Have you ever been shaken from distraction by the beauty of the sky? Love poured out on the atmosphere, whether we notice or not. This summer, the skies above Saskatchewan have been breathtaking — from sunsets to storms. I am surprised by the beauty every time and feel unworthy of the generosity of it.
I am beginning to have a way of recognizing that unworthy feeling, but for years I felt it and did not know what it was. It was an ache in the pit of my stomach, a discomfort in my own skin. It was strangely motivating, driving me to prove it wrong, to expel it so I could just have some peace.
I first realized it was a feeling a few years ago, sitting on a balcony singing to myself and the trees. For all my years of living, I had not been allowing myself to receive love. I was trying desperately to earn it. And love, it turns out, is free.
I have laughed at this realization in less abstract circumstances. When I have tried to pay friends for babysitting when they just wanted to spend time with our kids. When I have given the money for a ride on the train to a dad who forgot his wallet. When a family member has knocked on my door to give me help I said I did not need.
I have been a relentless scorekeeper and a fierce competitor. As long as I owe you fewer favours than you owe me, I could feel OK for awhile. If I made a mistake, hurt someone, behaved badly, it tipped the balance permanently against me. It did not matter if someone told me it wasn’t a big deal, in words or with gracious action, I still felt indebted, sick to my stomach.
This false economy of trying to earn love did some serious damage in my heart. Not only did it stop me from believing that others could love the me beneath the shiny exterior, it made me hesitant to offer love freely to others. I performed loving actions without letting love touch me. Free, unconditional, generous love scared me. What would I do with all the score cards?
Sitting there on the balcony in July heat the walls started to fall down and I was overwhelmed by the relief of love that had been freely offered my whole life, by family and friends, by stranger and sinners, by nature and by God. Love is free. I just have to be willing to receive it.
I’m learning and still scarred. I am trying to teach my kids the value of hard work and guard against entitlement, but sometimes, I hear myself passing on my wounds with the lessons: “Why are you jumping on my furniture? Sure you can have a cuddle — when you have brushed your teeth and put on your pyjamas like I asked you to 10 minutes ago.” Now I know that God understands these wounds, and when I realize I have messed up, I know I get to choose again. We are loved no less when we do it wrong than when we do it right.
Yesterday two strangers told me how nice I looked when they passed me on the sidewalk. A woman asked for spare change and after searching my purse and feeling awful because I did not have any, she thanked me for looking and smiled. This morning my littlest reached up both arms, whining for me to pick her up. I had to set down my hair straightener and my watch to receive her tightest squeeze. I have the most beautiful life.
That littlest one loves big because she hasn’t yet learned how not to. And still, she has her own way of expressing it. She is learning new words every day,and because we love to hear her talk we try to get her to say things all the time. And she will not even try to say her name. It’s tricky, and besides, she’d rather have the puppy’s name. It makes us laugh. And when we try to get her to say “Love you,” she says, “No.” And still she loves and is loved. Because love is free, even if she can’t say the words.
The thing about something free is that it cannot be bought, only received. It can be given, but not sold. My effort was the wrong currency, like trying to move clouds with my will. Just like the sky, my life is canvas filled with opportunities to be overwhelmed by love. Maybe one of these days I will stop being so surprised.
Perrault is a wife and mom, a grateful employee of Emmanuel Care, and a speaker, writer and consultant at www.leahperrault.com