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loved, just as you are

When Shannon and I first got married, I struggled to communicate unconditional love to her. It continues to be an ongoing work as you’d expect in all relationships. One of our worn-out arguments was about a single phrase: “I love you just as you are.” I hated to say that. And often when Shannon felt the most needy, she was desperate to hear it. In those times when something had gone wrong, it was difficult to imagine that I could love her for the rest of life if it never changed.

Of course, to complicate matters, we heard the phrase in church: “Jesus loves you just as you are.” I never liked that idea either. To me it said something like, “if you never change, Jesus will love you just as much as he does now.” In truth, I think that’s a lie. Whosoever can spend any real time with Jesus and not feel his gentle but firm push on their life must question whether they are indeed experiencing that relationship mutually. While God’s love is consistently for us, it don’t always feel like it. You can’t think the disciples always knew Jesus’ love when they heard things like “get behind me Satan.” (It’s there in Matthew 16:23 if you’d like more context.)

The second issue is more subtle and contained in one word: “just.” It’s in the second half of the sentence: “just as you are.” Think for a moment about what that “just” implies. Am I to think of myself merely? To me it pigeonholes me in the present as this static being. What of the great growth that’ll occur over life? What of the great maturity? In my heart there is a fierce rebellion toward “just” because I feel it really looks down on things. Except as part of “justice” I personally attempt to ban the use of “just.”

As I dwelt listening and journaling about our arguments and Shannon’s need for love, I came to a different phrase: “I love you right now .” I can rally my thoughts behind that because it doesn’t lie about loving the inadequacies of another. In marriage, I’ve made a commitment to choose to love Shannon. That means, when the going gets tough, I can affirm that love in the present moment by saying “right now.” It contains the idea that despite whatever faults exist, love exists and to love is chosen in the moment.

I don’t think Jesus loves my “falling short” and I think he would be disappointed if I remained “ just as I am.” Instead I believe Jesus loves me right now. He loved me when I was born. He loved me in High School. He loved me in College. He loved me at Microsoft. He’ll love me wherever I go. And that love, though consistent, is not constant for the relationship is dynamic. Sometimes his love is grace and sometimes it is mercy and sometimes it is justice in my life. Jesus loves me right now.