Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say: “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?

Then how the reindeer loved him, as they shouted out with glee, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in history.

A few weeks ago, I asked a group of teachers and administrators, “What did it take for the other reindeer to love Rudolph?”

They answered, “He used his gifts” and “He served the others.”

“But, why did they love him?”

“Because he led their sleigh, he loved them first.”

“But, what is their love for Rudolph based on?”

“What he did for them…”

Earned Love

This conversation scared me. Usually when I ask a group about Rudolph and why he was loved (after making them sing the song!) they catch quickly that the reindeer’s love for Rudolph was based on performance. They loved because of something Rudolph did for them. And, the teachers usually think how horrible it would be if their students acted like the reindeer in the song, calling names and earning love.

It scared me because I had to bluntly tell them that the love was performance based. They weren’t seeing it. This love was a transaction, “you do this and I will do this for you.”

They didn’t see a problem in earned love. At least in the beginning of our conversation.

These are folks who are serving children in schools. This isn’t judging this group, this is a warning to me and to many of us that we live in a world of earned love, where everything is a transaction. It is easy to sing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and not think of its subversion and distortion of love, God’s way.

Earned love is the plague of our day. We are infected, and sometimes pass the disease to others without knowing we are carriers.

Love, God’s way, the love in John 3:16, has nothing to do with performance. God did not love the world because He liked the world or the world did something good. He loves the world, and us, despite ourselves, not because of ourselves.

This is the love God bases His entire economy on. Unconditional. Sacrificial. A commitment more than a feeling. Doing the best for another person, without necessarily liking them or what they say or do. It appears foolish and reckless. It is giving without getting.

In a world of earned love, our children, at home and school, desperately need this agapao love, this love God’s way.

A Love That Changes Lives

This type of love changes lives, it transcends boundaries and breaks into hearts. It can’t be held back by walls, personal or cultural. This is the type of love God has for us, and that motivated God to become a man and be born a baby. It is God choosing the best for us, simply because He loves us.

We can only love students the way God wants, freely and without earning it, if we know we are loved. John says “We love because He first loved us.” He loved us freely and without condition.

I hope that I can love freely, without condition. I hope we can love every student in every seat, with the same overflowing and free love that God has for us, to each child regardless. We discipline, out of love because it is best for the child. We hug both those who love back and those don’t know how to love back, because sometimes that is what is needed. But above all, our reckless and committed love is felt and known by each child.

I hope that we can know we are loved this way. I hope we can pause enough over Christmas break to feel God’s love for each of us, His commitment to each of us that transcends transactions and is based on nothing we do or say, but based on Him only and His choice to love you and me.

Our students should never feel they have to lead the sleigh to be loved. Our world is saturated with this performance based love. Our classrooms and our schools should be sanctuaries, where real love is known and overflows, doing what is best for each child without end.

We should never feel we have to lead the sleigh to be loved. Sadly, we do sometimes. But, not from God. I hope you can rest in Him and know His free love to you.

Don’t let what happened to Rudolph happen in your world. Earned love is always grasping and groveling. It is everywhere.

Unconditional love is rare, it breaks down any barrier and opens hearts. Love God’s way.

(We talk about these things in workshops of Building Biblical Worldview: The Three Loves.)