We humans are pretty bad at giving gifts. We want something in return, even if that something is just a strengthening of the relationship or a thank you. We rarely give anything away in the true sense of the word. We volunteer at church, but often want some sort of thank you from the person leading it or the people being served. We give Christmas presents, but want a thank you and often hope for a commensurate gift in return. We give money to the church and to charities, but we want a receipt for our gifts so we can get a tax deduction. Always something in return, even if that something isn’t worth what we gave.
We have a hard time with unconditional love. We don’t understand it and so it’s hard to accept it, and I don’t know if we can give it without learning to accept it first.
When I moved to Colorado Springs, I gave up a fair bit. I was in northern Virginia, one of the highest-paying places in the world, and could have gotten my CPA activated and been making a good salary again. I had a number of close friends there, a fairly active social life, a relatively cheap place to live in which I liked my roommates, and connections to the job market when I wanted to get back in it. I gave all that up to move to Colorado because God told me to and I got a wife out of it (best deal I’ve ever made).
Then we moved from there to Houston and we both gave up a bit. She gave up her family and best friends. I gave up a job offer in Tempe that was a promotion from the temp job I had. The company had good benefits, I didn’t mind the work, and I liked my bosses, who were all moving to Tempe. Recently, God had me withdraw my name from another job for which I was being considered, so we’ve both given up the things that gave us a sense of security.
This morning, in a good imitation of Peter from Mark 10:23-31, I reminded God of how much we’d given up for Him. Basically, I was holding out my hand and expecting some sort of payment for all the sacrifices we’d made. Then the thought hit me that if the reason I gave up these things was to get a reward, I wasn’t making a gift, but a trade. A true gift seeks nothing in return because a true gift is based on unconditional love.
It’s true that in the above passage, Jesus promises a hundredfold return on what we give up for Him, but I personally believe we only get that return if we truly give these things up. When you make a deal with someone, say to buy a used car, and you show up with a cashier’s check, you expect to be given the keys, the title, and the car. If you’re not given all of these or if the car has been damaged between when you took it for a test drive and when you arrive to pay for it, the deal is off. You haven’t given up on the money until you get something in return for it.
For my part, I know I’ve been treating God this way. I haven’t truly given things to Him, merely obeyed Him in order to get a blessing. He gave me an amazing blessing in Leah, but I think I was more willing to give up my friends than I have been our financial security. So far it’s been more of a trade.
In reality, it’s foolish to trade, because I’ve already been given immeasurably more than I could ever give up. I just haven’t accepted fully what I’m getting: the pure, passionate, endless, and personal love of God.
I’ve told Leah before that she has given up so much for me because I’ve taken her away from her family, friends, financial security, and a job watching two little boys she loves almost as if they were her own. She keeps telling me she’s gotten far more than she’s given up because she loves me so much.
We need to be more like that with God: willing to make sacrifices just to be with Him because we love Him so much. And when we are, we won’t feel like we’re giving up much at all.