If You Were Loved “Even When,” You Are Loved Even Now

 “It’s pretty bad when you cancel on your housekeeper because your house is in such disarray that it doesn’t deserve cleaning.”

That gem of a status update from a lovely high school friend showed up on my Facebook newsfeed a few months ago. Before you peg me as a creepy Facebook stalker who keeps a personal log of every interesting post that she sees, let me explain why this one still stands out in my mind.

First, I had a housekeeper once so I can relate. Kathy came every other week for a couple of years – wonderful, glorious years! The night before her scheduled arrival my husband would stand in utter disbelief as I stormed through the house making sure it was clean enough to be cleaned the next day.

Greg: Don’t we have a housekeeper?

Me: [spoken in a somewhat sassy tone as I am wiping down the toilet] Um, yeah.

Greg: Don’t we pay her to do that?

Me: Yes, but I don’t want her to think we’re a bunch of disgusting pigs!

Greg: That makes no sense at all.

Me: It’s called a “pre-cleaning cleaning.” Everyone who has a housekeeper does it. I can’t believe you don’t know this.

[Cue husband eye roll now.]

The second reason this Facebook post is etched in my mind is because it clearly communicates how I sometimes feel in my relationship with God. I have a really solid grasp of the gospel. I understand the oh-so-precious concepts of redemption, justification, propitiation, grace, and God’s unconditional forgiveness. But there are still times when I struggle to take them personally – times when I feel like my life is in such disarray that I don’t deserve God’s presence, His grace, or His cleansing. Sometimes when  I stand back and look at myself all I see is a lazy, fearful,  uncreative, underwhelmed, irritable, emotionally unstable woman who has utterly failed to live up to the expectations of every single person she loves, especially God. Here’s how things often look from my perspective: As a wife, I’m not exciting enough, as a mommy I’m not engaged or patient enough, as a homemaker I’m not efficient enough, as a friend I’m not invested enough, as a church member I’m not involved enough, as a Bible teacher I’m not prepared enough, as a Christ-follower I’m not in the Word enough, as a witness I’m not bold enough . . .

Whether real or perceived, it doesn’t take much for these “not enoughs” to morph into “not wanted”, “not worthy,”  “not useful,” and even “not loved”  – four things a blood-bought child of God can never be. Left to itself, this heart of mine will actually begin to believe it. The result?  Instead of running to Jesus and His fountain of all-sufficient grace, I switch into self-help mode, try really really hard to do better, and then beat myself up when my self-improvement project inevitably fails.  Instead of welcoming God’s redemptive activity in my life, I stubbornly continue to resist His help and cleansing until I start to feel I’ve earned it. Days, weeks, and maybe even months go by without any meaningful interaction with the Lord. Sadly, my resistance doesn’t make me feel any cleaner, just dryer . . . and more ashamed.

Here’s why: I may be able to pre-clean my house before my housekeeper, but I can’t pre-clean myself before Holy God.  (see Is. 64:6, Rom. 3:20)

Here’s the good news: I DON’T NEED TO!

Ephesians 2: 4 and 5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, EVEN WHEN we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (also see Rom. 5:6-11 and Col. 2:13, 14; emphasis added)

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Every single word of those verses is worth “marinating” in, but the two words I want to focus on are “even when.”

Even when you were dead in sin . . . He loved you.

Even when you were His enemy . . .  He purposed to save you.

Even when the only god you worshiped was yourself . . . He desired to make you a vessel of HIS glory.

If He loved us even when we were dead, rebellious, idolatrous sinners then it stands to reason that He loves us even when we are lazy, irritable, disengaged moms . . . even when we are moody, selfish, entitled wives . . . even when we are weak, half-hearted, undisciplined Christ-followers . . . even when_________________________ (fill in the blank with your most recent failure).

Knowing that God loved us “even when” does not free us to keep on sinning (see Romans 6). We can’t stay moody, selfish, entitled wives! Rather, it frees us to swing the doors of our sin-soaked hearts wide open to the cleansing, renewing, restoring presence of God. It frees us to take all of our “not enoughs” to the one and only place where they cannot bind us in shackles of shame – the cross of Jesus Christ. It frees us to face our failures with the confidence that not a single one of them has the power to undo what God has already done for us by grace alone.

Your life is never too messy, your heart is never too dirty, your hands are never too lazy, your steps are never too clumsy, and your emotions are never too crazy for a God who loved you even when” to love you even now.

No “pre-cleaning cleaning” required. Ever.

 

 

 

Where to “Marinate” When Your Marriage Gets Messy

I’ve read a lot of marriage books. I’ve been to a lot of marriage seminars. I’ve heard a lot of sermons about marriage.

I know how important it is to understand and seek to meet the needs of my husband. I am well aware of his love language and try to be intentional about “speaking” it (though I probably fail more times than I succeed). I try hard to make our home a refuge for him, be an encourager to him, and hit up Victoria’s Secret from time to time. I cook. I clean. I pay bills. I make sure our three year old doesn’t kill himself (among many other motherly duties). I calendar regular date nights. I work out, take care of myself, and try not to wear my comfy pajamas ALL the time (at least not any with holes or that I purchased last decade).

All that stuff is important. It really is.

But the longer I am married, the more convinced I am that a great marriage has a lot less to do with meeting needs and a lot more to do with forgiving faults; it has a lot less to do with filling love tanks and a lot more to do with emptying myself of pride.

When my marriage is struggling; when I am caught in the comparison game (“if only my marriage were more like so-and-so’s”); when my husband and I are like two ships passing in the night; when I’m flat-out ticked off that MY love language isn’t being spoken . . .

When I’m hurt; when I’m misunderstood; when I have no desire whatsoever to apologize or to overlook an offense; when  I’m tempted to turn into the “ice queen” and shut him out until he’s ready to “get with the program” (the program = whatever makes me happy) . . .

When the pressure cooker of busy schedules and sheer exhaustion produces an eruption of unchecked, unbridled emotion and things get really ugly . . .

When the plank in my own eye is all but lost on my pride-impaired vision and my own self-righteousness blinds me to how amazing my husband actually is . . .

There is one place I always go.

One passage of Scripture I always turn to.

One parable that never ceases to place the messy parts of my marriage – and my heart – at the foot of the cross and remind me that nothing, and I mean NOTHING my husband ever does (perceived or actual) even comes close to the horrifying mountain of offenses from which I have been graciously pardoned.

It’s the parable of the unforgiving servant recorded in Matthew 18:21-35. Here are a few facts you should know before you dive in:

  • Ten thousand talents (v. 24) = about 20 years wages for a common laborer
  • A hundred denarii  (v.28) = 100 days wages for a common laborer (pocket change in comparison to ten thousand talents)
  • The extreme difference is intentional!

21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 “When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, “Pay back what you owe.’ 29 “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

This parable does for my marriage what no love language, lingerie, late night talk, or lavish date night can do. It confronts me with the one thing that has the power to transform my selfish heart. It confronts me with the gospel.

It turns whatever arrows I am pointing at my husband back on me.  It suffocates my self-righteousness and revives my desire to show grace . . .

. . . to forgive.

. . . to have mercy.

. . . to love.

. . . to really, truly love . . . as Christ loved me.

And, yes, I believe it can do the same thing for you.

So, when your husband doesn’t come home in time for dinner (again), when he prioritizes work over family, when he says something really stupid, when he makes a foolish purchase, when he comes home after having a few too many beers, when he “forgets” to help around the house or with the kids, when his hobby becomes way too important, when you catch him looking at porn, when he falls way short of your expectations . . .

Whenever he fails, however he fails, whatever he fails at doing . . .

Dare to linger in Matthew 18:21-35.

Dare to compare his offenses with the massive debt you’ve been forgiven.

Dare to compare your attitude toward him with the attitude of Jesus toward you.

Dare to allow God’s Word to be a full-length mirror . . . and look. Really, really look at what it reflects back to you.

Expose your heart – and your marriage – to gospel realities and refuse to walk away unchanged.

Don’t ignore what needs to be addressed. Don’t sweep sin under the rug. Don’t be naïve to the importance of confronting marriage problems head on.

But whatever you do, do it as a woman who’s been forgiven ten thousand talents.

When you don’t feel like it, when he doesn’t deserve it, and when you know it’s not going to make a whole lot of difference in the short run, choose hear your Savior say: “Should you not also have mercy on your [husband], in the same way that I had mercy on you?”

Then, choose grace.

Choose to forgive “just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

 

 

 

 

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