One of my dad’s favorite sermon illustrations is a story from our family’s theme park vacation. On a particularly hot, crowded day, my sister and I were standing in line with our parents to ride something that would offer, at most, one minute of breezy relief. Flying elephants. Just in front of us, a child kept taking off her shoe and waving it at her mother. The mom, increasingly irritated, refused the child’s attempts to reconcile with a hug. I, then 7, was stunned that a parent would deny their child this bit of affection.
Fast forward 35 years to a restaurant at the very same theme park, when my own child stopped just short of hurling her over-priced tater tots at me because of the unfamiliar sauce drizzled over them. Five minutes later, she wanted to sit in my lap as she ate her dessert. Much like the mother with the shoe, my first instinct was not to welcome her with open arms.
Shortly after our first child was born, I read a blog post by another new mom titled “When love feels heavy.” The piece, which went viral, was about the very real tension between love for a child and the pressure, anxiety, and fear that accompany parenthood. Over the years, I’ve modified that title in my head because love, I’ve found, often feels hard. It’s a sacrifice, especially when the person in front of us is, in our opinion, not acting lovable.
Scripture is clear that love is a defining characteristic of people who follow Christ (John 13:34-35). The apostle Paul said it must be a motivating factor, unless we want to be merely sounding gongs or clanging cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Most of my most obvious reminders to love currently come amid parenting challenges, but we all have occasions to heed Paul’s words: when discourse gets angry, when misunderstandings abound, when personal faith feels dry or distant.
The way my dad tells the shoe story, my parents reassured me they would always love us and welcome our affection. The argument in front of us eventually dissipated. As we inched closer to the elephants, my 4-year-old sister reached down, took off her own shoe, and held it up to my parents. As if to say, my dad recounts, “Prove it.”
Love is an opportunity to prove who we are, and what’s behind it. Even, especially, when it’s hard.