourselves? If we opened our hearts and allowed others in, to go deeper than our comfort levels allow?

Living with an open heart is not easy. It's hard and there will be days when our hearts will ache and we'll wonder if all this is worth the pain.

But living with an open heart is also pure joy. Because we if we can reach even a few people in our lifetime, it IS worth it. If we can be courageous and allow ourselves to love others as He first loved us, how great our reward will be!

This doesn't mean that God wants us to be that perfect mom who doesn't exist. It just means we have to wake up every day and look for opportunities to extend grace and love to those around us, whether it's to our children, our husbands, our friends, or someone we just met at the grocery store. We are imperfect people who will never be able to love perfectly, but we have to try. And when we fail, which we all will, He'll be there to redeem the broken pieces and help us try again.

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