|image courtesy giverslog.com via Pinterest|
And that made my internal alarm go all Def-Con 5, complete with whooping sirens and robots waving their arms saying, "Danger Will Robinson! Danger" (Which is weird, because I'm too young to have ever watched "Lost in Space." But apparently, I soak up pop culture like a sponge.)
First, let me say: I'm a pastor's kid. I believe passionately in the local church, and I believe the people who work there deserve to get paid, and not get paid at the poverty level. (Which is actually why my friends are looking for a new job. They work at a church right now, and a fairly big church, and they get paid so little, they qualify for WIC.) So yes. I think it's important that those of us who belong to a local body support those who give to us.
But by demanding it, this church gets it wrong.
And it grates on me. Because it's a subtle shift. But this misguided focus is what almost caused me to walk away from my faith.
Imagine being invited to a birthday party. The host clearly states the only way to get in the front door is to have a relationship with him, to love him completely. That's it. That's your ticket to admission.
But this is a big birthday party, and we do love the host, so naturally, we want to bring a gift. So we get out and search for ways we can demonstrate our love. Because sometimes love is so intangible. We want proof! We want something we can bring with us to the party that says, "Here! This is how much you mean to me! I love you this much!"
That's not necessarily a bad thing. If we are motivated by love, a gift can be a beautiful outpouring of our heart.
The problem comes when we the gift becomes required. It's easier to quantify, after all. We feel more comfortable standing in that receiving line when we know we are with other invitees who love the host. And how do we know that they love him if they don't have a gift? So we, as guests, start to impose gift standards on everyone else.
"If you really love the host, you will bring a gift. It should be wrapped with rain-forest safe, organic paper, to prove that you care about the earth He made. It needs to have a I-give-lots-of-money-to-the-poor bow. Ideal gifts include: an I Don't Dance t-shirt, an I Never Drink Alcohol carafe (getting it engraved with the words "I drink from The Well" is a nice touch) and a one-piece swimsuit, to demonstrate that you never wore a bikini."
The problem with gift standards (aka laws) is that they take our focus off the love and put it squarely on the gift. Instead of measuring our love, we measure our gift boxes. Instead of deepening our relationship with the host, we spend our time comparing our gift with the other invitees. "Mine is nicer than that one. But wow. I could never get a bow that big."
And in doing so, we completely miss the point.
The amazing, terrifying thing about this host is: He can see our hearts. He can see our love without a gift. The gift is nice, if it's an addition to love. But if it's become our focus to the degree that we no longer love? We aren't getting in to the party, no matter how beautiful the wrapping paper or how gorgeous the bow.
I grew up surrounded by people who wanted me to get in to the party. So they trained me to work on my gift. I was taught how to hand dye wrapping paper and the intricacies of bow making. I was given catalogs of gift suggestions and I was subtly taught to value some gifts more than others.
By the time I was a young adult, I was sick of my gift. It wasn't looking as great as others (although it did look better than a few, thankfully). I was weary of always working on it, trying to perfect it and make it better. I started to wonder why I would want to go to this party anyway.
And then I met the host. And I fell in love with Him.
And I stopped caring about my gift.
Love that is forced, is not love.