I still remember the day I learned what “unconditional” meant.
My dad said to me frequently, “I love you unconditionally,” and at age seven I finally asked, “What does air conditioning have to do with loving me?” I knew what “I love you” meant, but that weird word at the end baffled me. We lived in Florida where air conditioning is very important and appreciated, so I had assumed connecting air conditioning with my dad’s love for me was a good thing. Little did I know how good it was.
He blew my mind when he explained: “It means I love you always and forever, no matter what you do or don’t do.”
I had to see what this really meant. I asked with lots of curiosity, “Even if lie?”
“Yes, when you lie.”
“Even if I don’t eat my dinner?”
“Even if I act badly at school?” I had a history of seeing how much I could get away with from my teachers. I got A’s and B’s on my grade reports, but my conduct reports were pretty bad. So this was me testing the limits of this so-called “unconditional love.” “Yes, even if you act badly,” he said. “Also, I don’t love you more when you tell the truth, eat your dinner, and behave better at school.
That’s what unconditional means—that nothing you do or don’t do changes my love for you.’
BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED
My dad saw the amazed look on my face. “Justin, this is how God loves us.” He quoted Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And then he read 1 John 4:7–21 and highlighted verse 19: “We love because he first loved us.”
Some people warn that “too much grace” leads to people thinking they can do anything they want.
I don’t believe in such a thing as ‘too much grace.’
Hearing of my dad’s unconditional love for me made me wonder if I could do anything I wanted and have him still love me, but it didn’t motivate me to rebel, sin, and disobey. My father’s unconditional love increased my love for him, compelled me to be obedient, and restrained my rebellious streak. In treating me like this, he wasn’t giving “too much grace,” he was imitating his Father in heaven: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13).
“DO YOU LOVE ME WHEN I LISTEN?”
Now that I’m a dad, I’m banking on grace being true and powerful.
To get my 3-year-old daughter ready for bed, I asked her to stop playing and come to her room to get ready for bedtime. She acted like she didn’t hear me and walked away. In case she was distracted, I appealed to her, “Please listen to Daddy and come here.” She came running with a big, proud smile on her face. “I listened. I listened. Do you love me when I listen?”
Whoa! Yikes! When I heard that question, I knew this was a huge opportunity and I got nervous, hoping not to mess it up.
“Lovebug, Daddy loves you when you listen and when you don’t listen. I love you always and forever, no matter what.” She paused to think about it, and then she asked for clarification: “You love me even if I don’t listen?”
“Yes. I love you when you don’t listen.”
Her reply made me tear up with joy. “Wow,” she said. “That sounds gooooooooooood.”