“Will you accept me despite my dark past and present struggles?” my then-suitor asked with tears in his eyes. He just finished opening a jar of old, bitter memories from the past he’d rather not go back – a story of abuse he experienced as a child that anyone would not like to talk about.

This man is my dream guy, a church leader I admired from afar since I can remember. To me, he’s a man covered with glitters and sparks – so perfect. But that day, I saw a man different from my daydreams – I saw the real him, with a real story of pain and in actual need of grace. The question sounded different to me; I felt like it was not only him talking to me but as if God was giving a challenge. I heard a challenge to make grace real, a call to be like Jesus, and a command to love bravely.

More often, we imagine love as an invitation of sweet romance, flowers and chocolates, cuddles and gifts, movies and food trips, and all the giddy things rom-com films teach us. But on that beach in our little town, with two people face-to-face, empty of words but with hearts beating fast – I understood what love is. It is doing extra laundry after hard-day work, hugging a friend after betrayal, or buying someone a gift even though that’s the last penny you got. It’s uncomfortable, sacrificial, and costly. Indeed, to love is to be vulnerable.

God’s word says in 1 John 4: 9-11, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.  Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.”

In the passage, the apostle John was urging fellow Christians to be vulnerable, to love the way God showed his love. It  does not only command us to love, it tells us how we should love. The Lord modeled to us what real love was: it was about welcoming pain and heartaches; making sacrifices, embracing other people’s imperfection and weaknesses, and accepting others as they are — with their tainted history, their present struggles, and their tendency to mess up. Love equals sacrifice.

And if God loved me at my darkest, painfully giving up his Son to have me, who am I to ‘shoo’ others who are at their “unlovable” state? All I know is that in times when I was rejecting the sweet pursuit of the Lord, while I was busy trying to be the master of my life, when I found hurting others and lying to myself a fun thing to do – in those moments of sin, Jesus chose to be vulnerable, opened his arms wide, took me in, and carried me to his place of unconditional love.

So that day, with the wind hushing a soothing tone, the sea waters dancing to and fro the shore, I made a commitment to be vulnerable like Jesus — to embark on the journey of making grace real and loving selflessly.

As C.S. Lewis said of love,

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”