Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).
In my work as a psychotherapist, I hear a steady refrain or bass line in a minor key: “I give, someone else takes, and I receive less in return.” Some identify themselves as “givers, not takers….like my spouse, child, parent, friend, coworker, or whoever.” Many suffer silently with this burden, and few find peace in it. It fuels resentment.
Yet, we know God’s love for us is agape love, the love that gives for the benefit of the other without expecting anything in return. We believe Christ’s death for us epitomizes that love. And we take seriously the call to love as he loves us, to give of ourselves as he gave himself for us.
Also, we recognize that agape love already plays out in the natural course of our life stories. For example, we cannot repay our parents for their love, and our children cannot repay us. Such love sustains families, churches, and any other wholesome community. When we do our part, we often find the giving exhilarating, fulfilling in itself without needing anything to show for it.
So agape love is its own reward. What then do we do with the hurt that ensues when we get no thanks or even get a rebuke when we give?
Resentment burns our souls like acid, and we indulge in it at our spiritual peril. But we deny the pain of neglect and unfair criticism of those we love at our spiritual peril as well. Too often such denial wears down our sense of ourselves as beloved by God.
Then we pull away from God or fail to accept God’s love, which is precisely what the enemy of our beloved self wants us to do. Believing that we do not really love unless we totally deny our need to receive love, we hide from God in the bushes, ashamed of our nakedness.
True, Jesus challenged us to take up our crosses and follow him. But I do not find in his teaching or example any evidence that he or any prophet before him expected self-denial that numbs our needs. He did not delete from the Lord’s Prayer our need for daily bread, forgiveness, or protection from evil. And he does not chide us for our need for love and appreciation for the love we give.
In his healings and promises of citizenship in the reign of the one God who loves us relentlessly, he clearly wants us to enjoy the peace and wholeness God gives. Furthermore, in those moments when our giving seems its own reward, we find ourselves partners with God in the giving. We do well to remember such moments when those to whom we give so much fail to appreciate it or even accuse us of not caring.
Moreover, we do well to remember that everyone, from hostile clerics and cynical Roman bureaucrats to his family and friends, dismissed his love and betrayed Christ in the end. All of us betray him sooner or later in one way or the other, and his forgiveness from the cross puts on display how God will never relent in loving pursuit of us.
Finally, we do well to remember not only that uncanny love at the end of his ministry but the equally uncanny blessing at the beginning: “Blessed are you who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for yours is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). God does not expect such self-denial that we fail to take solace in that hope, despite our shortcomings and failures. Such is agape love, the love in which we live and move and have our being, the love into which we grow until all resentment fades and we participate and abide in a love that suffices forever.