I suspect that a message that most human beings absorb growing up is that we should exercise some caution in our love. That love is always a risk, that it opens you up to being vulnerable, that you can get deeply wounded if you get too drawn in by love’s currents and run into troubled waters. That the people whom you love the most are also the ones who can hurt you the most. So we learn to hesitate, to look before we leap, to take care, to think in advance about what might go wrong. Sometimes we may let ourselves get swept up in it despite all this, an experience which can be both giddy and terrifying. But we also often build walls, sometimes as thick as we can make them, in hopes of protecting ourselves from getting too invested, from caring too much.
As someone for whom it was a revelation that it was okay to have personal boundaries, I’m not actually criticizing these tendencies. I think the challenges posed by life’s regular turbulence, by the existence of other people with their own needs and wants and demands, and by our finite resources, mean that we have to continually negotiate the question of what we have to give, and how best to use our limited time and energy. But it only recently occurred to me that my very human experience of trying to work through these tensions was causing me to imagine God as someone who was likewise being somewhat careful in her dealings with me, and in his consideration of what he had to offer.
And lately I’ve been found myself very struck by just how reckless God’s love is. It doesn’t hesitate and carefully consider the potential costs before making a calculated, measured move. Rather, it opts for risk. It is wild, unrestrained, fierce. Today, Christmas Eve, we celebrate perhaps God’s most reckless act of all—to embrace us in all our human frailties, to be with us in our deepest darkness. To not remain at a careful and safe distance, but to fully experience our anguish with us. And to do this knowing that we might choose to reject this offer of grace, that we might close our ears to God’s call to us, that even after Christ gives everything to save us, we might nonetheless decide in the end to remain un-saved. God doesn’t come to earth with a guarantee that it will all work out and be worth it in the end, but rather wholeheartedly and unreservedly pursues us in full awareness that we might say no.
In my own life, I have rejected God again and again, even after making commitments to stop behaving that way, even after repeatedly deciding that this time it will be different and I will stick around. But I get startled, I get scared, I get angry, I get resentful—and I run. And then in guilt and shame and fear, I keep my distance. I find myself thinking, surely God has given up on me by now. Surely this time I have damaged the relationship too badly. Surely God knows better than to give me any more chances, to invest any more in me. Surely it is too late to go back, because no one in their right mind would want anything more to do with me. I don’t know how best to describe the moments of grace in my life, but I find that sometimes they are akin to my tentatively wondering if I can bear to get out the map and start to painfully retrace my steps and figure out a way back—and then discovering, occasionally to my shock, that I don’t actually need the map, because God incautiously ran away with me. The atonement was not a sort of mechanical intervention in the order of creation to make the system work properly. It was the unfathomable act of a God who loved us so desperately as to be willing to accompany us to the most dangerous and terrible of places, simply to open up the possibility of bringing us back out of them.
There’s a prayer we sometimes pray after Communion that includes the phrase, “may our hearts learn to yield to your longing for us.” And it kind of gets to me every time I say it, because it turns so much on its head that I have regularly assumed about the nature of this relationship. I have too often felt like it was up to me to convince God of my interest—and I have worried that God, knowing the fickleness of my heart, would very sensibly observe that I wasn’t as committed as I could be and still regularly flirted with sin, and wait to be involved with me until I could really prove that I was all the way in and wasn’t going to blow everything up again. It still astonishes me to seriously consider the possibility that God is not actually waiting to see if I’m worth it, to see if I will meet some cut-off of worthiness or of righteousness. That God’s unfailing pursuit of me is at the very core of the connection between us. To experience even a taste of that is to see the world completely differently. It is to wake up and realize that it is Christmas morning.