People are often surprised when I tell them I cannot recall my mother ever saying the words “I love you” to me, but in her generation, with a reserved disposition, and having been raised in a former British “stiff upper lip” colony like Jamaica, it was not unusual. I came to believe I was loved because of all the things she did, and the sacrifices she made for me. My mom had a hard life, and was deeply hurt by too many people who should have loved her well, so she was determined to make sure I had a better life, and kept my guard up to prevent other people from betraying my trust.
Even though we lived in poor neighborhoods for most of my life, our house was always spotless and my clothes were immaculately washed and ironed. She scrimped and saved to buy me an encyclopedia to ‘further my education’, and perhaps too because my voracious reading was the only thing that kept me from talking incessantly! She is an amazing cook and my friends never left our house hungry or disappointed. If you could remain in her good graces, she was kind and generous, but do not ever fall from grace, because if there is a road back into her favor, nobody knows about it, and she is not telling.
Many of my earliest memories are of my mom telling me that she was ‘investing’ in me, so that I would be able to take care of her when she was old. My mom wasn’t very big on praise, unless it was tempered with a generous amount of but-you-could-have, you-should-have, or don’t-think-you’ve-done-enough-yet comments. She did not want me to become proud or arrogant, to believe I was better than other people, or to forget where I came from.
So, from my mother I learned that love works hard, sacrifices a lot and wants the best for me, because that serves love’s long-term purpose. It is fiercely protective and hospitable so it cooks superb food, but it is also conditional, depending on how well I performed; it always carries a measuring stick, and I have to keep hustling to be worthy of it, or it will be gone, in an instant. None of that makes me bitter or resentful in any way, it is what it is, and inevitably that view of love got mixed into the ‘concrete foundation’ on which I built my life, my belief systems and my relationships.
My dad was a stud! Ask the five…yes I said five (that we know of)…women who bore him children. He actually married only one of them. My brother and I often joke that we could be walking by other half-siblings on any given day and not even know it. He was 6’2”, handsome, a prolific story-teller (not sure how many were actually true), with a friendly, outgoing personality that my brother and I both inherited. No matter what my mom would tell me about him, I loved my daddy because he would take me on outings, read to me, or have me read to him; he danced with me standing on his feet, let me style his hair, and made me laugh…a lot.
Truth be told, he was also the most irresponsible social butterfly (monarch, I think), who would rather hang out with his buddies, swapping stories and drinking, than work to run his rather profitable business; leaving my poor mother to do most of the work till he showed up to collect the profits. He regularly broke promises to take me on outings or to show up for my school events (I think both he and my mom were more embarrassed than negligent), and in the hospital, not long before he died, he assured me that I would be amply provided for, which turned out not to be true at all.
So from my dad, I learned that love is lots of fun and side-splitting laughter! It is outgoing, never meets a stranger and invests in time spent together with loved ones, making memories to last a lifetime. But love doesn’t always keep its promises and should not be depended on to provide for my needs, so I must depend only on me, to provide for me.
My first recollection of becoming aware of the amazing love of God was at Good Friday services at Torrington United Baptist Church in Kingston, Jamaica, which I attended regularly with my godmother (my parents never went), from the time I was three years-old till I was thirteen. Everybody in Jamaica went to a church on Good Friday, unless you were bed-ridden or determined to go to hell. Our service lasted from 9:00 am till 3 pm with a lunch break at noon…no kidding! And you packed a lunch because everywhere was closed on Good Friday…except some bars that opened for business after 3:00 pm, the time when the Bible says Jesus died on the cross.
The entire service was a virtual reenactment, beginning with the Last Supper, Jesus weeping blood in the garden at Gethsemane, through the humiliations, the terrible beatings, spitting, the crown of thorns, the crucifixion, the prolonged suffering on the cross and finally His death…all of which Jesus endured because He loved me, and everyone else born on planet earth, and wanted to reconcile us to a right relationship with God so we would not spend eternity in hell! Every Good Friday I was horrified, traumatized, and extremely repentant of every known and imagined sin, and for the life of me I could not fathom how anyone could respond to that kind of sacrificial love with anything but reciprocation?
As for me, I was determined to love God back, and equally determined to make Him glad He chose to love me, and had sacrificed so much for me. I prayed to accept Jesus as my Savior every Good Friday for ten years until I started going to Swallowfield Chapel, where learned from my Sunday School teacher there that I only needed to make that decision once, mean it, and live it. She taught me about the grace of God too; that I did not have to earn or be worthy of God’s love, mercy or kindness, but somehow that truth did not penetrate the fundamental belief that even though God loved me, He also carried a measuring stick to ensure I lived up to His expectations, and that He could withdraw that love in a heartbeat if I disappointed Him, and would provide for my needs only if I continued to please Him.
Like my friend Job, I lived a good life, for good reasons, for a good many years but remained tormented by the fear that one day I may not be good enough and the wrath of God was going to fall on me with vengeance. I look back now and can easily identify the numerous ways, and many people who God used throughout my life to try to uproot my false view of Him and His love for me, but it was deeply-rooted and stubborn. Interestingly, I can also see the schemes and the other people who the enemy used to reinforce my bondage to that fear.
Finally, the day came, when because He truly loved me, and could no longer stand to see me tortured and tormented by the fear of losing His love and favor, my Heavenly Father ‘busted out’ the spiritual version of a whole lot of C-4 explosives, and allowed my life to blow up in a spectacular display of failure and defeat; I could have sworn He was trying to kill me! As I lay devastated among the debris that remained, I was startled by persistent, still ever-present love of God. He had successfully annihilated the warped foundation of a false belief system, destroying every bit of self-righteousness, insecurity, fear, and torment, and replacing it with a new foundation of truth on which He continues to build a new life for me.
“‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the LORD who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10
“…Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” Jeremiah 31:3
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities not powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
“…that Christ may dwell in you hearts through faith; that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19
“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” I John 4:8
So, here’s the thing, we all grow up in this world forging an image of love that at best is well-intentioned but slightly distorted, and at its worst, a completely twisted and perverse version of love. But true love can be known because God has made Himself known. God is love…the real thing, and on that ‘rock’ I will build my whole life till I see Jesus face to face. From God my Father I have learned the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…
“…love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong]. It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]. Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to and end]…” I Corinthians 13:4-8 The Amplified Bible
Yes, I think I will relax, revel, and rejoice in His amazing, ridiculous love for me, thank you very much. Free from the fear that He will ever stop loving me, I remain secure, confident, and… just living the thing.