“… but, I love you.”

As a parent I am increasingly aware of the power of my words over my kids. What I say and how I say it, can have a profound impact. I am also becoming more aware that the order in which I say things can make a significant difference.

I often used to phrase my sentences as follows:

I love you, but … (insert words of rebuke here).

I love you, but … you really need to clean your room.
I love you, but … I wish you would stop talking to your sister that way.
I love you, but … please stop picking your nose.

That kind of thing.

What I am inadvertently communicating through these statements is that my love is conditional. I love you, but your behaviour is really disappointing me right now and you need to change. I begin with confessions of love but then conclude with ‘sort yourself out, or else’.

Thankfully, God flips this on its head at Easter.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(‭Romans‬ ‭5‬:‭6-8‬ NIV)

God doesn’t come to us and say, “I love you, but … you fail, you fall short, you mess up.”
Instead He says, “You fail, you fall short, you mess up … but, I love you.”

This is the heart of the Easter message and of God’s heart for us.

Us: I wonder if you’re even real God.
God: … but, I love you.
Us: My sense of meaning is derived in achievement and performance.
God: … but, I love you.
Us: I’ll follow and serve you when I’ve sorted all this other stuff out first.
God: … but, I love you.
Us: They’ve wronged me and I can’t forgive them.
God: … but, I love you.
Us: I like my safety and comfort, even if it’s at the expense of someone else.
God: … but, I love you.

Jesus on the cross represents the heart of God and the heart of God says to you today “… but, I love you.”

God’s example and God’s love in me, inspires me to change.

I’ve started changing my language particularly in the way I speak to my kids (and even my wife).

“What you did just then, really bothers me. I know you can do better … but, I love you.”

This is the counter-culture that Jesus seeks when He says by this they will know you are my disciples – when love is not only the opening statement, but the closing one.

This is what ushers in the kingdom of God and this is what is supposed to position the church as the beacon of hope that – whatever has happened, whatever is done to us – our lasting impression, our defining moments, our resounding statement is “… but, I love you.”

image credit: Exodus, Marc Chagall

3 responses

  1. David Martin

    Where would we be without God’s unconditional love? I have adjusted much of my language to eliminate the word, ‘but’, as it is a disconnective. So, I think you are a wonderful person ‘but’ you are a pain in the proverbial. The second half of the sentence disregards the words prior to, ‘but’, and the second half is what I really think at this point in time… So I use, ‘and’ in place of ‘but’, which allows me to love you and express the fact that I think you are a pain in the proverbial at the same time… All very helpful. Though, after reading your article, I may well selectively reenter but into my speach once again 🙂

    1. Great thought Dave! I like ‘and’ alot. It can be very powerful and the way you’ve articulated it here, especially so. I’ve always preferred both/and as opposed to either/or. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ian Gibbins

    This blog is great as are these comments expressed here. I wonder if we tend to confine love to our puny concepts of human affection, good deeds, nice comments, gentle demeanor and ‘conditional’ encouragements. If however as David comments we deliberately eliminate ‘but’ then we begin to position all our thinking to ‘unconditional’ love. Thank you David. I think you have presented a platform from which we can all push beyond our human concepts and begin to imagine the sheer extravagance of the love of God.

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