By Karen Swank
I was reading a novel that I’d picked up at the library, written by one of my favorite writers of historical fiction. I hadn’t bothered with my usual habit of reading the back cover to see what it was about; this author could be trusted to be interesting. I was too far into the story by the time I realized it touched on a topic both personal and painful to me (that topic is not the point today, so we’ll leave it alone.)
Though I had come a long way in my journey of faith, this was an area I’d held hidden away inside of me, refusing to deal with God about it at all. When the conversation came up in a room, I’d retreat in silence – physically, if possible, but at least mentally. When memories tried to bubble up, I’d squash them and shove them down hard. It wasn’t a safe conversation to have, I told myself…not even with God.
After all, I knew His stance, and my personal history didn’t jibe with that. I wouldn’t talk about it, couldn’t think about it, just wanted to leave it alone. But there I was, in the middle of the novel. I’m a compulsive “finisher”…I don’t leave stories half-read.
The memory of that horrible, wonderful moment is a decade old, but still fresh like yesterday inside of me. I sat on my bed, the book in my hands, terrified of the pain. “I can’t have this conversation, Lord.” I was sweating and trembling, and something inside told me I’d surely die if I didn’t shut this down somehow.
But despite my terror, I could feel His presence, right there in the room with me. And unlike all those times He’d let me turn away, this time He was gently persistent, speaking to my heart slowly, clearly, and without hesitation. While I choked and sobbed, He drew me forward, coaxing me to trust Him and finish the book.
By the end of that day, I’d worked my way to the last page. My eyes were swollen and my throat raw. I was exhausted. In that afternoon I had faced the fullness of how deeply I had grieved the heart of my Father.
And in that same afternoon, right along with that grief, I felt His unreserved love for me. A love that had been right there, all around me, even in the darkest parts of the journey. A love that had turned always toward me, though I had so often turned away from Him. It wrecked me, and I never remember that day without deep tears of gratitude. That was Day One of my healing, in a part of my heart that had been broken for twenty years.
This week I’ve been teaching on the love of God, and how it’s not like a high school romance. I taught it to high school aged kids who don’t do regular church. I taught it to abused women in a shelter. I taught it to junior high girls who know their Bibles and seek the Lord. I told them that God loves you, not because of how you look, not because of how you make Him look, and not because you are useful to Him in some way. That He loves you, not because of anything you do or don’t do. That He loves you, even if you don’t serve Him, even if you don’t love Him…even if you don’t believe He exists.
This was not the salvation talk…that’s a whole other item. The point of this lesson was that God loves you because He made you, and so He knows the fullness of your value, beauty, and worth. He sees past all of the lies believed, all of the bad behavior, all of the unloveliness. He sees YOU as He created you. Most of us never get much of a glimpse of that.
But He does. He knows. He sees. And He loves. You! Valuable. Beautiful. Worthy.
We are generally not ready for that message. I was certainly not ready for it that day amidst the novel, hearing Him tell me how very wrong I’d been and at the same time how very deeply He loved me. The people I told it to this week were not ready for it, either. I watched body language and breathing change, and eyes cast down as they tried to absorb it. I saw shock in some. I saw tears in some. People being silly grew suddenly serious and quiet.
Do we need to preach sin and repentance? YES. Unfashionable and unpopular as they are, they are an essential part of the message, and we are liars and charlatans if we never touch on them.
But let’s not forget the love of God. Shocking, unfathomable, dangerous to religion, and by all means uncomfortable to behold. A small glimpse of it can change a life forever.
May you get a glimpse of it today, and may it wreck you.
Karen is from Aledo, IL. She works in a domestic violence shelter by day, spends her off hours working in youth ministry, and dreams and prays great things while she follows the World Racers’ blogs.