By Beth Demme
You are loved.
You. Are. Loved.
I want you to know this.
I need you to know this.
I’m worried you don’t really believe it. I’m afraid you have a negative soundtrack on repeat in the back of your mind (or in the depths of your heart) whispering to you about your un-worthiness.
I worry because I’ve experienced it, too.
I didn’t find God’s unconditional love on a pretty, perfectly shiny day.
It didn’t happen in a season of my life when I was doing everything just right or making decisions I believed would make God proud of me. Actually, it happened at a time when I believed everything in my negative soundtrack. I didn’t pray to God or seek God because, well … I was afraid God didn’t want anything to do with me.
The trouble came when my children were toddlers.
Dealing with a 3-year old and a 1-year old just about did me in. I hit bottom as a mom.
My son has always been what friends euphemistically call “a strong-willed child” or “all-boy.” In other words, he’s always been a handful. My daughter is more subtle, but let’s just say I was pretty sure she’d have to wear a diaper to kindergarten and maybe even college.
It’s a long story, one for another time, but the combination of a daughter who refused (politely) to potty-train and a son who refused (not-so-politely) to do anything I asked, sent me to the therapist’s couch.
Here’s the thing— in the midst of that really troubled time, I never doubted my love for my children. I found love existed even in the moments when I didn’t especially like my children.
Have you ever experienced that—how love can endure through dislike?
I think God has.
When I realized I couldn’t help but love my children, I experienced the grace of un-deserved loved and I understood God in a whole new way.
I think it’s pretty easy for moms to understand this, actually. When I speak to groups of moms, I have a favorite exercise. I make everyone close their eyes and picture their children. I invite them to see their sweet cherubs at their best (even if that means picturing them asleep) and at their worst (think: screeching tantrum at the grocery store). With those two mental images firmly in place, I have them think about how much they love their children. And then I ask,
What did she do to earn your love?
What could he do to diminish your love?
Before I let them open their eyes, I make my point—
This is how God feels about you.
Regardless of whether we are well-behaved cherubs or screeching toddlers, God’s love endures.
God isn’t asking us to earn God’s love and God isn’t monitoring our behavior to see if love should be withheld from us.
With God, we can’t earn a love bonus or a love demerit.
At my mommy-lowest, I saw my love for my children was not conditioned on their politeness, their obedience, or their love for me. At a time when I didn’t think I deserved any blessings, I finally understood unconditional love.
Here’s what I realized:
God’s love is not conditioned on our politeness, our obedience, or any other factor. God’s love for us is unconditional.
In fact, God is love. We don’t have to be afraid of losing God’s love because God’s perfect love casts out that fear. (1 John 4:16-18, NRSV)
The Bible is full of verses trying to penetrate our hearts with the good news of how God feels about us.
If you’ve been to a wedding you’ve probably heard the Corinthians passage about how love is patient, kind, unselfish, hopeful, and never-ending.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NRSV)
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends.
It’s lovely to think about this as a prescription for marital love, but it has even more depth and power when you understand this is how God feels about you.
I don’t like remembering that troubled season in my mothering. I’d rather not reflect on all the mistakes I’ve made. But I’m forever grateful that a sacred echo overpowered my negative soundtrack and showed me the truth of God’s unconditional love.
What about you? Have you found God’s love through a troubled season? Have you tried to earn a love bonus with God? Have you worried about the accumulation of love demerits? Tell me about it in an e-mail or on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.