I love you. Keep trying.
A couple weeks ago my 6 year old son Isaiah gave me a drawing he made in children’s church. On the picture he had written, “I love you. Keep trying.” When he gave it to me he said, “Daddy, I wrote that because I really love you and you do a good job with your pastor stuff, but I still think you can do better. So I want you to keep trying hard.” While this might sound like a backhanded compliment, hearing the way he said that and knowing his heart it was anything but. He taught me a lot about God and the church that morning.
Real love is not dependent on certain accomplishments or being the best.
We often affirm that God’s love for us is not because of our actions, yet I think we have a hard time really believing it. We live with the subconscious notion that God’s love for us wavers depending on what we’re accomplishing for him. Even within our family we can too often assume that we will be loved more if we do the right things. Isaiah painted a beautiful picture for me of unconditional love that morning. His statement, “I love you” stood distinct from the second part, “Keep trying.”
Real love grants permission to speak truth and be heard.
Though Isaiah’s love for me is not tied to how I do as a pastor, his love does motivate him to want the best for me and for our church. It is out of his love for me that he was able to say what was true, not what was easy. Out of his love and relationship with me he could tell me that I have room for improvement. Though it wouldn’t be a correct response, if someone I wasn’t as close to told me that I would be immediately defensive. Because I trust Isaiah’s love for me and have a deep relationship with him I took his critique as an encouragement to keep going. In Ephesians 4:25 Paul encourages the church to speak truthfully to each other. It is in the context of love and relationship that can happen effectively.
Real love wants the best for others.
Too often we assume that if people love us they won’t challenge us. How could someone who loves me tell me I am sometimes rude to others, or that I am living in an unhealthy way, or that I should stop gossiping? In reality that is real love and refraining from saying these things is not. Real love wants the other to be formed into the full picture of humanity that is reflected in Jesus Christ, not to have them comfortably wallow in bondage to sin. Isaiah wants me to keep growing because he loves me, and his willingness to express that was a godly act.
Real love is motivating.
The Sunday after Isaiah made me that picture I was preparing for the service in my office and I looked up and saw it. It filled me with a deep desire to do exactly what he said and keep trying. I want to be a good example to Isaiah not only of a faithful pastor, but also a godly man, father, and husband. It reminded me that he is watching and what I do will have a part in shaping who he is and how he views God. It is a heavy responsibility and one that I want to take on with joy and diligence. His love and challenge continue to be a tremendous motivator in my life and ministry.
God teaches us about Himself and the nature of His kingdom in unexpected ways. I’m thankful for my son and how God has used him in my life.