As I’ve shared before, I’ve spent most of my life suffering from this idea that God hates me. Even when I say otherwise, or start to feel slightly more loveable, there always seems to be this nagging doubt in the back of my mind.
Maybe God loves some people… but I just can’t imagine that I would ever make that list.
And then I started asking myself some questions at church on Sunday: what if God actually does love me and all I have to do is let him?
What if God is nicer than I had imagined, not nearly as angry as I was told, and actually wants to be my friend?
Yes, I’m back to church… I know there was that very public break up between myself and American Evangelicalism, and yes, I even said that I was taking my space and wouldn’t be back for a while after getting burned in another traumatic church experience, but the truth is… I have a hard time staying away.
Since we are “without a tribe” for the most part, we decided to show solidarity with others who are outsiders and often alone on a journey– immigrants. We’ve started attending a small local congregation of refugees and asylum seekers from Africa, and it has been a surprising breath of fresh air for us.
We get to attend church, but get to be in a culture that’s outside typical American Christianity, so it’s a needed chapter in our life. Plus, no one at the church knows who I am, so I’m free to just be at peace as I seek to reconnect with God in a deeper way.
As we were testing the waters the past few weeks I wasn’t sure if I was really connecting to God or not. While the music worship is beautiful, it’s in French– not one of my languages. The sermons have a translator who may or may not always get everything translated (my guess would be no), so I was up in the air as to if I was starting to connect or get anything out of it.
Towards the end of the service, the pastor and some leaders stood in the front of the church and offered to anoint with oil and pray God’s blessing over anyone who wanted to receive it– which was totally cool– I had never seen that before other than baptisms and baby dedications. A few people filed out of their seats and went up to receive prayer and oil as we sat back and watched. Combining the moment with powerful worship going on in the background– in a language I didn’t understand but somehow still moved me— I realized that I too wanted prayer and a blessing. Even though it was just ceremonial, I strangely felt God’s presence in that moment, and wanted more of it.
Even though I wanted to participate, I stayed in my seat for a while. I wasn’t feeling all that loving towards myself, and certainly wasn’t feeling “all spiritual” inside. I just sat there for a time, and figured whatever God was doing in that moment wasn’t exactly for me (that’s my own crap). I figured maybe I’d do it some other time, when I felt more worthy to approach God and ask for his blessing (more of my own crap).
Until I saw the kids… one after another, the children of these refugees from Angola, Congo, Rwanda and all sorts of other places, all came up and got in line– they wanted to be blessed. No parents were prodding them, they didn’t seem to be going up out of some sort of obligation, and the smiles on their faces showed they weren’t suffering from inner hesitation because of not feeling valuable to God. They just heard that they could come and receive God’s blessing, and said “yeah– I want some of that”.
For me, the question became: what if God loves me– not the best-behavior me, but the messy, broken and flawed me?
What if all the stuff I heard about God’s anger, the lopsided and sometimes twisted version of repentance, and God’s inability to be in the presence of “sinners” is actually getting in the way of me experiencing the essence of God’s being– love?
What if God is actually consumed with unconditional love for me, and my responsibility is simply to say “okay”?
You see, while it’s great that God is love– a fact that I am working hard to believe with my whole being– love must always be chosen. Yes, it is patient and kind, but it is also true that love never forces itself upon you. Which means at some point, if you and I want to experience God in deeper ways, we need to become like these children and choose to let God love us.
I’m so glad I followed the lead of the little children and went forward to be blessed. While nothing spectacular happened in that moment, I did begin to realize that these kids– too young to yet have their minds overflowing with bad theology– were the ones who had it right by approaching the loving God, freely, happily, and without fear.
No, nothing miraculous happened when I received the oil and prayers of blessing that afternoon, but I did in some small way experience God’s love in a way that I really needed to.
In a church service conducted mostly in a language I didn’t understand, I was reminded that God might actually love me after all… and that experiencing this love might simply mean I say “yes” to it.
May we, my friends, become a people who are willing to set our own crap aside for a few minutes to experience God. May we be a people who reject the notion that God is distant and angry with us and exchange it for the truth that he actually does love us.
But even more than that, may we remember that love must always be chosen– that we must work to set aside our own feelings of inadequacy and unlovableness, to become like the children I watched come forward… children who simply knew that God’s love was free for the taking, and responded by saying “I choose to believe it”.
You’re loved. You’re chosen by God. You’re included in his invitation.
May you believe it.