Yet, I wonder how long it will last. Not that God’s love runs out, but I know that I will leave. I will be seduced by lies and forget that I am loved. I always leave. Like a spouse with Alzheimer’s, I will forget who I am and will treat the Lover of my soul suspiciously, as if He’s my enemy. It will take time for Him to pursue me and convince me once again that He is on my side, but He will. Again and again. In spite of my hostility, my rejection, my foolishness. He loves me.
I’m realizing another reason I have a hard time understanding God’s love for me. When it comes to love, we have to—we’re told to—do something that God himself doesn’t do. We guard our hearts. The more you expose yourself to people by loving, the more you expose yourself to pain. They go hand-in-hand. God doesn’t guard His heart from pain. He endures pain because He loves us. He endures our leaving, our forgetting.
Among us, love and grace extends only so far and then we begin to want a return, a payment; we begin to protect ourselves from hurt, pain, and damage to our heart that comes when we love. We begin making demands. We withhold love. We limit what we give away. Or we leave.
I’ve had a lot of discussions during the last couple of years about when divorce is ever justified—in cases of adultery, abuse, abandonment? Self-protection always comes into play. But I’m struck by the truth that God never divorces, no matter how justified. He never leaves; He never requires anything in return because self-protection is never a thought for Him.
God risks hurt, pain, and inevitable damage to his heart. He continues extending love and grace even when there are no returns, even when we reject Him and use Him. He pays the price Himself; He meets the demands of love Himself. He doesn’t guard His heart, but takes all of it on Himself because He never stops loving.
Our love, our grace, our forgiveness can’t look like God’s perfect love—it’s impossible. We can’t bear the pain, we can’t handle the betrayal. We can share in his suffering by loving, but at some point as we love, self-protection kicks in. Then we walk away or demand payment. God, at that point, pursues and pays. We give ultimatums. He lets us go and woos us back with love and grace. He endures the pain of our leaving because He loves us.
Still, I think the more we are filled with His love, the greater our capacity to accept the consequences of loving others because He takes some of the hits for us. Our returns on love come from Him, so we don’t have to demand them from others. Our hearts are guarded by His love so we are free to love. His love is a protection that enlarges our capacity to love instead of limiting it. I’m going to enjoy it while I can.