By Janet Villa
A few months ago, my three-year-old Anna plopped by our bedside table and gazed longingly at the space-agey JBL speakers that my husband had strictly prohibited her from touching. She asked, “Mommy, do you love Anna coz I not touch this?”
I rushed to gather her in my arms, panicked that she might feel she has to earn my love. “Anna, I love you even if you touch that,” I said.
So she did. Tricksy, tricksy, little manipulator.
When the laughter of that moment had long died, I thought about how she, like many of us, had equated love with merit, about how we need to perform for others. Last week while we were driving to my in-laws’, Anna asked Ate May, her beloved nanny, why Mae called her Bunchy, an endearment that is theirs alone. Mae replied, “Because I love you.” “Why do you love me, Ate Mae?” Anna asked. Anna’s question, like ours, is, What in me deserves your love?
Our world operates on reward and punishment, on keeping score, on fighting to be number one, on grade point averages. To this system of merit and demerit, Christmas—and the love it celebrates—presents a contradiction. The love that inspires the Divine to become human and for the Word to become flesh is rooted in and suffused with grace (charis in Greek), the undeserved favor. The love that the Creator God offers through Jesus is freely given to all, regardless. When we receive that gift—of grace, of goodness, of forgiveness—we cannot add to or detract from that love by our thought, action or inaction.
It is a radical concept. And overwhelming. It clashes with our legalistic nature. How can love be given to the unlovely? Like Anna, we feel we need to earn love, to work for it, to deserve it, to gain approval.
I hope to tell Anna: Grace is why Christmas rocks, why Christmas is merry. Its message to us is that Christ lived and loved for us. He gave it all to all. Life—and our relationship with our Father—is not about a list of dos and don’ts. That while we are inspired to be the best versions of us, we are at this moment already loved, completely; that while we pursue excellence, God loves us unequivocally. Achieving a perfect score on an exam, rising through the ranks, or going to church won’t make Him love us more. Losing the championship, lying in a job interview, or forgetting to pray won’t make Him love us less; He will deeply grieved by sin, yes, and our fellowship with Him broken, but His love and relationship with us is constant. Philip Yancey said in What’s So Amazing About Grace, “At the heart of the gospel is a God who deliberately surrenders to the wild, irresistible power of love.”
Tonight, as I was tucking Anna in bed, I asked her, “Anna, do you know what Christmas is?”
“Yes,” she said as she looked up from behind her blanket. “Christmas is love.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Janet Villa practiced Law for nine years before she received a fellowship to the Philippine National Writers’ Workshop and to the UP National Workshop. Her first published sotry “Undercurrents” won the NVM Grand Prize in 2003, and her sond “Closopen” won the NVM Grand Prize Special Prize in 2005. She is now finishing her MA in Creative Writing. Her biggest adventure is being best for husband Jojo and daughter Anna, while pursuing her passions in writing and teaching. Janet maintains CreW, the creating writing special interest group of Mensa Philippines after being the Mensa Philippines president in 1998.