On my way out of the gardening shop I spotted these roses near the door.
“Wow! Are they real?”
They seemed too good to be true. They were –too good to be true, I mean. As soon as I felt them I knew they were paper. Pretty though.
I drove home singing an old Loretta Lynn song I used to hear crackling out of the plastic radio with the big gold dial that sat on top of Grandma’s fridge when I was a kid.
Paper roses paper roses oh how real those roses seem to be
But they’re only imitation like your imitation love for me…
That got me thinking about the nature of deceit and manipulation and feigned love. In the cold greyness of spring that doesn’t feel like spring, those paper roses were beautiful and you know, I can appreciate them just fine –until the real thing comes along.
We joke about our tendency in Canada to be more polite than some other cultures. Honestly I grew up thinking it was normal to say sorry to the person who bumped into you with a grocery cart. It’s not heart-felt, but it does ease tensions and keep the traffic flowing in the produce section.
Someone told me the story of watching a woman trying to purchase a can of pop at a convenience store with a fifty dollar bill. The cashier took it but didn’t even look at the bill as he said, “This is fake.” The woman left the money –and the Coke – on the counter and dashed for the door.
My friend asked how he knew it was fake.
“I’ve been handling money all day, every day, for years. When you are familiar with the real stuff the fake stuff is obvious.”
There are a lot of people in the world who have no idea what real love feels like. They mistake politeness, tolerance, gratitude, warm fuzzies, lust, familiarity, loyalty, manipulation…all manner of things, for love. They have never been the recipients of true, unconditional, self-sacrificing love.
Here’s the thing. You can’t give what you have never received.
It is so easy to be critical of prickly people -the ones who are difficult to feel affection toward, or manipulative people –the ones who prod you into serving their own priorities with large dollops of honey on that stick. My son calls them EGN people. Extra Grace Needed. I believe that is one of the reasons why believers are to band together like a family. You can pick your friends, but God assigns family because we need practice learning to love EGNs, and also to experience being loved ourselves by those who can discern the real from the counterfeit and demonstrate the difference.
Very few new family members come with 70 years of wisdom. Very few church members start off as sanctified lovers, and some, like irritable, contentious old uncles sitting down at the end of the Thanksgiving table take much longer to get there than we think they should. It takes time –and just because a person recognizes an ideal doesn’t mean they are skilled in the practice of it. It’s not about tolerating hypocrisy; it’s about needing grace to grow.
Sometimes the best demonstrations of love some people can offer are like paper roses because that’s all they know. I wonder if, rather than reject the imitation item, we need to smile and accept politeness or tolerance or even well-intended criticism graciously –then return genuine love we have received from God by being willing to lay down our lives for people who have never truly known love before. Lord knows we all need some grace.
“It’s easy to say “I love God,” but genuine love reflects God’s love. If we belong to God, then we will love each other regardless of how hard love is.” (Note on 1 John 5 in The Voice version)
This is the embodiment of true love: not that we have loved God first, but that He loved us and sent His unique Son on a special mission to become an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
Everyone who trusts Jesus as the long-awaited Anointed One is a child of God, and everyone who loves the Father cannot help but love the child fathered by Him. Then how do we know if we truly love God’s children? We love them if we love God and keep His commands. You see, to love God means that we keep His commands, and His commands don’t weigh us down. Everything that has been fathered by God overcomes the corrupt world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. ( 1 John 5:1-4)