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The biggest mistake I made this Advent…

“In John 3:16, Jesus teaches us that the God who exists loves. Let that sink in. The God who absolutely is. Loves. He loves. Of all the things you might say about God, be sure to say this: he loves.”

-John Piper in the Advent devotional The Dawn of Indestructible Joy

. . .

I have been making a very great mistake.

I have been pleased with myself and thought that was being loved.

I have been displeased with  myself and thought that was being unloved.

The Christmas pajamas match and the cocoa is warm. Ornaments are hung with only one being broken. I a mother victorious.

I hold her, little gift in my arms and there is joy, but also there is another feeling. It must be love. Look I have not failed, and so I must be loved, correct? The wrapping on the presents matches the wine of our pj’s – a color like blood deepening or berries against the snow. I didn’t make it all from scratch, but the tin of cookies is delicious. Most of all it is as close to an effortless morning as you can have with four children. Yes I must be loved.

And then that night it all falls apart, again.

Our family only reunited a few weeks, husband just home from a deployment, him and I rub up against each other with all our raw edges. Dinner is strained and then after the children are in bed, we tear a hole so deep the dark shows through. We rumble until the ground is shaking, and then I sit tear-stained in front of the twinkling Christmas lights. This is not Instagram worthy. I have never seen a puffy eyed woman and her brilliant tree on Pinterest. But I think maybe there are many of us?

This is it I think, this is what it feels like to be unloved. No, I am only displeased with myself. Love is still surrounding me at every corner. Love on both sides, love beneath and above. Love in, out, my very breath.

For God so loved. Piper says this is not an amount of loving, but a way of loving. God so loved that He sent, and the one He sent, came to die. For us.

With the tears streaming down, broken and unlovely, it is clear – I am loved. It is clear, because in that moment I cannot be pleased with myself, so there is no mistaking emotion or vanity for the deep reality that is Love.

Between my husband and I there are apologies on both sides, repentance, forgiveness, counseling, and another day’s mercies. There will be another rumble, more glimpses of the cliff, more choosing to turn and walk towards each other. Gently.

A few days later, the children are playing, the house is peaceful and the decorations lovely. I feel something. I am quick to think it love. No, I am only pleased with myself. No wonder we post all those pictures. I think we have confused feeling loved with being pleased, satisfied that we have pulled it off for the moment… the party, the picture, the look, the supposed feeling. But when the inside and the aftermath don’t line up with all those pleasing lines, then we fall into the cavern of unlovedness.

Thinking we are not pleasing, we feel unloved, but always we are beloved.

We think love is all the right notes, and all the right colors, and most of all the right words and pictures. But Piper tells us of “a costly love. A very powerful love. A very rugged, painful love.”

Rugged, painful love doesn’t expect us to be pleasing or wait for us to be pleasing. And the more we are pleased with ourselves the less we can know of this love.

But a costly love doesn’t leave us where we are. Love is why I didn’t stay tear stained and frozen before the tree. Love is why I touch my husband again and he touches me. Love is why I get up from my seat and apologize to my thirteen year old, my eleven year old, my seven year old. Love is why I quiet my voice and my heart, and I forget the things that please myself. It’s why I forget when I am pleased with myself, and when I am displeased with myself, and remember only that I am loved.

This is advent. He came, to us, unlovely as we are.