When he was about four years old, my son bit a little girl at church. I tell about it in my book, “Optimism for Autism.” What I didn’t tell in the book is something my husband David and I recently discussed: We were at a pivotal moment with our church family.
To be honest, we were overwhelmed and exhausted in parenting our special needs son. We were trying to help him and felt we were failing. When Patrick got overstimulated or other children came into his space unexpectedly, he would sometimes hit or bite to make the painful stimulus go away.
How could we be part of the church with his behavior? Did the church want us there? Maybe we should leave. Maybe the little girl’s parents or the church leaders would tell us we weren’t welcome anymore. We had experienced that reaction from other people in the past.
What happened after the biting incident forever impacted our family and cemented our relationship with this body of believers . . . and with Jesus Himself.
The mother of that little girl sent me a note, thanking me for comforting her child, and telling me she thought I was doing a wonderful job with my son. She told me she cared and she was praying for me and my family. She drenched me and my family with the love and grace of Jesus.
We stayed at First Baptist Church in Salisbury, North Carolina. The Lord used that body of believers to introduce Himself to us. All six members of my family came to understand the gospel and to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior there. I teach Sunday School at that church. My husband serves on the worship team and in church leadership. We all get to tell others about the love and grace found in Jesus.
But it could have gone the other way. We could have been rejected. We could have left, never knowing about the love and grace Jesus has for each one of us.
Real love demands everything. The Greek word for love is “agape” in the New Testament. It means “unconditional, unrelenting love; a determined goodwill that seeks another’s best interests.” Based on that definition, Biblical love has three qualities:
That means we choose to love someone regardless of what they do or don’t do. It’s a love not based on the performance (works) of another person. That’s what Elaine, the mother of the little girl, did for me. She chose to love me and my son, even though her daughter had been hurt. That’s the kind of love Jesus has for us. The scriptures say, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NASB).
We don’t remove our love when things don’t go our way. We keep loving. Even when it hurts. We don’t use love as a weapon to overpower or control others, giving it when we’re happy, withdrawing it when we’re hurt. We continue to love by the strength God gives us. We ask Him to help us keep loving others the way He does.
The apostle Paul was grounded in the love of God. That’s how he could share it with others. He said, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-89, NASB). Paul knew the Lord would not withdraw His love, and he determined to do the same.
Elaine kept loving me by the power and grace of God. She didn’t stop after an offense.
Choosing the Best for Others
“A determined goodwill”—that’s choosing to speak and act in a way that is good for others. It is a chosen disposition toward kindness and compassion. It involves refusing negative feelings and actions and embracing thoughts and actions that convey the love and grace of God.
“That seeks another’s best interests”—that involves laying aside our own demands for self and thinking about and acting in a way that benefits someone else.
Elaine chose to focus on my hurts and needs instead of her own at that pivotal moment in time. She thought about what I and my family might need, and she acted on it.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NASB).
That’s love. Love that demands everything. The kind of love Jesus displayed: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself [laid aside His rights and privileges as God], taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, NASB).
Jesus died because His sacrifice was what was best for us. He paid the penalty for our sins so we didn’t have to, so that everyone who puts their faith in what He did for them could have their sins forgiven and could be with Him forever.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB).
Now that’s love. Love that demanded—and gave—everything.
Question: How have you experienced the love of Jesus through others? Comment at the link below.
Visit Susan’s website: susanjaneking.com