A few months ago, I walked into the kitchen after finally getting the kids in bed, and I burst into tears.
I was exhausted after a long day and the marathon that is bedtime in our house. We had had people over for dinner, and someone had kindly offered to do the dishes for me while I put the kids to bed. When I walked into the kitchen, it took me about four seconds to realize that this person’s idea of “doing the dishes” was substantially different from mine.
Without going into details, I’ll just say that what I had hoped that person was going to do for me was very different than what they had actually done for me. And in my weakness and my tiredness, I let it break my heart a little.
It is hard to feel thankful for something given to you that is less than you would give. Even though I now understand the person’s reasoning and actions in the situation, in that moment I struggled a lot with feelings of hurt.
In marriage, parenting, and really all of the relationships in our lives, it hurts when someone doesn’t give as much as we would give. It breaks our hearts more in some situations than in others. But in all of those moments of being disappointed in what others offer us or don’t offer us, we have an opportunity to imitate Christ. We can choose to respond with the kind of perfect charity that Christ shows us in John 21 when He asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
Each time that Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” in this passage, Jesus uses the Greek word agape for “love.” Each time that Peter responds to Jesus with, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” Peter uses the Greek word philia for “love.”
Philia means the love between friends. Agape love, however, is something much deeper. In agape love, you give all of yourself away.
“[Agape love is when] you put yourself in your own hands and hand it over to another. And when you do this unthinkable thing, another unthinkable thing happens: you find yourself in losing yourself…You find that a new and more real self has somehow been given to you.”
Jesus and Peter’s differing use of agape and philia love in their exchange is significant, because it shows that Christ accepted the love Peter was able to offer him at that time–even though it was less than what He desired and what He was offering. Maybe even more important to remember: Christ loved Peter no less because Peter couldn’t give Him agape love yet.
It is powerful to think about the fact that Peter ended up being crucified upside-down. Right after the “Do you love me?” passage, Jesus foretells “by what kind of death [Peter] will glorify God.” And He tells Peter that, “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands…” With his arms spread wide on the cross of his crucifixion, Peter truly and also symbolically gave everything to Christ by the end of his life.
Christ’s perfect charity changed Peter. Christ seeing intentionally through Peter’s weakness changed Peter. Just like Christ’s love eventually got through to Peter, we can live in the hope that Christ’s love in us may eventually touch the hearts of those around us.
Christ wants our all. He wants our agape love. But He loves us where we are. He takes what we offer Him with perfect charity. And that is what we are called to imitate.
Imitating that kind of love seems impossible. But practice makes perfect, right? I am starting to learn how to be glad when I have a few extra dirty dishes to do once in a while.