It’s funny, the sorts of things that have made me feel loved.
When I mine my memory, no grand gestures or extravagant expressions of affection come to the surface. Instead, I remember unexceptional moments on days that I could not locate on a calendar.
For instance, when I was a toddler, my maternal grandmother and I would sit on the sofa of her living room and watch “The Three Stooges.” She would cover my legs and feet with a brown and tan plaid blanket. We laughed together. Curly struck her as especially hilarious. She would laugh until breathless, wheezing the last few molecules of air from her lungs.My grandmother had emigrated from WWII-shattered Austria less than a decade before. She was a seamstress with scant formal education. The little English she spoke was heavily accented.
She expressed her love by being with. And since my mother and I were living with my grandparents, and a heart condition kept her at home, my grandmother spent entire days being with me.
My grandfather was a mill worker and my mother was also a seamstress. There was no money for trips to the zoo or to admission to a theme park. I played around the house. She played and cleaned and cooked. We were together.
I still remember vividly the sound of her voice, the whiteness of her hair, the smell of her breath when she kissed my cheek, and the incongruous heaviness of the footfall of a woman standing hardly five feet tall.
My grandmother made me feel loved by being with me.
I know that I’m loved. And yet, sometimes I don’t feel especially lovable. I worry that I’m a lousy husband, a clueless parent, and an incompetent bishop. In other words, I’ve not completely internalized the basic lesson about love that I learned on my grandmother’s sofa.
From time to time I still slip into equating my lovableness—or my worth or my significance—with my performance in one or another of my roles in life. In other words, there is some part of my soul that still buys the idea that love is a reward for measuring up, for achieving, for being a winner.
My grandmother taught me the exact opposite lesson. She showed up when I broke dishes, refused to climb down from a neighbor’s tree house, painted my entire body with wet red clay, or threw a tantrum from disappointment or fear or the deep need of a nap.
Love is not a reward. It is an unconditional, continuous gift. No matter what sort of mess you are at the moment.
I feel loved by my wife Joy when we sit down for a cup of coffee together after I’ve said or done something thoughtless or rude or self-centered. I feel loved when I’ve preached a dog of a sermon and people still say, “I’m so glad you’re here.”Feeling loved isn’t something I can do for myself. People frequently say that you can’t love others until you love yourself. And there’s no question that loving others when you loathe yourself is a very tall order. But loving yourself doesn’t make you the Beloved. And that’s what humans need above all else: knowing that we are loved unfailingly by another.
That’s one of the lessons we can derive from Mark’s telling of John’s baptism of Jesus. When Jesus emerges from the water, he hears a voice say, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) To put that another way, “I love you as my very own. I delight in being with you. And I will always be with you.”
God did not say, “I’m so proud of what you’ve achieved.” After all, Jesus had not yet begun his public ministry. And I find it hard to believe that God is saying, “Wow, you’ve been a heck of carpenter!” God said, “I’m with you. Always. No matter what.” God’s unwavering presence makes Jesus know in his gut that he is loved.
And in this we see the meaning of Jesus. Jesus is the sign, the icon, that God is with us. When we’re up and when we’re down. When we’re at the top of our game and flat on our back. God is with us. We are the beloved. Each and every one of us.
Jesus could go into the world as the embodiment of compassion, the voice of justice, and the healer of the wounded because he knew that he was loved. He walked the streets of this planet to give love away. And you can only give away what you already have.
Christians believe that the work of Jesus continues in each of us. Our vocation is to walk the streets of planet Earth giving love to every person we meet. To friend and to stranger. To those who love us and to those who despise us. Even to those who see us as their enemy and wish us harm.
It is not our way to shore up our sense of security by threatening others with nuclear destruction. It is not our way to let others die of treatable illnesses. It is not our way to refuse shelter to those fleeing from violence and persecution. It is not our way to tear families apart to secure our borders. This is not the way of love.
A defining mark for the way of love is this: Do our actions encourage others to know themselves as the beloved? As inherently valuable and worthy of respect? This is Jesus’ mission. And it’s the mission that Jesus gives to anyone who claims to be his follower. To give away what we’ve already been given.
My latest book Your Untold Story: Tales of a Child of God is now available.
My paternal grandmother – emigrated from Norway with my father when he was 2 years old – my grandfather having come ahead to send money for the trip – she gave us this priceless gift – being loved just because we were here in this time and space. My brothers and I where heedless of this gift – thinking that is just what grandmothers did. I think it is very hard to feel loved and worthy without a person (God with skin on – as the story of the little boy goes) to show us.
It sounds like we have more in common than I realized! Peace and grace in 2018, Ann!
Very nice post here. My own memories of “love” are not what people said but what they did (unconditionally). Much wisdom here.
Reblogged this on Pastor Michael Moore's Blog and commented:
A powerful and beautiful reflection, Jake!
Thanks, Michael! Happy New Year!
To you as well, Jake!
I am so impressed by your way of weaving life and wisdom together, Bishop. Thank you.
Thanks very kind, Stephen. Thank you and blessings on the coming year.
This first post of yours in 2018 is so wonderful Jake! “Love is not a reward. It is an unconditional, continuous gift.” I need to engrave this deeply in my heart and mind. Such a gift, these words, I’ll cherish them for 2018 and try to remember and live them. Thank you so much!
I’m glad this piece touched you, Liz. I hope the coming year holds much joy and peace for you.
Thank you Jake and I hope the same for you!
Wow! Love is a gift. Thanks for putting it so well. And … great fan of The Three Stooges.
Be blessed. God is in an amazing mood.
Thanks, Michael! And it’s good to know another Stooges fan!
Thank you, Jake. you remind me of Richard Rohr’s understanding of God as Love, rather than Wrath.
Blessing for 2018.
That’s a very flattering comparison. Thank you! Peace and joy in 2018
This was a very beautiful and powerful post for me! Thank you so much for sharing your heart and your gift with us! Peace be with you!
For myself it’s easier to love than to accept unconditional love, Why, because as you said I’ve not earned it. I know my faults, that I repeat over and over again even though I try not to. I love that My God is a God of second chances and loves me anyway. This touched home. Thank you for sharing. Sometimes when our sermons bomb our presence is enough.
I love your post bishop. You gave me good understanding of Mt.1:11; unconditional love of the Father for the Son. Thanks for post and God bless!
I am so appreciating your writing, Jake.
Thank you, Mary!
What you said, “Jesus could go out into the world….because he knew we was loved.” Brilliant. Paramount. Powerful.
Thank you, Linda!
Dear Bishop Jake,
I delight in your wisdom and I treasure your openness about your own life and your own journey. Even though I do not get to spend much time in your presence, these special comments make me feel that you are being with me in a way I value greatly!
Thank you, Deacon Belle! It was great to be with at the ordination last month.
We are all cherished more than any of us will ever know. I think that Eben Alexander MD said that after he went through a Near Death Experience.
Bishop, I truely love and look forward to your articles. I am honored to be in your diocese. Even though when you come to Holy Trinity and I don’t get a chance to talk to you know that I love and appreciate you and your work.
Thank you, Cynthia!
Many of us will live this life never seen, never heard. I’ve learned how big a club this is.
Accepting this position in life isn’t easy. Paul’s description of his thorn can help.
As a child I studied intensely, thinking that learning 5 languages would increase my chances to find someone to see me.
In my 8th decade, I’ve learned – no, it is not to be in a human sense – but Jesus alone sees me & that must be sufficient
And I will keep on living & giving anyway because I know how deeply others wish to be seen & heard
My heart ached as I read your comment Margaret. Your compassion for others even as you experience being unheard and unseen says volume about the depth and tenderness of your soul. I too believe that Jesus sees and hears us. And maybe you experience today that, at least in some small way, I’ve heard you today.