Last July I became a first time dog owner. After days of visiting the puppy store and playing with adorable puppies of all breeds and temperaments, I carried a wiry, energetic fur ball out to my rental car. The months that followed were filled with dog hair, Clorox wipes, and new bills. Never once however, did I doubt that my decision to bring home Colby was one of the best of my life. A friend and fellow dog lover put it perfectly when she described dogs as “love sponges.” I was thinking about what God has been trying to do in my life in the last few days and I realized that the idea of a “love sponge” is a perfect illustration for where God has me right now.
I have to admit that I am a bit reluctant to share the first part of the story. I shared two days ago that I had recently realized that we do not do good works because we are trying to secure our salvation. My next question was, “Well, if we don’t do good works because we are trying to make sure we get to heaven, then why do we even bother doing good works at all?” I’ve often heard the answer to that question being “We do them because we love God and want to please Him.” Now that’s when my stomach knots and I sometimes even doubt my salvation. I thought, “If God has done all the things he has for me, even to the extent of punishing his Son in my place, shouldn’t that make me burst with love for God and the desire to please him? Sadly that has not been the case with me and I was so ashamed of it. I kept telling myself, “Emely, what kind of ungrateful brat are you that you would not be able to love a God like that?”
With my tail between my legs, I turned to God because I knew that I needed an answer from him or I will forever live in torment over not being able to love God like I should or obey his commandments out of love for him. I told him that I know he has said that those who love him will obey his commandments, but I don’t have that love for him. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for everything he has done, but as far as loving him, I can’t honestly say that I’m there yet. Instead of the reprimand that I had expected, I only felt God say, “You can’t love me because you can’t give what you don’t have.” Before I had time to bash myself for being heartless and cold, God continued, “Right now, I just want you to receive my love. Then you will be able to love me and others around you.”
Now that didn’t sound very comforting. You see, Asians have issues when it comes to receiving. I once watched a tv show where two Chinese men were fighting over a restaurant tab, each wanting to pay for the meal himself, until both men were on the floor pulling each other’s hair. I was always raised to only accept a gift after I’ve made a hearty effort to refuse it and the giver continues to insist. So when God wanted me to learn to receive his love, I was not very enthusiastic because I knew that it would not be an easy thing for me to do. You see, what I have found is that receiving something requires a great deal of humility. When people give me a gift, or express their love for me for no other reason than the fact that they love me and want to bless me, it is extremely humbling. However, I have realized that I am so love-starved that it doesn’t take much for me to begin longing for it and eating up any hint of love I receive. Just like a man (even an Asian man) who is physically starving and has gone weeks without food will most likely forget about being polite or abiding by cultural rules and would probably wolf down anything offered to him.
A sponge cannot pour out water unless it first soaks up water. Just as a dry sponge is useless, a heart that is dry is ineffective in the kingdom of God. Being raised as a performance-driven achiever, I have to admit that it is painful to sit and soak up the love that God wants to lavish on me. However, I have been so frustrated at my ineffectiveness in the ministries I’ve tried to be a part of just as I would be frustrated if I tried to clean my kitchen with a dry sponge. Furthermore, I realize that just as trying to scrub counters with a dry sponge will ultimately destroy the sponge, I will ultimately destroy myself if I continue to try to perform and do good works without the love of God in me.
One of Colby’s favorite things to do is to lie in my arms like a baby while I rub his belly. Although not much of a licker, during these times he will lick my hand and position himself for more snuggling and belly rubbing. A love sponge indeed. Lately I’ve also been humbled as my pastor, my church, and my friends have expressed the heart of God by loving me unconditionally like I’ve never known before. As I slowly begin to position myself for more of God’s love, I look forward to the day when a gentle squeeze of that sponge will send showers of love flowing through me to others and ultimately back to God in grateful, adoring obedience.