On a sunny Sunday afternoon in Manhattan Beach, California, when I was four years old, I was spending a glorious day with my family at the beach. I loved building sandcastles, burying my Dad in the sand, and dancing up and down in the waves, trying to outrun them. I also loved visiting with all of the people who dotted the sand around me. On this particular day, my curiosity got the best of me and my parents suddenly looked around to discover I was missing. They recount a story of frantically combing the beach, scanning the ocean with increasing panic, as the minutes ticked on and I was nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, I was a ways down the beach, making new friends. I had wandered away in search of conversation, when my parents and brothers were occupied. My parents did of course, find me eventually. I was chatting with a lovely couple I’m told, who were also apparently concerned when they realized my parents weren’t in sight. I, on the other hand, was more concerned with getting to know them, and was asking all types of questions such as, What’s your name? Do you have any children? Or dogs? Or cats? Do you like coming to the beach? Important things like that.

After a brief scolding, my parents hugged me tightly, my mother in tears, and made me promise never to wander away again. I promised. I wanted to be a good girl. I wanted to follow the rules. I really did. I kept that promise for a few weeks, until a similar incident happened in the grocery store. As a young child, I didn’t consciously make a decision to break the rules by wandering away from my parents in public. My desire to relate to people was simply stronger than my desire to follow the rules.

A consistent comment from my elementary school teachers on my report card was, “Laura is a sweet and bright girl, but she talks too much.” In my formative years, the shame of this hung over me like a black cloud, but when I started getting paid to do public speaking in my twenties, I realized that every black cloud has a silver lining. A life lesson that has turned into a way of life for me. If there is a cloud, I will find a silver lining. 😊

For as long as I can remember, I love connecting with people. I crave conversation and human interaction. I just like people. It’s that simple for me. Being around people energizes me. Creating deep, meaningful connections with people fulfills me. And even casual conversation with a stranger on an airplane or the woman in line in front of me at the grocery store, gives me a sense of satisfaction. And the joy I find in helping people is what drove me to get into the field of mental health. Sometimes through, rules get in the way of relationships and we have to make a choice.

Someone who inspires me with his relationships over rules lifestyle, is Jesus. The Bible is full of stories that illustrate Jesus helping people, healing people, and just doing good deeds for others. The Pharisees (the religious leaders back in the day) were jealous of Jesus and threatened by the fact that he was popular with people, so they were always looking for a reason to arrest Him. In that time, it was considered unlawful to work on the Sabbath. Healing someone was considered work. When someone needed His help, Jesus didn’t stop to ponder what day of the week it was. He was good to people 24/7. He chose people over piety. Every time. And every time the Pharisees tried to trap Him, He just called them out, and said things like, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” (Luke 14:5)

Bam! They had nothing to say. What could they say? Jesus was spot on.

Hope whispers, choose relationship.

Our society has made up plenty of its own rules that get in the way of putting relationships first. We have rules about who we think belongs together in a relationship, when they belong together, and how they belong together. I would venture to guess that if Jesus were to come back for a visit in the flesh today, He would be deeply saddened by the modern-day Pharisees among us who look for people to persecute with their man-made standards. I follow Jesus, not people. When people ask me what religion I am, I am careful to clarify that I am not religious; I am in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There is a big difference.

Here is the difference – Jesus summed up what rule/law is more important than anything else, when questioned by the religious leaders of his day: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

I think people choose rules over relationship sometimes because it’s easier. Rules are black and white. Love is all sorts of shades of color, and – love is complicated. Loving others is not always easy. It involves patience, kindness, self-sacrifice, and all sorts of other things we don’t always feel like giving. Love can be inconvenient. But at the end of my life, I don’t really want to be facing God, hearing him say, “great job Laura; you followed all the rules.” I want to hear, “you loved well.”

Loving others well is really all that matters to me. Maybe it’s because I get how much God loves me. To feel deeply loved, to be fully known and still loved like that…it’s a powerful thing. I want others to feel it too. There are times when I have physically felt God’s love for me – from an experience I had at the wailing wall in Jerusalem that felt like an electric wind flowing through my insides; to a dark night on my knees on my bedroom floor, confused and broken-hearted, crying out to God to heal my hurt, I experienced what felt like two arms wrap around me and I instantly felt peaceful.

Even if you’ve never had what felt like a love encounter with God, I do know it’s easier to love others when you feel loved. I also know that God loves you, just like He loves me. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what you’ve done. Trust me, I’ve done plenty I’m not proud of.  Forgiveness and grace are wrapped up in His love. His love is available to all of us. Some of you may have a background where the only kind of love you knew was self-serving, or abusive. Maybe you even portray God that way. I promise He’s not. I have had the good fortune of being loved well by others, but I have also been treated very poorly in the name of love. You have to know what love is, to recognize what it isn’t.

If you struggle to understand what real love is or what healthy love looks like, and you need a good model, consider entering into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Being loved by Him will change your life. Just tell God you want to have a relationship with Him. That you want to accept His love. He doesn’t force it on anyone – that wouldn’t be real love. It’s a choice we each make. When you choose relationship with God, He doesn’t give you a long list of rules to follow – he simply says, Love.
Love me. Love yourself. Love others.
That’s the extent of His list.

Relationships or Rules?
The choice is yours.

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