Life presents us with question after question on our journey. One question that comes up again and again, but is hardly ever asked, is the question of, “Am I loved?” If that’s your question, the answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”
But is that enough? I knew that I was loved, but it wasn’t always by words. I knew that I was loved by the sacrifices my family made for me. I knew that I was loved by the way that they cared for me and supported me. But, in spite of all the evidence in front of me, I still had doubts. You see, I had convinced myself that I was loved because of what I did. That’s a dangerous line of thinking, and it’s not love at all. I watched those around me and also how people responded to me, especially when I made mistakes. Sometimes I convinced myself that I was loved – as long as I didn’t make mistakes.
When I became a parent, I began to love in a way that I had not known before. I had known romantic love and I had known familial love, but becoming a parent was my first encounter with indescribable love. It’s that kind of love that you really can’t explain to someone unless they have experienced it themselves. As a parent you find yourself telling expectant parents things like, “It changes you,” and, “It turns your whole world upside-down.” I believe that, in many ways (but not the only way), it allows people to experience a bit of how God feels toward us. When a parent looks on their child, they see themselves – their image. But they also see hope and possibility when they see their child, they see the best that is yet to come. And the child is loved. You are loved.
One of the greatest challenges that I have faced as a parent is to express love without also reinforcing the thought that my love is conditional. Yes, I want to train you in ways that are good. Yes, I want to correct you and teach you what I have learned. Yes, sometimes I cringe when things don’t go well. But never, in all of those attempts at guidance, does my love change. You are loved.
Why am I telling you this now? Well, quite simply, because I know how Christmas can be interpreted. I never had a Christmas without gifts. I’ve never had a Christmas without family. But, now that I am older, I’ve seen that many children do experience Christmas without gifts and without family. That’s the type of information that’s hard to ignore. It has always been true, but when those children have names and faces and stories, it is impossible to ignore. It’s hard to explain, really, but I don’t know that I have to – you’ve seen it. You have watched those names and faces come and stay in our home. You have learned their stories and – I’ve seen it – you care for them in your own way. Your cousin stays with us now but, as I watch you, I see you interacting with him as a brother. No matter what you do or where you go for the rest of your days, I could not be any more proud of you or love you any more.
I have discovered that the way I show love – my language for giving – is through acts of service. This has been modeled in my parents since day one, and it’s how I could always trust that I was loved. I didn’t always have the best understanding of how to show my love through these gifts. There were times when I thought that acts of service could be used as a way to earn love. That’s a dangerous road, it’s a road with no end. Today I better understand that giving or doing something for someone can be an act of love that doesn’t have a price tag.
Today, as I mentioned, you will face an awkward question or two. Your friends may already be asking you, “Hey, what did you get?” You may try out the answers of, “Nothing yet,” or, “I don’t know.” Listen, I get it. Christmas arrives once a year and I have helped reinforce the idea that you should have gifts wrapped and under the tree when you wake up. I told you that that is not the case this year. You said that it’s fine, and I believe you. I believe you because I know you. You are incredible, and that is what makes my heart both delighted and heavy. You deserve it all and more, as far as I’m concerned. But I don’t have it – not now.
I don’t expect that a new pair of boots or headphones or a hoodie would have brought you lasting happiness. You know that, too. But as a person who gives as a way to show love, this may be harder on me than on you. So I’m giving you this, my words, because it’s far easier for me to write through tears than to leave the words unsaid – you are loved.
There are people who had a meal this week instead of me buying you new cologne. There are people who replaced stolen presents this week instead of you having new boots. The hoodie and the art supplies will have to wait so that we could bless someone who lost their mother. There’s no iTunes gift card in the stocking but we helped someone get to work this week. When we hold these things up in comparison, it almost seems silly. And yet, at the same time, I know that it’s not. You’ll feel a little disappointment and you’ll have some awkward chats with some friends who got an arm full of things they asked for this year. But what I really want you to know is that you will never have to awkwardly answer the question, “Are you loved?” Yes, yes you are.
If you want to know what truly makes my heart swell, it’s watching you use what you have to be able to give and to bless others. That’s so beautiful and such a reflection of why we celebrate this day. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,” and his name is Jesus. I also want you to know, and I believe you will continue to see, that people are worthy of love regardless of how they come into your life. You won’t have to give anything to earn love, and their response toward you will not change their worth.
I’m sitting here next to a lovely dead tree. We decorated it nicely and it looks as if it’s still living – but it’s not. There are so many handmade ornaments from the years of Sunday school and classroom projects. But, whether we leave the tree in here or place it outside, it has been cut off from its roots. Please don’t be like this tree. Don’t pretend to have it all together. Don’t pretend that the shine on you makes a difference. Stay rooted. Be the life that you were meant to be.
And be loved, because you are.
*If you are someone who has generously given to us, you may wonder how it is that there are no gifts this Christmas. It’s simple, really. We have a roof and lights and food and clothes on our back. Not everyone does. If I had told people of our financial circumstances, they would not have let me help them. Trust me, I know. I have placed an inherently foolish (only to the world) amount of trust in God and His provision because I’ve seen it – time and time and time again. I’ve been on a unique journey for a while and I have learned that if God gives me five portions of manna, I am bound to encounter four people who have none. The next day is new all over again. There’s an expression regarding bills and finances that I use fairly often, “You gotta keep the wolf away.” Well, when you walk with the Great Shepherd, sometimes you just learn to let the wolves howl and snarl while you take the time to feed His sheep. Merry Christmas. ❤️