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From his column A Minute with Don

minute-with-Don-03-13-1I received a lovely Valentine this year. Probably the most beautiful such card I’ve ever received. You might not think it was all that attractive, but the cliché about “eye of the beholder” plays into this situation.

The card was fashioned from red construction paper—a simple, flat piece with a couple of corners cut at odd angles. Also, there was an interesting random cut in the middle. It featured a nice green heart sticker and some decorative shapes drawn with colored pencils. The sender’s name was lovingly scrawled across the top, with “To: Papa” penciled at the bottom. My four year old granddaughter, Lyla, had spent quite a bit of time making it just for me. It was beautiful!

My daughter, Lyla’s mother, tried to provide some explanation when she gave me the card. She said she’d offered to help write some meaningful message at the top and suggested “Happy Valentine’s Day” would look nice. However, Lyla insisted nothing more was needed and that what she had made was all that was necessary.

And she was right.

I’ve thought about that card throughout the days since. I keep it in my office where I can see it. That unusual Valentine is an inspiration, not only a reminder of the sweet affection of my granddaughter, but an expression of the love I try to express for God.

I’ve tried to learn how to worship in the decades of my life. I’ve tried to learn how to serve, how to be devoted, how to be and do all the stuff I believe is important for disciples to do and to do it with the best form and process possible. I’ve been to classes, seminars, workshops, meetings, services, and sessions, and heard countless presentations and sermons explaining how to do and be better. And then, I’ve tried to follow the instructions and examples—and nearly every time I’ve realized my attempts didn’t look quite like the examples in the book or on the screen. All of this because I want the expression that is my life to be the best statement of “I Love You” to God that it can be.

I want the expression of love that is my life to be suitable for Hallmark, and I think I’m starting to understand: God’s definition of my best expression of love may not look like a store-bought version of anything. Last February 14, tens of millions of cards expressing love and devotion were exchanged. The sentiments on most of them were created by card company employees in cubicles, the art was produced by professional designers, and likely they were printed and folded on presses somewhere in Asia.

That is one of the things that made Lyla’s card so special—it was one-of-a-kind. Of all the Valentines exchanged that day, no one got a card just like mine. It was unique. And Lyla’s wisdom about her card was a wonderful insight—it was perfect just the way it was because Papa would understand it. Her artwork wasn’t about symmetry or design; it was an expression of her desire to show me the progress she is making in using scissors. That random cut in the middle was simply more of the same. And the scrawled letters at the top were a reminder of how hard she has been working on learning to write her name. She knows green is one of my favorite colors, so it didn’t matter that the foam heart she stuck on the paper was green, and that green isn’t a Valentine color. Green is Papa’s color, so green it is. I doubt many corporate card editors let green hearts make it onto any mass-produced Valentines. It just isn’t marketable. But I’m glad my card had one—it was made just for me!

I’ve wondered many times if it is possible to love God the wrong way. I imagine there are theologians and scholars who could point me to examples of such. And I suppose it should be noted that my reference point is from within the confines of Christ's followers. I’m not stretching to embrace any formless universalism which is not centered in the revelation of God’s love delivered to us in Christ Jesus. But even in this context, or perhaps particularly within this context, I find myself wondering if one can love God wrong? We certainly seem to act, work, and teach like not only is it a possibility, but in fact is quite likely.

In this work I’ve had opportunity to hear folks speak from their lifetime perspectives of serving God. More often than not, they express gratitude for the opportunities of service they were afforded. But sometimes, in the course of their sharing there are confessions of “if only.” You probably know what I’m talking about. They express regrets about not meeting some unfulfilled expectation—a recognition, promotion, or achievement that just never materialized. They express this disappointment from the position of having not lived up to some ideal of service. The love expression to God that was their life didn’t quite fit the Hallmark model of marketability.

What a heavy load to carry—thinking that one’s expression of love to God doesn’t measure up. But, I believe it is a load we need not carry. I believe God is thrilled with the Valentine that is our life of love for Him even if it has a funny shape, a random cut in the middle, and a green heart sticker.

Millions received Valentine greetings last February 14, but not one of them got one that made them feel more loved than my card from Lyla. And when you’re tempted to believe the expression of love to God that is your life doesn’t quite measure up, I hope you’ll remember that’s not how God takes stock.

Maybe our highest goal should be to express our love and devotion to Christ as little children.

Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.

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