I Thought I Knew What Love Looked Like
by Dawn Aldrich
The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. John 14:21
“Most live life with love gone much unsaid.” These narrated words from a new BBC series pricked my heart as I thought about all the years I withheld my love from my father; repressed my childhood affection from the one who walked away and yet returned with a repentant heart. We’d lost so much time play-acting our roles as father and daughter all those Saturdays of my youth, that when he returned in my college days, I didn’t know what to do. Showing affection was awkward, at least, and risky. I allowed the fear of rejection to build an impenetrable fortress around my heart, keeping everyone at arm’s length, especially my father.
We lived most of the rest of his life with love gone much unsaid until God took hold of my heart about nine years ago. That’s when God pried open my soul and revealed to me my earthly father through His eyes. For the first time, I was able to accept him for who God created him to be and honor all his traits in me without shame. But it wasn’t enough to only ponder these revelations alone. God challenged me to forgive my father face-to-face and to speak my love out loud to him (talk about fear and risk). It took me a long seven months of God working on me to gain the courage to face my father and risk it all, but I’m glad I did.
My earthly father passed over a year ago knowing how much I loved him and forgave him. We left no words unsaid, he and I. I thought his passing restored all lost love between us and ended my father journey, but recently God taught me differently. For I learned that I could not possibly know what a father’s love looked like (or felt like) without experiencing it first. While God restored my love for my earthly father, it was far from that innocent, untainted love between a father and his daughter. My heart yearned for that which was lost from my childhood; a love that now only God himself could restore, for my earthly father was gone.
I stood amongst a few others while the leader of the small group stood on a chair above me, putting me in the posture of a young girl and her father. He then recited my personalized scripture as though God were reading it himself:
I cherish you with an unending, undying love. I pull you near and hold you close with my absolute, dependable kindness. Though your world be shaken and the familiar be removed, still my love for you remains–my boundless, unending, immovable love. My covenant, my word, my promise of peace also remains, for I AM tender, gentle and compassionate towards you, always. (Jeremiah 31:3, Isaiah 54:10 personalized)
In that moment I felt four-years-old again, standing beside my father, protected and encircled in his love. God stirred my heart like never before, lavishing His love on me in such a way words cannot adequately explain. Not only was it a time of restorative love of an earthly experience from my childhood, but more so a present and breakthrough experience of the depth of God’s love for me as my heavenly Father.
Jesus said, “A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV). How can we adequately love another if we have not experienced that love from Jesus first? We can read how Jesus loved and try to love as he did, but we cannot offer the extent of his love unless we first experience it from him. This teaching blew me away (First Loved to Love seminar by Rev. Mark Fee). All these years, I’ve tried to love my father as Jesus had taught me to love and honor him, but I hadn’t experienced that type of father-daughter love from my heavenly Father at all. It hadn’t even crossed my mind to ask for it.
So, how do we love as Jesus love so that we in turn can love others? One way, as Mark Fee teaches, is personalizing love scriptures like I did above. Then, read it aloud several times (I found it most effective when someone else reads it to me, like my husband) until you can actually feel the Holy Spirit’s presence. Then ask the Holy Spirit to embellish His thoughts regarding this scripture for you personally. Record what He says to you and meditate on that throughout your day. And in addition, love others as God is loving you.
All these years I thought I knew what loved looked like, but God is showing me so much more. He is showing me how high, how wide, how deep is His love. He’s longing to show you, too. Won’t you risk it?