“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
We love our families. We love our spouses. We love our children. We love our friends. But everyone? Surely God doesn’t mean everyone… How can I love the old man across the street who yells at everyone? Or the sales person who is rude? Or the kid who bullies my child? Or the teacher who is harsh with my son?
In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus tells us that the “great commandment” of the law is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”. But the second is to “love your neighbor as yourself”. All the Law and all the prophets are based on these two! So yes, God does mean everyone.
My personal epiphany on God’s love came after I had graduated from college with a teaching degree in elementary education and special education. I graduated from college, married my high school sweetheart, and moved to North Carolina in the last few weeks of December in 1979. Whew! And I was trying to find a teaching job in the middle of the school year. I felt lucky to be called to interview for a position in January. The opening: a teacher for a Behaviorally/Emotionally Handicapped self-contained class for 4th through 6th graders. All prospective students for the class were on long term suspension from their home schools waiting for the school to find a teacher. It was not difficult to see why the position was still available…
I was offered the job; and I prayed about it, worried about it, imagined all that could go wrong. But finally accepted the job. I asked God to help me; I had to trust Him because I knew I could not do it alone. The students came in; 2 girls and 10 boys, a couple almost as tall as I was! I learned a lot in my first half year. But the best lesson I learned was that, with God’s help, I could love them all. I had to work at it, all of these kids were the “unlovables” at their home schools, no class wanted them, no teacher wanted them. But with love, these kids were transformed into a class that was well-behaved, that helped each other, that cared about each other, that made friends with students outside their class and even put on plays for the rest of the school. A consistent discipline plan helped, but it worked because it was delivered with love for each child.
One of my most memorable moments was when I had to paddle a child (school’s protocol). I administered the single swat reluctantly. The 10 year old boy turned to me with a scowl and said, “That didn’t even hurt”. My response seemed to startle him more than any punishment. I said, “I’m not trying to hurt you, I’m just trying to show you that what you chose to do is inappropriate.” He smiled up at me and we both walked calmly back into the classroom. The next year at Christmas, he gifted me with a new paddle that he had made! I still have it.
Every class, every child I taught after that was taught with love. And the most amazing thing about giving love is that it returns to you increased. Ok, there is something else amazing, and that is when you treat people with love and kindness and respect (all a part of the love thing) you can change their day, their attitude, their mood and maybe even make them wonder what sets you apart. And you get to demonstrate God’s love in you!
This week pick someone you have difficulty loving and pray for help to show them God’s love through you.
I thank God for each of you! And I thank you for joining me today to explore God’s all-encompassing love.