When I look at the picture of my three-month-old grandson on my desk, I am overcome by a feeling of love—unasked, unearned, flowing simply as a gift of the heart. What could he ever have done to make me question loving him?
The pictures of granddaughters, at ages five and six, evoke a similar sort of heart-deep love and hope for their happiness, but I’ve spent enough time around them to know that, occasionally, they can try my patience and counter my own will for them. Still, I want goodness for them, and I’m determined to provide a path for them to find happiness.
It’s a little harder to feel undiluted love for people I’ve known longer, been in conflict with, been disappointed by. I want to love them, but it’s not always simple. We don’t always live by the same rules or want the same rewards.
In the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, the author (Paul or someone using Paul’s authority and argument) offers some how-to advice about organizing communities of believers and urging their members to lives of kindness toward each other. We have known lives of folly, malice, envy, disobedience and hate, he says. We have tried to have our own ways, but then something happened—not by good deeds, not by acts of righteous living (following the Jewish law), but by God’s gift of undeserved mercy and love. There has been an advent, a “dawn of kindness,” and out of it we have been offered a rebirth, a renewing of the Holy Spirit. This is our hope—that we are justified by grace, not by acts of demonstrated faith. From this example of God’s love, we too may learn to love without qualification or expectation. For certain? Yes, the author of the pastoral letters says it twice (my own adaptation): you can take that idea that to the bank!