“Do you know you have a dad who loves you, buying you such a great bike?” I asked the young boy at the bicycle shop. My husband and I were there purchasing new bikes and I’d been watching the lad for over an hour as he expressed only mild interest in his father’s efforts to get his son just the right bike.
The young boy looked at me somewhat quizzically. Before he could reply, the father said, “I do, but we need to separate those two.”
It was not the response I expected and it served to shut down the conversation. I had been so impressed with this father making sure he purchased just the right bike. I can only imagine his son’s mild interest at best was somewhat disappointing. Now I didn’t want to say anything else for fear of encouraging a message contrary to the father’s intentions.
Over the following days, I couldn’t get this father’s comment out of my thoughts. Do the gift and the love of the giver have to be separated? Ultimately I decided the answer is no, though with one caveat.
The Love of the Father
Jesus’ excruciating death on the cross, endured to restore humanities relationship with God the Father, should leave no doubts about whether and how much we are loved. God created us to share in the love experienced by the Trinity. When sin entered the world, He sent His Son to die the death each of us should have in order that our relationship with Him might be redeemed and we could return to experiencing His love.
In order for any of us to love another person, that love must be displayed. If we do not display our love, then, from the other person’s perspective, it is as if we don’t love them at all.
According to Gary Chapman, there are five ways to express love: time, acts of service, physical touch, words of encouragement and gifts. (See The Five Love Languages for more details.) In my encounter with the father and son at the bike shop, I believe the father was expressing his love for his son in two ways. First was through the bike itself; a gift from father to son. Second was through the time the father was taking in ensuring he bought the right bike. The father could easily have stopped at a local discount shop and bought a bike without his son in tow. Instead, this father took the extra time to take his son along, look at several options and make sure the boy and the bike were a good fit.
I don’t believe the size of the gift can be equated with the degree to which one is loved. And perhaps this is what the father was ultimately getting at. The father loved his son and displayed that love through the bike. The son, on the other hand, could not look at the father and say quantify how much the father loved him based on the gift. The gift was a display of love, but not of the quantity of love.
As we look at love and how it is display, we need to be cautious about which we put first. Looking back at Chapman’s love languages, it is possible that a mother, for instance, expresses love in one language, while her child longs to receive it in another. This does not mean the love is any less sincere because the mother and child are not speaking the same language.
God loves each of us passionately and often showers us with blessings as a sign of His love. Our role is to receive and enjoy these blessings. Yet we cannot equate the number or manner of God’s blessings with the degree to which He loves. His love is boundless for each one of us.
The father’s efforts to buy his son just the right bike is a beautiful picture of fatherly love and a reminder that God loves each of His children in a similar manner.