“That’s not how you do it.” My nine-year-old snapped, eyes narrowed, as she once again corrected her little sister for some mispronounced word, some misspoken song lyric, some misplaced dance step, you name it. Big sister knows everything. Little sister is just clueless and annoying. Right?
Uh, not in my house.
“Hey—are you showing love to your sister right now?” My own narrowed eyes drilled into hers. She tightened her lips, crossed her arms, and glared out the window. My six-year-old looked up at me with a question on her face. What’d I do wrong?
“Sweetheart,” I softened toward my nine-year-old, “you know how I feel about treating your sister with kindness.” Yes, she knows this lecture. In our house, we show love. We encourage. We build one another up. But this time, I went a step further and explained why.
You can pray and you can sing worship songs and you can say you love Jesus ‘til your nose turns blue, but if you’re not loving the people God gave you, what good is all the rest?
You have to show love. That’s how people know you belong to God.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Please understand, I’m not throwing my daughter under the bus here. She is largely delightful. She loves the Lord. She even loves her sister, truly she does. Sometimes she shows it really well. Sometimes, well, she does not. She’s just learning what love looks like in daily life—and quite frankly, so am I.
My children, God bless them, are often a mirror held up to my own ugliness. Perhaps one of the primary reasons my daughter isn’t doing so hot in the love-your-neighbor department (besides her inherent sin nature, dang that thing in all of us) is that I haven’t done a great job lately of showing her how.
Oh sure, I read my Bible. I sing on the worship team. I raise hands in church, I play Christian music at home, I write Christian books for crying out loud, telling people why we all should love Jesus. But what good is any of that if I’m stinking at loving my own family?
Lately my daughters have seen me snap at their dad. I get defensive. I feel entitled. I huff and I nag, without a justified cause. I even correct my husband’s grammar and scold him for dropping crumbs on the kitchen floor—Lord help me, how annoying is that?!
Am I any better than a bossy sister?
What is wrong with my heart?
Well, the same thing that’s wrong with everyone’s. It’s broken.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
So how do we fix it? How do we pull back the layers of junk surrounding our hearts and reveal the living, loving, forgiving Christ inside?
We don’t. God does.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
The way to summon God’s healing work is to ask Him for it. To pray. To turn first to Him—before we nag, before we snap, before we criticize or pout.
So I’m making a pact—with myself and God. For the remainder of the year, whenever I feel criticized or annoyed, instead of lashing out, I will pray. I will shut my mouth and ask God to give me a pure heart. I will ask him to “see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24). Then I will ask him to soften my husband’s heart, my daughter’s heart, whatever heart it is that’s paining me at the moment (either real or perceived). And He will do what my words cannot.
I promised this to my daughters on the drive to school yesterday. I told them Mom was going to make a better effort to give up my grievances to God. And I invited them to do the same.
Will you join us? What better time of year to commit to showing love than this, the holiday season. After all, the Christ child was God’s greatest display of love to date. Let’s show the world we are His disciples.
Let’s show humble, encouraging, forgiving love like crazy. Amen?