When Love Is Not Returned

Written by Gail Rodgers

life_loveisnotreturnedMy Auntie never threw out a thing! Not a newspaper or a jar, not a plastic container or a box. Her house was unbelievable, indescribable. Years ago we grown nieces determined not to take our babies there for fear of them getting sick in the mess and the smell. Mom says the mess was small back then.

She lived alone for 40 years after her husband died. She was eccentric, odd…that family member that seemed to just push the rest of us away…choosing not to come to family Christmas gatherings or anniversary celebrations. She was often grumpy, and any attempts in conversations to draw close to her were met with a cold stare, a curt, “It’s none of your business.” The door to her heart slammed shut to us. I remember how we planned a celebration for her 80th birthday. She didn’t like the food. She wouldn’t open the gifts, she was cross at us the whole time and we all left with that “why bother” feeling.

Well, Auntie died this week. Sitting in her big chair alone. She had recently found out she had inoperable cancer. I visited her in the hospital, but the conversation might as well have been a casual exchange over a garden fence. She would not let us go past the weather and what the kids were doing. It seemed she died as she had lived…alone by choice.

Yet there was one small thing that bothered me. One small thing that God used to shine His light into my own soul and show me something I had completely missed. On Auntie’s fridge were two pictures. She had framed them and put them there. They were pictures my sister had sent her ages ago…pictures of her dog.

The fragrance of small kindnesses

Suddenly I saw an Auntie who might have enjoyed my kids’ pictures on her fridge, might have enjoyed a letter now and then rather than just the occasional phone call I made on her birthday. She might have enjoyed being loved more, even if she pushed all the love away.

I thought of the verse in the Bible where Jesus told His followers, “They will know you are my disciples by your love.” I was struck with it. Not a new thought. I had been taught to show love to the outcast kid at school or the person who didn’t fit in at work, yes “to love the unlovable.” But most people in life return love somehow…in some small way. Auntie didn’t. And I realized that when love is not returned in any way, when the door is slammed shut, I felt my responsibility was done. After all love is a two-way street, right? And if the door is slammed, what more can I do?

But I was wrong. My job is simply to love; the responsibility of return is someone else’s. Perhaps life has hit them so hard that they cannot respond. Through Auntie and her two pictures on her fridge, God showed me that it is my job to love right up to the slammed door. To keep loving in spite of the slammed door.

When I withdraw my interest, thinking they don’t care anyway and won’t even notice, I have lost an opportunity to leave Jesus’ love on their doorstep. What if the door cracks open a bit and there is nothing outside? It would only confirm to them that maybe they were right to withdraw in their hurts because no one cared anyway.

Loving “right up to the door”

I know a few other door slammers in my life. I tend to leave them to themselves thinking that is their choice, and if they were interested the door would swing both ways. Through Auntie, God has shown me that I simply need to love right up to that slammed door. The door may never open, but I need to keep leaving the basket of Jesus’ love on the doorstep. Maybe the fragrance of what is in the basket will draw them out to take a peek. But maybe not, maybe the door will never open. That is not my concern. I simply need to love.

What does that look like? It is not putting yourself in the path of abuse, as some might assume I am saying. Rather, it is putting baskets on that doorstep, little reminders like a birthday card, a favorite meal, a plate of cookies, a phone call to say, “Hi,” even though they never phone, or perhaps…a picture for their fridge.

I will ask God to help me perform this seemingly fruitless task and to give me things to put in the basket. And I will ask Him to help me just leave the results in His hands. We have a trademark as Christians – love – even to those who will not or cannot return it.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him ” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

Leave a basket, fragrant with the love of Jesus, on someone’s step today!

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