From the earliest days of my youth, I’ve heard that phrase. I can remember singing Jesus Loves Me in Sunday school classes when I was three or four years old. It’s a wonderful sentiment. After all, who doesn’t want to be loved?
I’ve spent many months now, painstakingly crawling through David Benner’s excellent The Gift of Being Yourself. The focus is on stripping away all of the masks and self protections we build up to create value for ourselves instead of accepting the value that God has given us. It’s a short book, and pretty easy reading, but there is a deep and difficult challenge in the text. Fundamentally, Brenner is suggesting that I stop trying to prove my worth to God and just accept the value that God has already imparted to me in creation. Scary stuff.
My spiritual mentor challenged me recently to focus on spending time in silence with God, and focus on his love for me. Silence with God is pretty hard for me. Distractions abound both externally and inside my head, even without the additions of phone, computer and internet. But I’ve found that if I give myself a little phrase or an idea to repeat over and over in my silence it can help me stay on track. Briefly, at least. Normally, I begin with telling Jesus how much I love him. So, I’ll sit quietly and repeat it over and over to myself. But this challenge, to focus on God’s love for me, caused me to flip the formula. So instead of telling Jesus over and over how much I love him, instead I started declaring how much he loves me.
On the surface, I didn’t expect that to change anything, but it did. It changed everything. In one simple action I completely reversed the power dynamic of my time with the Lord. Instead of it being about what I was doing for him, it became about what he continues to do for me. As that took hold, I found myself profoundly moved. I was overwhelmed by a deep and rich feeling of love. Like a warm embrace, I could actually FEEL his love.
I paused for a moment to journal what I was experiencing. Forgetfulness is shortly after Godliness in the book of Ted and I didn’t want to lose it. God loves me, without condition or limitation, regardless of what I do, or say, or think. He loves me like I love my children — only perfectly. Defiance, failure, great accomplishment, insane ego, none of it changes his love.
And then I returned to silence. But, to my horror, the feeling was gone. I felt like God’s love was suddenly hidden from me. What happened? What had I done? How could I get it back? My theological brain kicked in and reminded me, that God wouldn’t take his love away, so I must be doing something, putting up some barrier. No surprise there, but how could I stop doing it? And then something even more wonderful happened. The Spirit whispered gently to me that God’s love isn’t a feeling. My perception of it is entirely immaterial. God loves me perfectly, completely and without limitation — whether I feel his love in this moment or not. My experience of it has nothing to do with his love. His love is a constant. The author of gravitational force, the boiling point of water, and granite… loves me with utterly unyielding constancy. At a time in life, when so much feels out of control, his unchanging love gives me a peace I desperately need. Jesus loves me… but not just me.