How many times do we hear that we are loved? I know there are lives where this isn’t said often enough. But, the saying it may not matter as much as the seeing it. As I was growing up, my family would shout, “I love you” as any of us were leaving the home. It was like a tradition and almost became a rote way of saying, “Goodbye.” But the living it out was a challenge for us. My dad was ill and my mom was frazzled. Beyond that my dad came from a traditional German family and he basically had two emotions: Happy and Angry. There was this sort of neutral emotion he had as well. My mom covered the rest of the emotional spectrum that my dad did not seem to touch. Lopsided. Through years of perfectionistic expectations and harsh parenting approaches and the unavoidable distance which occurred when my dad was extremely ill, I didn’t feel the words that were shouted as loudly as I felt something was missing — in me. My parents loved me. They did. They just had very broken ways of expressing love because of the denied brokenness inside of each of them. A child can’t see these truths. A child thinks something is wrong with me.
But God, He already knows something is wrong. He knew it when He formed the earth from shapeless nothing. He knew it when angels rebelled and longed for power and position instead of peace and provision. He knew about me then. He knew about you. It is a mind boggling process to imagine and wrestle with the knowing of God. It is too lofty for us, but it is important not to shrink away from the imagining. We must stretch up as a child stretches towards a father and try to glimpse the before time began love of God. Back in the void when no thing was yet He loved enough to plan sacrifice. Love is sacrifice.
He grieved that something was wrong when Adam and Eve turned from Him in the garden and chose knowledge and control over intimacy and innocence. Yet, He even provided for them garments of animal skins and a means to survive outside the garden. And He lamented that He had made man in the days of Noah and of Lot when sin and corruption trumped purity and devotion. But He provided escape from His wrath and opportunities for new beginnings.
Something has always been wrong in this sin-stained world and in the people God made to inhabit that world. The something isn’t surprising to God. He provided for those people a way out and He provides for us a way out as well. He provides a way — He is the way. He isn’t the lover of the perfect, but the bridge for the broken. He isn’t the critic of your performance, but the healer of your soul. Are you like me? Do you long for His love, but sometimes fear He is like others whose broken love has left you battered and bewildered? Do you fear to come near to Him because He may be like someone who lures you in but asks too much and expects you to measure up when you know you fall woefully short?
His love is not for us when we are cleaned up and presentable. His love is for the prostitute, the alcoholic, the lusting man trapped in front of his computer, the woman in credit card debt over fashion and beauty, the teen plagued by bullying, the resentful, the gossip, the over-achiever, the compulsive overeater, the murderer, me and you.
What is this love? A love that began before time and ran red on the cross and roams in dark places to seek and save the lost. What is this love? A love that chooses to leave heaven and enter dusty manger and take lowly position and be mocked and taunted without recourse in the moments of agony and then descend into pit of hell. What is this love? A love that lays life down for an enemy like me. Touching this love is like getting near to a fire. It is love passionate and purposeful and relentless. It is love jealous for me that I might love no other. It is love burning for the world He created. And yet, this love is patient and kind. This love is gentle and humble and meek and long suffering. And this is the love He has for you in this moment, this season, this life.
This love is not a vague, general love — God so loved the world that He couldn’t remember each individual and has no time for the specifics of your petty problems. No. That is not His love. His love is the love of a Creator; The love of a Father; The love of a Lover; The love of a Friend; The love willing to indwell. He specifically loves you.
He doesn’t just love you out of duty or desperation. He doesn’t love you only because He is love. He loves you because He loves YOU. As flawed as you are He loves you. As prone as you are to wander from Him, He loves you. As secret as your sins may be, He loves you. He is not concerned with the condition in which He finds you now because He loves. CS Lewis said, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” He also spoke of God’s love as the love of one finding a stray animal who was matted and infested and malnourished. Immediately we feel for the animal and want to take it home and make it our own because we know what we can do to bless this creature. We do clean the animal and provide nourishment and care and progressively the animal is more and more appealing and more compatible to live in our home. But our love preceded this training and cleaning. The love was the foundation that led to the sanctification of the animal just as God’s love precedes our goodness. He loves us stray and filthy and He engages us in relationship before we are even presentable. Do you think it isn’t so? Consider the woman caught in adultery, the prostitute who poured out oil on His feet, the tax collectors and sinners who cost Him his reputation. He loved them and entered into their midst and into their lives and transformation inevitably followed.
I had this blanket when I was a little girl which was a normal blanket when I first got it. It had satin trim around the edges and a thin layer of fluffy filling. I used that blanked to bits. Sometimes life uses us to bits. In the end, that blanket looked like something a homeless man drags around town. But, when I looked at that blanket, I looked right past the flaws, the frayed edges, the wear and tear. I didn’t see the damage; what I saw was precious, desireable, mine. Like that old battered blanket, when God looks at you, He sees beyond the brokenness and flaws and says, “Precious, Desirable, Mine.”
Can you open to that love today? Can you come home into His arms of welcome just as you are? Can you risk rejection and retribution and fathom the immeasurable love of God for you? You may say, “I am a Christian. I know His love for me.” You may even be blessed enough to be steeped in that love, secure and satiated. I am in the process of living in that state of soul more often than ever these days. By His grace and His touch I am trusting Him more. I have seen that knowing a love and abiding in love are not at all the same experience. He is inviting you to abide, to move in, to make your home with Him and to allow Him to make His home in you. Open your arms and receive this gift of love specifically for you.