you are loved

     Since yesterday, I have been thinking about when and how I came to know that I am loved.  By the time I was fifteen, I was not at all clear about that point.  My interior self was decimated and I felt decidedly unloved and unworthy of love.  I was not close with any of my parents at that time, all of whom my inner self was listening to, to hear whether I was loved.  On a deep level, I heard only silence.
     At sixteen, I spent the summer at my grandmother’s and we spent much of the summer at her church.  There, along with many messages that I was not so sure about, I heard the message that God loves me.  God, they said, created everything, and the whole world was like dust in his hand.  And yet he calls us to be in a close relationship with him in which he would lavish us with his love.  It took a long time, but I was really touched by this message.
     That next year I spent a lot of time alone, and I read the book of Isaiah, chapters 40 and following, over and over.  The message was to me like the first moment of a sunrise: pure light breaking upon the darkness.  It was the most loving, gorgeous message I had ever read.  I still read it more than any other part of the Bible, and still recall the truth of God’s affection for me.  “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, I love you,” (43:4).  At first, I did not really let the message in.  But I kept reading.  It took at least a year for me to even begin to own it.  Slowly, I let this message be louder in my ears than those of other people.  Eventually, the message broke through my very tough, thick wall of defense that I had built around me.
     Interestingly, it took 15 years before I ever moved on to consider other messages of the Christian faith.  When I was 28, I began to realize that I should perhaps start thinking about becoming more forgiving, or more gentle, or learn how to deal with anger in God’s way.  I bought some Christian books, and began to read other parts of the Bible that were directive about our behavior.  But think about it: I spent almost 15 on the first, most important message of the faith, the message that God loves us.  It took almost as long to correct my prior view as it had taken to form it!
     There ARE other messages that are important to the Christian faith.  As Christians, we should be loving and generous and honest and forgiving.  But without knowing that we are loved, we cannot do these things well.  It is the critical foundation upon which all else is built.  The message of God’s love was so important for me because, when the earthly message crumbles, the divine message can replace it and improve upon the best of earthly messages.  There is no earthly person who can love us with the grandeur and generosity of the Creator of the world, the Creator about whom they say, “God is love.”  There is no love that compares with the height and depth of the love of God.  When this love has been received by us (which for me was no easy feat), then other people’s likes and dislikes of us are suddenly less important.  If God is enamored with us, but some friend or relative is less so, God’s love wins out.  Hence the walls and defenses do not need to go up.  I learned to stay undefended, unguarded, and trusting.  Then, with the tool of humility in hand (another challenge I still face), I began to learn to see where I have been unlikeable or have had poor behavior, and then adjust it and say “I’m sorry.”  But still, walls and defenses can stay down.  It has been for me the spiritual path that transcends the worldly options and that has saved me from the private world of darkness in which I had previously been stuck.  It is a sheer gift that God rescued me from it, and I am so, so grateful!  All the good of my life since then comes from this one source.  I am forever changed in every way by knowing that I am loved.    
     A last point: much of Christianity makes no sense unless it is clear that this is the foundation of it–to give each of us divine love.  It is not supposed to be an institution or a set of doctrines–unless they are seen as being in the service of lavishing us with love.  For me, sitting in church is my favorite place to be, because there I am fortified and restored in intimacy with the one who loves me with infinite love.  Then I can do all things I am called to do.  But Christianity would seem strange indeed if it were not for this love affair going on!  Furthermore, God lets us take 15 years or 50 years–whatever it takes–to learn this foundational lesson.  He lets us remain a little rude or grudge-holding or whatever while he lets us soak in his love.  That explains why so many people call Christians hypocritical.  It is almost built in to the faith.  It is not a faith of perfecting people.  It is a faith of LOVING people, imperfect people.  While it is less attractive from the outside, it is more wonderful on the inside.  This is why I am especially compassionate for people who leave the faith for NOT being loved well by people in the church–being loved well was the point!  I imagine they have a rough road to receiving God’s love in an intimate way.  Yet this is the prize, the pearl of great price.  Everyone has their own path to this pearl, and I am more grateful for this aspect of my life than any other.