As Christians we're commanded to love our neighbors, our enemies, and—as leaders—the people we're called to lead and minister to. But what does this look like when we're not exactly loved in return?
By definition, of course, godly, unconditional love doesn't require love in return. I know that. God loved me first—long before I loved Him, when I was definitely living in my sins. And even after I responded to that love and accepted his gift of salvation, I haven't always loved him well—you know, by obeying Him. But he has never quit loving me.
Parents learn this early. Even before a baby is born, they love her. And the moment they see her, they are head over heels in love. It's a good thing. Because that baby demands everything and gives no love in return for the longest time. Fortunately they grow up and learn to love. Unfortunately, when they become teens, sometimes they break our hearts with words like, "Leave me alone! I hate you!"
Our son has been God's gift to me to help me begin to comprehend what it means to love someone unconditionally. He came to our family just before he turned 10, from a very difficult early childhood.
His birth mother couldn't care for him, and he was hurt and confused. He couldn't call me Mom and he couldn't love me—that would be betraying his "real" mother.
As the years passed, I grew to love him deeply. But as he grew, he had lots of pain to work through. He made lots of negative choices. He was trying to figure out who he was, and loving me was not a priority for him. And sometimes that was very painful.
I would ask God, "Would it be so hard for him to be able to say ‘I love you' to me—just once?" And the Lord responded so clearly: "Unconditional love doesn't require love in return."
So I kept loving him. No matter what—and there were many things to challenge that love.
I will never forget the day he finally said, "I love you." Those words came from a painful situation of his own. I was sad for his pain, but so grateful for his words that day, and I am grateful that now they come easily off his lips and are proved in his actions day after day.
And I thank God that He used Josh to teach me about the real meaning of unconditional love.
Who in your life or in your ministry needs your unconditional love now? When have you experienced a sort of love "breakthrough" in your ministry?