One time, when my second daughter was a toddler, I took her to a playground where we met another dad and his baby girl. The girls played together nicely and I chatted with the other dad, Justin, who seemed like a nice guy.
Then things suddenly got awkward, thanks to my daughter.
Justin climbed onto the playground equipment to check on his daughter, squatting down to speak to her–but then my daughter intercepted. Crawling over to Justin, she grabbed his shirt, pulled herself up, reached her arms around his neck, and hugged him.
“Awwww!” said the other adults standing around watching.
“That’s sweet,” said the man, awkwardly holding his arms straight out to the side and sheepishly smiling, as if to say, “I’m a nice guy, I promise. I’m won’t hug your daughter or intentionally touch her in any way.”
I thought it was endearing though, and figuring my daughter would let go soon, I decided to wait it out. In the meantime, Justin was growing visibly uncomfortable as my daughter’s grip around his neck grew tighter. It was like she had found the love of her life and wasn’t letting go, even if he wasn’t going to hug her back.
“It’s OK. I think she likes you,” I said, smiling; and then I walked over to my daughter, stooped down, and peeled her arms off Justin’s neck. I made a joke about Justin being her first crush, and he laughed as I carried my daughter away.
Like Justin, most of us adults don’t deal with selfless love very well. Even when we know it’s safe to give and receive grace, we’re uneasy with it, and our resistance crops up in a myriad of ways.
Try to pay for a friend’s lunch–they will probably say, “Next time, it’s on me.” Try to hold the door open for a stranger and watch what happens: They’ll mutter a “thank you,” reach over and touch the door lightly, as if to say, “You didn’t need to do that. I could’ve gotten it for myself.”
Genuinely compliment a woman’s hairdo–she will probably say, “I need a haircut.” Or compliment her outfit. Ten bucks says she will respond, “This old thing?”
And then think about how you respond when someone has the guts to say, “I love you.” You probably say, “Love you,” or the super weird, “We love you too” (Who is “we” anyway?).
Grace–unconditional love–paralyzes us with awkwardness. So instead of receiving it, we pay for our own lunch, shut down the compliment, and say “love you” to someone who needs to hear the whole sentence. Being naturally resistant to the smallest acts of human grace, I think it’s even harder for us to receive the divine graces of God.
His Son’s outstretched arms on the cross tell the story of a God who isn’t afraid to overdo grace. He accepted the last-minute, deathbed confession from the thief on the cross. He left the 99 sheep to save the lost one–to save you and me.
And we don’t know what to do with that kind of fearless affection; so instead of returning the love, we pull away from Him, preferring to retreat to the familiar territory of guilt trips and self-sufficiency.
But if we’ll allow ourselves the freedom, there’s nothing like enjoying the innocent, child-like embrace of Jesus. And there’s nothing like the joy of knowing He lives to show grace to little sheep who have nothing to offer but dependence. With that in mind, perhaps the next time the Son of God throws His arms around us, we’ll listen to His Father saying, “It’s okay. I think He likes you,” and unconditionally embrace Him in return.
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