Quite frankly, love is something that everyone on planet needs. We all require to both receive and to give love. But not everyone has a heart open to accepting love, and, so, find it nearly impossible to dispense love. However, the good news is that love is near to each one of us. We only need to reach and touch it because it is so close.
We have all likely heard the dictum “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” Even if we have not used the phrase, the concept is common throughout the world. Perhaps the chief hindrance to receiving and giving love is this reciprocal notion.
For example, much of Western society turns on the wheels of transactions. This is seen in the many words we have for money and financial exchanges: bills; coins; cash; credit and debit cards; stocks and bonds; bank accounts; 401k; paychecks, etc. You get the idea. We can scarcely imagine a culture without putting something into an account so that we can engage in commerce and consumerism.
None of this is neither inherently bad or good; it just is. A problem arises when people allow the idea of transactions to seep into relationships. When a person chooses to view the world primarily through the financial lenses of a transaction, we set ourselves up for a deficit of love.
It works something like this: A parent invests time, money, and resources into a child’s life. Mom and Dad do everything they can to set up little Johnny for success in this life (which, by the way, is often defined as getting a good paying job someday and being financially independent). But when little Johnny decides to go all avant garde and does not live up to his parents’ expectations, their reaction betrays the transactional: “Look at all we did for you, and you repay us by not going to college and running off to do only God knows what!?”
Put in the context of a workplace, some bosses are only happy when the employee is producing and making money. Management doesn’t understand why workers are upset. Paying them more money doesn’t seem to do it. They only see the transactional view of the world. In the realm of personal relationships, we sent a Christmas card to that family and they never sent one back, and that makes us mad. When it comes to God, we went to church, kept our nose clean and were ethical, and now something terrible happens in our lives. We think God did not make good. We invested in this God thing and He didn’t follow through with the transaction to give us the good life.
But God operates in a different economy. Grace trumps transaction. Grace is the gears and the grease of God’s love toward us. The good news of Christianity is that God loves us, even when we have nothing to give, and even when we are far from the words and ways of Jesus.
“Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful. No one is really willing to die for an honest person, though someone might be willing to die for a truly good person. But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinners.” (Romans 5:6-8, CEV).
It is likely that all of us, at some time or another, have felt the sting of someone else’s disappointment with us. They “invested” in us in some way. We “repaid” them with a decision or a different direction than what they expected. Or, it went the other way. We put time and effort into someone or a group of people, and they didn’t come through for us (e.g. and ironically, pastors and church volunteers often feel this way).
The first step to awakening to love is to forsake a transactional view of relationships and adopt a gracious approach to people and to God. God is gracious, merciful, and kind. It isn’t just what He does; it is who He is. He gives love because He is love. Until we get that basic understanding, we will flounder in our human relationships because true love will forever be elusive due to the transactional view.
Grace is the most effective way to the world of love, and the best way to the good life. Yet, surprisingly, this is at no cost to us. What are we to do? Give yourselves to God, as people who have been raised from death to life. Make every part of your life an offering to God. Don’t let sin keep ruling your lives because you are ruled by God’s kindness and not by the law of the transaction. Awaken to love because God is love. (Romans 6:12-14; 1 John 4:8-11)