A few days ago I finished a week-long stint on the road, traveling all over the Charleston, Huntington, and Beckley, West Virginia areas to run youth nights and get school kids excited about Bishop Hodges’ summer camp program. Shortly before hitting the road Jesus started teaching me something new about Him: that He is a concerned and loving friend who takes deep interest in our lives. It seems like such an obvious thing to expect of Him in hindsight, but I believe that God is always showing us new and different sides of Him just when we think we’ve learned all there is to know about Him.
And as soon as this truth had been made known to me, I struggled to accept it, telling myself that there was no way someone could love so unconditionally and so fiercely or that someone could care about me so much. And He knew that I was wrestling with that. I knew that He knew, because He had been dropping love notes in my path, little things like well-timed quotes and scripture passages and a visit with a friend, and even big things like the very content of the youth nights I was running with my fellow missionaries. I knew that these were His way of trying to get my attention and to make me believe that yes, I was loved more than I could ever understand no matter what my doubting mind told me. But it seemed too good to be true. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. So I chose doubt instead.
Over the weekend I helped at a youth rally key-noted by a nationally-known speaker. He was selling merchandise at the rally, so I picked up a copy of his book on the Eucharist. I started reading it moments after I bought it, and almost as soon as I cracked it open I knew it was another thing that Jesus was going to use to try to get through to me. The chapters spoke directly to the struggle I was facing: to believe that Jesus truly wanted to be close to me and was concerned about every little detail of my life, no matter how unworthy of His attention and love I may have felt. But it still wasn’t sinking in. I still couldn’t understand.
I paused my reading after a few hours to go to dinner with my supervisor and my fellow missionaries. Almost the entire time I was out, though, I thought about that book. I felt like continuing to read it needed to be the first thing I did when I got back, like Jesus wanted to continue the conversation that we had begun when I started reading it. So when I returned to the retreat center where I was staying a few hours later, I took that book to the chapel and kept reading, hoping that the feelings I had at dinner were a sign of things to come.
It was the same story from earlier in the day as I started reading: Jesus’ perfect love was so clearly laid before me and communicated with such confidence by the author. But I still wasn’t sure. I wanted to believe and to accept. But I couldn’t.
Then I reached page 49. And on page 49 I found words that my heart needed to hear:
“Jesus waits for us to take comfort in his faithfulness, ensuring our steady walk with him. He will always want to be with us; he will always want our sanctity and our small successes, even our failures. …he is always inclined to reassure our fluttering and worried heart. Why? Because he is Love, and love keeps no record of wrong.” *
It was everything that Jesus was trying to say to me summed up in a few sentences. As soon as I read those words I set my book down and started to cry. “I’m sorry,” I said through my tears. “I’m sorry for doubting You. I’m sorry for not believing all that You’ve shown me.” I grew impatient and upset with myself. “I don’t know why this is so hard. I just want to go more than a day without doubting You.” But the reply I heard was so far from angry and condemning. “I’m pleased to remind you of my love as often as I need to,” I heard.
That happened about a week ago, and that doubt has yet to creep back into my life. But I’ve been thinking about that incident a lot lately and wondering why I let my doubt persist for so long. Because if you think about it, if Jesus didn’t love the way He does, it wouldn’t change anything. It wouldn’t be any different from the love that we’re so used to receiving. That’s what makes God’s love so revolutionary; it’s so far above and beyond what we’ve been taught about love from our world. Too often we’re fed this idea that love is supposed to hurt in all the wrong ways, or that love is conditional, or that we can somehow stop being worthy of love. Maybe that’s precisely why we’re sometimes skeptical of the love of God, because our lives are filled with imperfect (and sometimes downright wrong) examples of love. We can’t imagine ourselves worthy of anything more.
Thank heavens we don’t have a God who wants to ditch us every time we mess up, or who shies away from our ugly parts, or who puts conditions on His help and grace. We have a God who looks upon us with glowing eyes and a warm heart, as if we’re the most precious things in the world. We have a God who is willing to give us second chance after second chance without complaint. We have a God who holds us through our heartache and quiets our fears because He doesn’t want to see us hurt. We have a God who became one of us to show that He understands us and that He desires to connect with us heart-to-heart, to know us intimately and perfectly.
And, as He’s shown me, He’s gentle with our doubts about all of those things and more. He isn’t impatient with our struggles to believe. He doesn’t shame us into giving Him our trust. He’s more than willing to show us His love until we understand. Even when we’re impatient with ourselves and when we feel like we should know better, He’ll never be impatient with us.
Which is fantastic, because I’m sure I’ll find something new about Him to doubt next week.
*From Why the Eucharist Matters for Your Life by Chris Padgett. Thanks for your words, Chris.