There came a moment, a few years into my walk with the Lord, when I became aware that I was struggling to fully accept his love for me. Following a riveting sermon one Sunday on the depth of God’s love for us, I was truly moved, and during the closing prayer, as I surveyed the sanctuary filled with bowed heads, I felt compelled to express my gratitude to the Lord. Thank you for the many ways in which you continually demonstrate your great love for each of them.
“Don’t you mean my love for ‘us’—for each and every one of you?” the Lord asked in reply. The question caught me completely off-guard and snapped me right out of my moment of worship. I hadn’t even been aware until the Spirit pointed it out to me that I had not included myself in my prayer of thanksgiving. It gave me pause, but only for an instant, because in the very next I knew in my spirit that I had been questioning God’s love for me for quite some time.
No, Lord, I began to confess. I know that by your mercy the cross has set me free and that I have been saved, but I am not certain of your love for me. I could not understand my own feelings. I realized this was a difference between knowing the truth and believing it in a way that permeates mind, heart, and soul, but that understanding did not relieve the pain of having to acknowledge that I did not actually feel loved by God.
I carried the weight of that reality over the next several months, turning to the Lord again and again in prayer to ask for clarity that could lead to healing in this area. That summer, while Layne was away leading worship for various camps, I decided to catch up on some of the movies that fell into the “chick flick” category, and were, therefore, banned as date night options.
In the stack of rentals was “A Walk to Remember,” based on the book by Nicholas Sparks. Mandy Moore played the role of a teenage girl dying of cancer, whose faith in God allowed her to face not only death but also the difficulties of navigating high school and young love in a virtuous and pure manner, exercising grace and wisdom beyond her years. The movie had all the campiness of a typical rom-com, and I am certain that I rolled my eyes multiple times throughout. But despite the absurd elements, I found myself being drawn in by the portrayal of the main character, suddenly experiencing a sadness and a longing that I could not place. I reached a scene in which the girl’s father began to express to her how immensely proud he was of her and how her consistent faithfulness had blessed his life. I lost it.
Oh, Father. I wish you saw me that way.
“I do see you that way,” came the reply. I could feel the hurt I had been carrying start to well up, originating in my stomach and traveling to my chest as I began listing my many failures in protest to the Lord’s assertion, highlighting the sins of my teenage years, comparing myself to the virginal, holy character from the movie.
But he spoke to me once more, saying, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” And again, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” But somehow these words only added to my distress, and as the scriptures continued to come—“….The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love….He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities….As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”—a sob arose from me, and I let out a cry that I recognized at once as the grief of a child somewhere deep within who simply could not understand.
“Then why didn’t you rescue me?” I shouted into the emptiness of my bedroom. You were there! You were with me, but you didn’t save me! You did not love me enough, or find me worthy enough to make it stop and free me from the shame of it all! In an instant, I was no longer sitting there alone in my bedroom, but was instead standing in a room I had long tried to forget, looking down on a frightened, lonely child being robbed of the last vestiges of innocence and the sense of security known primarily in childhood. She looked right at me. Our eyes met, and my heart broke as I allowed myself for the first time ever to feel the full weight of her despair and to acknowledge the injustice in all that was taken from her. Then suddenly, Christ appeared beside me. He stooped down and lifted the little girl from the bed where she lay, then turning toward me, he said with sorrow and compassion in his eyes, “I was holding you then, and I am holding you now. I did rescue you.”
In that moment, “the eyes of my heart were enlightened,” and my soul was flooded with an absolute awareness of the Lord’s goodness and love that “surpasses all knowledge.” That night marked for me the beginning of an intimacy with God that I had not previously known, and I found myself standing on a firm foundation, rooted in the Father’s love, complete with a security that I thought had been lost to me forever.
Now, the reader might be thinking, “Shouldn’t Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the ultimate act of love, provide all the assurance needed to walk through this life fully convinced of his great love for us?” Indeed, before the Lord intervened for me in this way, I spent a good deal of time chastising myself in a similar manner, scorning a heart that struggled with unbelief when the evidence of God’s love is so clear.
But the fallen state of this world in which we find ourselves produces wounds, whether imposed from within or without, that stand in direct opposition to the design of a Creator with whom we were intended to thrive in full communion. These wounds then feed into lies, at the ready aid of an Enemy bent on our destruction, casting doubt on the One who is love itself. Our conscious minds are often not fully aware of the wounds and lies that stand between us and the full transformative power of the gospel in our lives. Anytime we recognize an area in which our thoughts, feelings, or will do not align with the truth we have come to know, then we must cry out for help: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
I have since learned that what God did for me—helping me identify an area of unbelief that was preventing me from walking in the abundant life purchased for me, then entering into one of my most painful early memories and speaking the exact words needed to set me free from a deep-seated lie fueled by this wound from the past—is a restorative work of the Spirit that is not uncommon. I have been privileged to witness the Lord move in this way time and again in the lives of others, “binding up the brokenhearted” and “proclaiming freedom for the captives.” More and more, I would grow to understand that, as one called to the care of souls, God was inviting me to participate in this work, interceding through prayer, utilizing my skills as a counselor and the gifts given to me by the Spirit to help others find healing as I did. This experience of God would shape my faith and ministry more than any other, and it has become one of my greatest joys to know that the ashes of what was once my deepest pain could be so beautifully redeemed for the glory of the Lord.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”Romans 8:38-39