Reflecting God’s love begins with grace

As a mom of five, I admit to times of spiritual and physical exhaustion when I barely reflect God’s love to my own family, let alone my community. This seems like an overwhelming task, and the last thing you or I need is one more item on our to-do lists. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that when I get stressed out about the things I have to do, he reminds me of what he’s already done. In order to reflect God’s love to your community, first reflect on God’s love for you.

As a parent, I see the best and worst parts of myself and my husband mirrored in our kids. They pick up on all of our sins—ones we’ve fought for years and new ugly sins that might have remained dormant had we not signed up for this lifetime tour of parenting. Can you relate? Has raising little sinner-saints unearthed any ugliness in your heart? One of my sweetest friends confided to me with wide eyes, “I had no idea I struggled with anger or fits of rage before I became a mom!” Bless her heart!

Mom, Dad, your parenting sins are gone. Empty tomb-gone. Drowned in the baptismal font-gone. This daily washing of rebirth and renewal is crucial. We cannot hope to pour out to the people around us without first filling up on grace.

Just as our kids are always copying us, parents need a model to follow. Who better than the sinless Son of God? How did Jesus engage his community? Before completing his redeeming work, the Bible tells us he wept, he showed compassion, and he retreated to quiet places.

Jesus wept. New tragedies come at us every week. Terror, bloodshed, self-worship, injustice, and disaster fill my newsfeed. It is tempting to squeeze my eyes shut and hide the horror from my kids. Instead, we open our eyes and weep. We talk through the news at a level their maturity can handle, and we pray through the pain.

Jesus showed compassion. The thing about living in a sin-darkened world is that it doesn’t take much light to make a big difference. Consider the impact of scheduling buffer time for everyday errands like trips to Walmart and the gas station, and asking God to send someone messy your way who needs the gospel. Messy people are everywhere, but we normally give them wide berth. A big reason for that is we have no margin in our schedules for interruptions.

How many miracles happened when Jesus was on his way to another town, and then he interrupted his journey to show compassion? I bet there was at least one disciple shaking his head and saying, “Jesus, we don’t have time for this.” I hear those voices, too. But may this one be louder: “God, I don’t want to miss your divine interruptions just so I can get my milk and bananas home faster!” Lending a hand to messy people, listening to their stories, or sharing the message of Jesus takes a few minutes, but at the end of the day, don’t you want your minutes to count for something with eternal impact?

Finally, Jesus retreated to quiet places. For those of you in the trenches of toddlerhood or teen angst, this is just a metaphor. There are no actual quiet places for you right now. Ha! But if you have a teammate in this parenting thing, you can create places of rest and Sabbath for each other. Encourage one another to rediscover what the Message calls “the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30). What recharges your spiritual batteries? Jesus would go up on a mountainside to pray. Whatever your mountainside looks like, help each other get there to recharge frequently.

Parenting articles are usually filled with tips and tricks, but reflecting God’s love to our community can’t be boiled down to catchy pull-quotes. It starts and ends with soaking in the grace that Jesus won for us. We ask for God’s eyes to see his hurting children. We lay the idol of our busyness on the altar. We recharge and repeat in the unforced rhythms of grace. By God’s grace, our kids will pick up on that, too.

Liz Schroeder and her husband, John, live in Phoenix, Ariz., with their five kids. They serve as lay leaders at CrossWalk Church.

Love others by really being there for them

I’ve learned an awful lot from my daughter. The wonder and adventure of life with Jesus. The trust in him that is so simple and pure. The creativity that comes from looking at something from a relatively blank slate. The importance of really sinking into the perfect hug. She’s taught me a lot. Especially about how to notice people. She waves from our busy corner lot to everyone who drives by. She pets every dog who walks by and greet all of their owners. She tries to engage every possible person like there is seriously nothing more important in all the world to do. She’s taught me a lot about that.

And I have a lot to learn. Because I’m an adult, and I have an iPhone. And an inbox. And a busy job. And a busy mind. And perhaps most troubling of all—a busy heart. Most adults do. It’s what we’ve started calling “adulting,” right? What’s this have to do with reflecting God’s love in our community? Everything. Absolutely everything.

We’re not going to be available to the people in our community with an open hand and a warm smile and a ready conversation unless our hearts are unbusy. We’ll be there, but not really there. And I’m guessing you know exactly what I mean by that.

And the only person I know of who can change that in me is Jesus. He’s the one who unburdens my heart. Who can take my heart from a tossing sea and turn it into water that softly ripples. He does that by paying attention to me. By giving me his very real, personal attention through his Word. And when he does he tells me that is the one who gave himself not only to my heart, but for my heart. The one who came not only to forgive my turbulence but to lessen it, too—to secure me with his promises so that I don’t have to busy myself with . . . well . . . myself. I can be free—just plain free—to busy myself with the people I bump into along my path.

It’s actually quite the adventure—living that way, I mean. To see each person who I run across as someone to be loved right then and right there. To see that each intersection doesn’t merely have to be transactional. My family and I went to the zoo the other day, and we talked to the guy with the corn snake and really got to know him. And we went trick or treating, and we hit up the neighbors sitting by their doors with a smile and a name and a handshake. We chatted up the hygenist at the dentist’s office, wished the tired-looking cashier at Aldi a good day with a hearty thank you and a sincere smile. We pet the dog who walked down the street and talked about Goldendoodles with the owner. We even got into a conversation about Jesus and tacked on a very appropriate invite to our church at the Apple Store of all places. All because Jesus had made us emotionally and spiritually available as we were doing our callings in life.

I could write more about how we love our communities. Much more. Things about staffing soup kitchens or mowing lawns for the elderly or checking on neighbors who are sick. I’ll let someone else do that, though. What I want to say here and now is that my heart sees a culture that’s having a hard time looking up from a screen. And in a culture and community like that, perhaps the most important love my family can show in our Kroger’s and doctors’ offices and restaurants and wherever else it is that we may be, is a face that not only looks up, but also looks at those around us with a heart and a mind that’s spiritually and emotionally available. That’s a powerful, powerful gift we all can give—a gift we’ve all personally received in spades from Jesus. He’s the one who frees us to simply and truly be there in a moment for others.