My dad had a favourite pair of cross country skis. He bought them in the late ‘70s to race with his high school team. The skis went with him to university, on ski dates with my mom, and helped him teach my siblings and me to enjoy winter. While out on the trails, sometimes we would have to adjust the wax on the runners. Almost every time, Dad would sigh contentedly and say something along the lines of “I love these skis!”
I loved them too, until I broke them.
What happens to how we are loved when we are unloveable?
The sky was a beautiful bright blue that day. The air was fresh, cold, and delicious to breathe. The sun on the snow was cheerful and warm on our skin.
While my dad loves his skis, I’m happy to report that he loves me more. Often he insists that I use his skis to give me the best possible experience. I’ve never thought much of this gift; I’m a pretty go-with-the-flow sort of person, so I’ll suit up for our cross-country ski adventures however I’m told. So I was wearing his favourite skis when we went to explore a (mostly) frozen wetland across the lake from my uncle’s cottage.
On the way back to the cottage, we traversed a rough section of wetland with sudden drops and steps up. As we followed my dad’s tracks, he warned us of a significant mound.
If you’ve never skied, imagine sliding your feet forward with long planks strapped to them (I promise it’s fun). It’s hard to climb steps.
I saw the large bump, knew I needed to take care, but assured myself that I could do this. High school physics was a long time ago, but I knew that the “planks” on my feet were about to be severely strained. I confidently stepped forward anyway, and one of my dad’s favourite skis responded with a sharp “CRACK!”
It wasn’t immediately clear that something was wrong; the ski appeared whole. There were lots of branches, and the sound could have come from one of them breaking. I nervously laughed and assured everyone that everything was fine.
My dad then told the story of the salesman’s grandiose promise that these skis would never break, not even if they were driven over by a train–or his money back! But I couldn’t help but notice the chipped paint highlighting the crack in the structural layer of the ski, with the correlating bend, even if the ski was still holding together by the runner beneath.
I knew it was broken. I knew I had made a big mistake. And I felt incredibly unloveable.
I am doubly fortunate: not only does my dad love me more than his skis, but I trust him to respond graciously to my failings. I called out a confession and an apology, and his response was to make sure that I was okay and that I could still ski back.
I could ski, but I couldn’t be sure my heart was okay. I wanted as much distance as possible from my own unloveliness.
It was a long ski home, with my mistake still gingerly strapped to my foot. I found myself wrestling with the idea of absence and presence. Was my presence in our family’s excursion “worth it” when it resulted in a broken ski? Would my family’s trek have been better if I had just stayed in the cottage? Or even back in the city?
I had known the risk of breaking a ski; would my answers change if I was an ignorant beginner?
Would my answers change if this destruction had been intentional instead of mistaken?
These questions don’t just matter to me in this particular situation. All of God’s children have to wrestle with the reality that we have a Father who entrusts to us things he loves, things we so often end up breaking. God might even warn us of coming bumps, as my dad did, and we still make mistakes, whether out of pride or carelessness. Worse, sometimes we break things on purpose.
How are we loved when we are unloveable?
I can see and hear my dad’s response. His response is a clear “Yes: your presence is worth what you break.” Not that that gives me license to smash everything in my parents’ house. But it does give me freedom to be without wondering if I am loved in my unlovable moments.
Even when I am not my best self, I am still welcomed to come along for the weekend.
But what about God’s response to us? I cannot visually see him to read his body language, or audibly hear him to catch his words or tone of voice. This frustrates me to no end. But it is also a beautiful opportunity to trust God’s character based on what I do know about him.
I do know that when Jesus came, he spent a lot of time with unloved people: cheaters, hypocrites, insurgents, skeptics, cynics, the sick and promiscuous, as well as a few rough and rowdy fishermen.
Jesus spent time with those who made some awful mistakes: they disbelieved, they betrayed, they denied, they insulted.
I also know that Jesus has supremacy in all things (Colossians 1:18). Thus, unless I want to claim that my dad is more gracious and loving than Jesus, I must understand that Jesus’ grace and love are beyond even my best human experiences.
If a human can love and forgive this freely, who am I to limit God’s response?
If I’m honest, I often would prefer absence when someone’s presence costs me something, whether time or energy or material things. I want presence only on my terms. And it is so easy to project my attitudes onto God, assuming he thinks the same of me.
But that’s not what we actually see: having our presence, even in all our brokenness, was worth everything to God. My presence cost my dad a ski. But my presence cost God Jesus’ very life.
My dad is scheming up some ways to attempt a repair job. I’m not confident that it will work, but I’m staking my life on the hope that Jesus is repairing the brokenness of this world, including my own cracks.
Until then, I’m learning to love the unlovable, for that is how Christ loves me.