Because He Loves Us First
From the other side of my bedroom wall, I could hear my grandmother’s shock and chiding words followed by my grandfather’s sheepish response and pained apology. I was comfortably wrapped up in layers of blankets, phone in hand, YouTube video cautiously paused when the call to investigate this other side conflict became too persistent to contend with the appeal of Jordan Peterson lecturing on the importance of cleaning one’s room.
Several splotches of blood on the 80’s carpet shone out to me immediately when I entered into the warmly lit bathroom. My grandmother had already left in exasperation (we always joke that Grammy’s purgatory would just be her powerlessly perpetually watching Grandad stain his crisply kept shirts) and Grandad was sitting on the edge of the tub, half-heartedly wiping away blood from his leg caused from catching a sharp corner of his bedframe.
I called out to make my presence known, he glanced up at me and shook his head. He said that he couldn’t believe that he had stained the carpet, he was baffled that he was even bleeding. Looking over at the many stains that would be too much for him to address, he threw up his hands and declared that he’d just have to replace all the carpeting in the bathroom…
The stains were still bright and fresh. Nothing a little blotting and hydrogen peroxide couldn’t fix I decided. After the gash on his leg had been bandaged up, I set to work on the carpet.
The red splotches bubbled and fizzed brown as I poured peroxide on each spot. While I knelt to blot out the stains, Grandad, thinking himself a nuisance, said, “Bless your heart, I am so sorry…” Before I had time to think of how to respond, I found myself laughingly telling him, “It’s no problem, Grandad! You loved me first!”
He had taken care of me since I was small. Memories of him helping me with my first encounter with long division, of him driving me and siblings to school and surprising us with our favorite sugary cereal stacked in a pyramid for our delight upon our return home, of him happily sharing his oatmeal at breakfast, of him telling me stories he made up of a little girl named Josephine, and of him comforting me my first day of college when I couldn’t find my lecture hall and missed my first psychology class informed that subconsciously uttered statement, “You loved me first.” For all those times, for all the care and encouragement and delight he gave me, I felt, how could I not want to do this small thing for him in love? It was easy.
Recently, it has dawned on me, that this is how God loves us and how it is that we can say we love God. For the longest time, when I thought about loving God, the ubiquitous “we were made to know, love, and serve God in this world and the next” a la the Baltimore Catechism came to mind. And the image this conjured up was always that loving God was this herculean effort of the will. A choice – independently thought out, judged to be worthwhile, and executed.
But in reality, like the legacy of Grandad’s loving service to me inevitably, easily, and intuitively evoking my response of loving service to him in his need, so too is our love for God a response. Even longer than our oldest memory of being loved first by a grandparent, or a parent, or a priest has God been loving us. And it is when we encounter, through attention to the present graces in our lives, or undeniable memories of his presence and providence, that we cannot helpbut respond by loving in return. It is because He loves us first.