This post is pulled from the archives and edited. It’s one of my favorites. Enjoy!
Can I confess something? When the Parish Life Committee at my church asked if I would speak at our Advent by Candlelight event…I panicked for a moment. Write a speech, yes. Deliver a speech? Yikes!
The topic? God’s love.
If you’ve spent 2 seconds in this space that is Hearts Undaunted, then you know why I had to give that speech. The lesson of the last whole year of my life has been God teaching me about His love.
When they asked, I was entirely humbled and honored.
When they asked, I was terrified of the vulnerability it would take for me to deliver the message.
Even in this space, my figurative knees are knocking a bit, but He continues to grant the grace to press ahead anyway.
Advent by Candlelight 2012
While my husband, Mark, is at work in Lapeer, teaching elementary school-aged special education students, I am working at home: teaching our children, blogging, and trying to figure out how Etsy works. In the course of all that, God taught me a few things about Himself, and that is what I’d like to share with you.
About a year ago, my mom suggested that I read a book called One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. In the book, Ann tells the story of how counting her blessings changed her life. A friend dared her to make a list of 1000 things that she was thankful for, and in doing so, her life transformed from near despair to joy in abundance. As I was reading it, I began to wonder what would happen if I tried this gift-counting. Would my life change and how? Would I be transformed? I started in a journal at first, numbering my thank yous, and then I started blogging my list.
Amazingly, I started seeing some of the very things happening to me that Ann experienced. I became very aware that these were not just general thank yous. These smiles from my kids, a 70 degree day to play outside in March, a call from a friend just when I needed one…these were all gifts from God. In naming them, I learned to show appreciation for Him working in my life. Even more than that, it made me slow down enough to realize that these gifts are everywhere. Therefore, GOD is everywhere.
I truly am in God’s presence, and that makes each moment is sacred.
When I became aware of that, it made total sense what Ann wrote in One Thousand Gifts, that the rhythm and flow of these gifts from God is the beat of His love song to me.
So when the sunlight streams in through sliding glass doors by my patio, and creates patterned shadows across the dining room chairs and onto my crumb-coated laminate floor…to me, it’s the same thing as God saying, “I’m here. Remember how much I love you.”
When I’m driving and I song I love comes on the radio, a song with perfect lyrics that speak right to me, I can give thanks and know deep inside that He is telling me, “See? I know you! I know what you’re struggling with. I know what you need. I know what you delight in. I love you!”
As I kept practicing my gratitude and becoming aware of God’s gifts and presence and love, I had an overwhelming desire, a thirst really, to know Him better. To know Who He really is and what He’s really like.
I learned that seeking to know Him better is a prayer that God always answers. He kept throwing resources in my path. I would stumble across books and devotions without really trying to. For instance, around the time this was all happening, my husband received a gift subscription to The Word Among Us, and the first issue he received was titled “Who Is God?” Even though it was his, I devoured it, along with other books I came across, and the catechism and quotes by the saints.
I realized a crucial thing: my view of God was seriously distorted. Somewhere along the path of my life, I had grown to see God as a sort of imposing scorekeeper in the sky. I had this idea that He was keeping records of all my failures, that I was never doing quite enough to please Him. Maybe I lost my temper with the kids. Again. Or I repeated some gossip. Maybe I hadn’t sat to pray in weeks—all deductions on my heavenly permanent record. Surely, my ever-growing list of transgressions had God shaking His head in disappointment.
The thing is: that’s not Who God is at all! He doesn’t define us by our sins and weaknesses. Now, I imagine He’s watching and possibly thinking, “Child, that choice is not going to turn out well for you.” And He will gently offer ways to return to His perfect plan and to grace.
But He loves unconditionally. Now, that is an idea I’ve heard repeatedly throughout my life, this idea of unconditional love, but it had never made it to my heart.
Embracing Who God is, and Who He says you are can make all the difference in your life. So, this is what you need to know about God’s love:
He is mad about you! Just wildly in love with you.
He created you on purpose and with a purpose. Each one of you sitting here tonight: He planned each and every detail about you: your physical appearance, your personality, your likes and dislikes, your strengths and even your weaknesses. He arranged them all just so because He has got a big plan for your life. It’s one that He put you here for, one that only you can accomplish.
You are made in His image and reflect a part of Him in a way that no one else does. In doing that, you have something to teach us about Him and Who He is that no one else can. You receive His love, love Him back, and reflect His love to others like no. one. else.
Maybe you’re sitting here tonight, noticing the person next you, or someone across the room and thinking, “Wow, she has really got her act together. I wish I could be like her.” Or, “She is so beautiful, or well-dressed, or organized, or holy, or has the perfect marriage, or the most-well-behaved kids (you know the ones who sit quietly as Mass, not making a peep, following along in their Magnifikid?)” Insert a quality…Are you comparing yourself?
First of all, stop that!
Second, she does NOT have it all together. She’s probably thinking, “If you only knew what goes on in my home…”
Third, this is what God has to say about you:
In Psalm 139:14, it says, “I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made.” Fearfully, wonderfully made.
Did you know that there is a book of Zephaniah in the Bible? I only recently discovered it when my mom gave me journal with a quote from Zephaniah in it. In chapter 3:17, it says, “The Lord will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” When I read that, I thought, “Come on. It does NOT say that in the Bible. What kind of new-fangled, feel-good translation is my mother using?”
Guess what? It DOES say that in the Bible! God delights in you! The Maker of the Universe, the Almighty, all powerful God…He delights in you! Not only that, but He rejoices over you. With singing!
You’re pretty special to Him. It’s kind of a big deal.
In Isaiah 43:1,4, it says, “By name I have called you. You are mine… You are precious to me.”
So, out of a love beyond all comprehension, God created you.
And nothing you do or say, and nothing anyone else says about you or does to you can make Him love you any less. Your worth and identity is in Him and in His love for you.
Think about that for a minute. We all have good days and bad days, right? Some days might go something like this: You set your alarm to get up early, before the kids, if you have young ones at home. You might exercise, pray a bit, shower and eat breakfast, enjoy the peace and harmony of an organized morning, send the kids off to school on time with a brown bag lunch filled with organic food that you bought half off at Whole Foods. You have all your Bible Study homework done, you participate wholeheartedly in the discussions, and your red velvet cake is the hit of the potluck. The kids come home from school happy to a home cooked meal, you have family game night and tuck them all snug in their beds.
Or, your day might look something like this:
The baby has screamed all night, so you press snooze on your alarm until the kids are in danger of being late for school. You realize you’ve forgotten that your daughter needs a tie-dyed shirt for spirit day. You toss a pop tart and money for hot lunch at each kid on the way to the much-in-need-of-being washed car and pray for all green lights on the way to school. The kids come home from school cranky and fighting with hours of homework, which you only have the energy to help them finish half of, and everyone goes to bed in tears.
Well. God loves you just as much on that “terrible, awful, no good, very bad day” as He does on a day when everything goes right.
That’s right. You can’t earn his love. It is not based on your performance. He gives it freely.
Let’s fill up on that love! Let’s make Him our identity and security. Because He is not content with an hour on Sunday, or 15 minutes each morning, or even the general desire to do His will. What He offers you is so much better. He made you for communion with Him. Not just to thank Him or ask Him for things, as good as those things are…but to spend each day side by side with Him as He guides Your every thought, word, and deed. Simply abiding in Him, Who is love, letting Him show you where He wants you to go and what He wants you to do.
Let’s stand in awe that love itself came down to earth. That God loves us so much, with a love so faithful, that He set in motion a plan to keep us united with Him for eternity.
Let’s seek communion with the God who is wildly in love with us by taking advantage of the amazing gift of the Eucharist, literally God in us.
Let’s ask Him to reveal Himself to us in ever deeper ways. That we may fill to overflowing with His love that will transform us from the inside out, enabling us to share His love with those around us. That His love would enable us to see others through a lens of grace, a lens that loves them like He does.
Pray with me?
Heavenly Father, I praise You for Your perfect, unfailing, constant, and unconditional love. I thank you for the masterpiece you have created in each of your children. Enable each of us to know You better. Fill us up with Your transforming love and teach us to abide in You. Father, convict each of us just how much You love us and that You created us just as You want us. Let us rest secure in Your most perfect plan for each of our lives. May we know You more by loving each other more. May we use the gifts, talents, and dreams that You have planted in us to set the world on fire with the knowledge of Your love. I ask this in the precious Name of Jesus. Amen.