There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. I John 4:18
Our hen house rests on the outside corner of our garden so that the left side of the coop, along with fencing, forms the eastern wall of our garden. This barrier separates the garden from the chicken run. Our plan has always been to put an additional door on the left side of the coop to give our birds the usage of our garden as a chicken run during the winter as well.
Yesterday we opened up the large door to their current chicken run allowing our flock to free-range our property as they pleased. All of them found the narrow entrance to our garden located on the south side of the fence. Once the chickens are let out to wander freely, they are easily able to find their way into the garden (which still lacks a door) but have a difficult time finding their way back out. It was starting to get dark and all of them were congregating in the corner of the garden next to the left side of the coop wanting to get back in but in the wrong way of doing so. The only way back home was to first find the exit to the garden, turn left, walk along the front of the fence, and then turn left again through the large entrance of their chicken run which would lead them back into their coop. If you know anything about chickens, they are not very smart. They all thought that if they just hunkered down next to the coop somehow they’d be able to get in.
No doubt the chickens wanted to be back in their hen house. And we wanted them in there as well. So much so that our whole family ran around trying to coax them in the right direction. Some of the kids tried to grab them and pick them up, but they would just jet away before being caught. Forcing them was not working. Threatening, guilting, or shaming them wasn’t working either. We certainly had their best interest in mind. We wanted them to be safe from the cold and from dangerous predators, and we even wanted to grant them their desire – to be snuggled up on the cozy roost where they could sleep soundly. However, no amount of coaxing, convincing, or pressuring worked to get these chickens home.
I got to thinking about how this scenario relates to giving gifts. A gift is something that always engages the will. A gift necessitates either an acceptance or a rejection. If it loses either of those two options, it ceases to be a gift and turns into an obligation. An obligation, no matter how wonderful it might be, will always feel like an obligation. An obligation loses the component of love. Like a gift, love is a choice. One that also necessitates the option to either reject or accept it. If love becomes forced, it ceases to be love and becomes a duty. When we force a gift or push our love on people we will never acquire love in return. We might receive compliance. But compliance is not the same thing as love. It might feel like love from time to time if the recipient of force is good at faking it, but authentic love is derived from the freedom to choose.
I know how scary it can be to give people the option to receive or appreciate a gift I want to give or to give people the choice to accept my love. It means putting myself out there with the risk of being rejected. But I have learned that there’s something even worse than rejection. It’s compliance. Compliance might look good on the outside, and even feel good at times to the one demanding it. However, if the recipient’s heart is not engaged, it’s not real love. A gift or love that is forced stirs up resentment and bitterness. Using guilt, shame, manipulation, or fear to bring about a desired outcome is like a dam. Compliance will eventually cave into a mess of deeper rejection – the very thing that was avoided in the first place because the freedom to choose was taken away.
I know this from personal experience. Any time I have forced anything on people – even love or gifts – it has resulted in pretense and not in authentic reciprocation of love. It’s a hard fact to face when you realize that some of the reasons your spouse or other people do things for you are because they are afraid of you. Coming from a professional, I can say that using shame, anger, guilt, and manipulation is a sure way to get fake love.
I am sad at how many times I have tried to force my kids or my husband to do things they didn’t want to do. (I’m not talking about things like forcing them to bathe or brush their teeth. Some things are necessary to force on them!) I’m talking about forcing them to listen to me by using anger or forcing my husband to be my knight and shining armor and fight all my battles for me that he might not want to fight. If I have guilted him to go to war for me then he is no longer fighting for me out of love but out of duty. And duty hurts because duty is not the same thing as love.
It’s hard to let go and let people love us on their own turf because they might not. We might be rejected. But in the end, inauthentic compliance hurts more than rejection.
Jesus gives us the perfect example of what love looks like. While we were still sinners, He gave up His own life for us. (Romans 5:8) He gave us the gift of eternal life, the gift of Heaven, the gift of being with Him forever in a beautiful place that the mind cannot even comprehend. Who would reject such a gift? Yet, God designed it to be a gift and with that the option to receive or decline it. And people do. Jesus was brutally beaten. He was mocked. He was whipped. He was scorged. He was nailed to a cross and did that all for us so that our sins could be forgiven and so that we could have eternal life. He did all that and yet still presented His sacrifice as a gift and not as an obligation, knowing that He would face rejection. But this was not new for Jesus. All along God had been laying out His blessings, yearning that we would choose them, but always leaving it a choice. “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life so that you and your descendants might live!” Deut. 30:19
His love remains a choice for us today. As beautiful as it is, it is not something He forces on us, because true love is not something you can force. It’s risky. If your gifts or your love is followed by rejection, be encouraged because Jesus is right there with you and He knows exactly how you feel. But when a gift of love is willfully accepted, the joy of that is so much greater than any kind of compliance. It was worth it to God. It was worth it to Jesus. It was worth risking rejection to have authentic reciprocated love.
So, did our chickens ever make it back into the coop or did we leave them to the dangerous elements and predators?
After unsuccessfully trying to force our chickens through the narrow passage, around the corner, through the large door of their run, and back into their coop, Kyle decided to grab his saw and go ahead and cut out the additional door on the side of the coop so they could willfully enter back into their safe, warm hen house.
Likewise, Jesus has cut out a new way for us to be saved. No longer do we have to live according to the law, which was just as impossible as trying to get chickens to find their way back home. He created a new door. He is that door. And if we just confess with our mouth and believe in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, we will be saved. (Romans 10:9) We can go home.
So here’s a tough question to ask yourself. Are your relationships full of inauthentic compliance or are they full of genuine love? My challenge for you and me this year is to risk rejection by giving our loved ones the option to receive or reject our gifts and love, and the freedom to make their own choices without guilt, shame, anger, or manipulation. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of trust that no matter what they choose, God does not reject us. He is our knight in shining armor. He is the one who fights our battles and He will never reject our love nor He will He ever cease to offer us His.