When was the last time you heard a sermon focusing on your belovedness, with no “but” attached to it? I mean, an entire Sunday service all about taking in and feeling how much God loves you and delights in you? With no mention of, or alluding to the need for you to be better than you are, resist sin, or change anything about yourself?
You are beloved.
I will never forget the life-changing impact this truth had on my life. I’m what some people might call “super sensitive.” That’s why when I felt the desire to be close to God, the journey was wrought with much guilt and frustration towards myself feeling that I was not good enough to enjoy a close relationship with God. When I finally got that I was beloved, just as I was, it freed me up more than I could ever really put into words. I felt peace and joy like I had never before.
The other day I got to thinking about the idea of belovedness because my wife asked me to sing a song to our babies. She is 8 months pregnant with twins and they very much can hear everything in there. They respond to my voice and almost start dancing when we play them music. It’s great fun! But when she asked me to sing, I couldn’t think of anything. Clearly, I’m gonna have to brush up on my children’s songs very soon! We thought for a minute trying to reach into the recesses of our minds back to elementary classes and Sunday school at church, then she suggested “Sing them ‘Jesus loves me.'”
Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong; they are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so…
I was struck by two thoughts in the moments of silence after the song was over.
The first was a desire to communicate to my children their goodness, chosenness and belovedness before God. I want them to feel with every fiber in them that God loves them just as they are, no matter what. I want their lives to be marked by the truth that they are beautiful and good. I want that for them knowing there is much angst they can avoid if they take this truth deep into their hearts, but I also want them to offer that to those they encounter throughout their life.
The other thought was just how widely known this song really is. I bet you there is no other song that is as widely known as “Jesus Loves Me”. It’s sung by children all over the world in their native tongues and known by Christians and atheists alike. The idea that Jesus loves us is known and yet there seems to be a disconnect, something huge missing; the deep belief that we are beloved, period.
If you’re anything like me, you likely focus on your sin, the “bad” human desires and failings. We question every motive and action because we are taught our hearts are bad, looking to deceive us. Even just writing that reminds me of the years and years; most of my life I heard this message, and I am filled with an ache and energy wanting to scream out, This is not true!
Candice, Matthew, Cameron, Jennifer… enter your name here; You Are Beloved!
Your desires for love, affection, community, growth, fullness, adventure and knowledge aren’t bad, even if they don’t look like what you were told they should look like. Of course we aren’t perfect, so when we harm ourselves, or others a repentance of sorts is needed. But even those human feelings and experiences don’t prove that my heart, or your heart, is bad. The understanding that we have hurt someone and want to make it right indicates that your heart is good.
The other day I was making a return at Macy’s. I didn’t have a receipt and just wanted a gift card. It was a busy day and expected to be in and out of the store within minutes. It did not take long for me to realize my assumption of this taking a few minutes couldn’t be more wrong and I was here for the long haul. The woman behind the counter seemed thrown off by the lack of receipt, left the counter without telling me she was going to look for a similar shirt to the one I had in order to find a price. Once she returned, she seemed confused as to how to now make the transaction. To top it all off, she entered the wrong address into her machine and told me the gift card would be mailed to me– at the wrong address! When I told her this she looked at me with a lost look, explaining there was no way to void the transaction.
I could feel the blood rushing to my face and limbs, getting ready for what my body thought was going to be a physical throw down. I was beyond mad and wanted her to know it. My breath shortened and my voice became harsh as I asked to speak with her manager. The manager came out and fixed the issue.
The fixing of the issue calmed me down a bit, but it wasn’t until I really saw her face at the end of my transaction that I felt the heaviness of my sin. She handed me the gift card and in her face was shame, sadness, an experience of incompetence and anxiety.
I did that.
She might have not been the best employee Macy’s had to offer, but I did not have to make sure she knew just how shitty of a person she was for it. I harmed this woman’s heart and I felt horrible for it. This is sin, I intentionally wanted this woman to feel bad.
Compare this to what many are believed is the sin of idolatry when we love someone so much that we want to spend all of our time with them. I’ve literally heard pastors say if you love someone too much, that you probably love them more than God and this is idolatry and that God might take that person away from you. How is loving someone more than anyone else idolatry? It does not harm my heart, or the heart of someone else.
As I left Macy’s that day I felt horrible having her shame-filled face etched into my mind. But I felt God saying, You are still my beloved and I still love you Candice. This love softened my heart in a way that brought repentance, but not the kind of repentance that has me groveling and feeling like the worst kind of human being. It was the kind that made me into a better person. Someone free to choose something better next time.
Henri Nouwen says it this way in his book, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World,
The real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me…I kept running around it in large or small circles, always looking for someone or something able to convince me of my Belovedness…Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’. Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.
Here’s the connection our belovedness has to our experience of those painful emotions I talked about earlier. As people in general and especially as Christians, we do our best to rid ourselves of emotions like fear, and jealousy etc. We call these “negative” emotions. We try and get rid of them for one major reason; they don’t feel good. I know this seems obvious enough, but trying to get rid of them is tricky. Some of us look to addictions, distractions, or coping mechanisms to deal with the discomfort of these feelings. I am convinced the one and only way to truly rid ourselves of these painful emotions is to bring them in close, to embrace them, and to sit with them. We need to make them our friend and when we do, we can let go of them. The thing is, you cannot do this if you don’t also already deeply know your belovedness. They will not only threaten your idea of who you are, but it will be too painful for you if your not convinced of your goodness beforehand, thus making it impossible to really deal with, feel, and let go of those hard emotions.
For example, lets take the experience of fear. No one likes to feel fear and anxiety; it’s truly uncomfortable. Some people will drink more than normal, sleep extra, watch more tv, exercise too much, or become obsessive about “being good” in the hope of keeping the feeling of fear at bay. The idea of sitting with it and feeling it until you can let it go sounds like a crazy idea. They already feel like they are at their breaking point, unable to handle more anxiety; they want it far from them, not closer!
But if you know and deeply believe you are beloved you can sit with the painful feelings until you’re ready to let go of them, thus experiencing a freedom many people never really get.
UPDATE: 21 April 2014, 11:18a.m.
I wanted to add this devotional from Richard Rohr which I found especially helpful for me while writing this piece. I hope it helps you also.
Richard’s Daily Meditations
Seven Underlying Themes of Richard Rohr’s Teachings
First Theme: Scripture as validated by experience, and experience as validated by Tradition, are good scales for one’s spiritual worldview (Methodology).
The Methodology of Prayer
Meditation 27 of 57
I would like to offer you a form of prayer to practice letting go and practice what seems like losing but is actually finding.
“The Welcoming Prayer” encourages you to identify in your life, now or in the past, a hurt or an offense: someone who has done you wrong, or let you down.
Feel the pain of the offense the way you first felt it, or are feeling it in this moment, and feel the hurt in your body. (Why is this important? Because if you move it to your mind, you will go back to dualistic thinking and judgments: good guy/bad guy, win/lose, either/or.)
Feel the pain, grief, and anger, but not to create the usual win/lose scenario. Identify yourself with the suffering side of life, how much it hurts to hurt. How abandoned you felt if you were abandoned. Hold this in your heart space, your body space, instead of processing it mentally, or creating a story line.
Once you can move to that place and know how much it hurts to hurt, you will not possibly want that experience for anybody else.
This might take a few minutes. Welcome the experience and it can move you to the Great Compassion. Don’t fight it! Don’t split and blame! Welcome the grief and anger in all of its heaviness. Now it will become a great teacher.
If you can do this you will see that in actually welcoming the pain and letting go of all of your oppositional energy against suffering, it will actually free you from it! It is like reversing your engines. Who would have thought this? It is our resistance to things as they are that causes most of our unhappiness—at least I know it is so for me.
Adapted from The Art of Letting Go (CD)