What God's Love Means to Me A Post Written For My Friend Jennie
This is a post I wrote for a friend, Jennie, of Jennie Lou Art. Jennie and I have been friends since our Baylor days and what I love most about our friendship is that whenever we spent time together, we always talked about Jesus and how to live a real life pursuing the Lord. She always challenged me. Well, recently she asked me to write a guest post for a series she's doing on her blog answering the question, "What God's Love Means to Me and How It Has Changed My Life." Happy to say that years later, my friend Jennie is still challenging me. This was hard to get out. Below is the post I wrote for Jennie. I hope it encourages you!
I have been procrastinating writing this for a while. When my friend Jennie asked me to write a guest post for her blog, it was easy to tell her it would take a while because at the time, we were in the middle of our move to College Station. But it's been several weeks since then, and I've hit publish on blogs a few times since then, too. So why haven't I been able to sit down and get out this post she asked me to write?
Emily, can you write me a short blog about what it means to you that you're loved by God and how that has changed your life?
Yeah, no problem. Thinks, I've known the Lord my whole life. That'll be easy.
Sorry Jennie. Apparently this is a harder assignment than I thought, because to my pride's embarrassment (she's hiding in the corner of my mind, butt-hurt because she's been a Christian since she was a child) I'm coming up empty. This should be so easy for me to explain. Someone who has known God their whole life should surely be able to write a few paragraphs about what it means to be loved by Him. Well, apparently not. And it wasn't until God basically cornered me into finally writing this post that I had the guts to sit down and just do it, which meant discovering why it's been so difficult.
I don't think I really do know what it means to me to be loved by the Lord.
I mean, yes, I know I'm loved by God. I know that. And I've had moments in my life where I've felt his love so powerfully that I just wept. But, if I'm being wholly honest with myself, have I seriously known that to my core in a way that impacts my life every day? Maybe not. Because if I did, I'd probably live differently, right?
Here's the deal: I'm a believer. I go to church. I'm in a small group. I read my bible. I pray. Blah blah blah. All the boxes are checked that should indicate I know God's love. Yet it took everything in me to write this post. I find this to be a really hard concept to explain, because as it turns out, I've been working for acceptance for most of my life. It's a pattern, a coping mechanism. And if I'm working to be loved/okay/acceptable/valuable/worthy, then I've probably never let God really love me because I've made sure I've never needed his love. Make sense? I've been hard working and well behaved and rarely one to make mistakes, so a love that covers all wrongs wasn't wholly necessary to me, because my wrongs are pretty minimal. I never really feel the pang of sin because my transgressions aren't going to make headlines here on earth. They're socially acceptable and for the most part, pretty private. I've worked hard to keep it that way, haven't I? I do good to be good. Maybe you can relate? Surely I can't be the only one. There must be someone else out there who strives not to be a failure so they don't have to feel the pang of disappointment, of unworthiness. For workers like me, failure is the worst thing in the world because it exposes the whole dang operation. If there's even one tiny failure, that means there's vulnerability. And if there's vulnerability, that means there's not perfection. And if there's not perfection, well, that means I'm exposed as a fraud--I'm not who I've been working so hard to portray myself as. Accepting the pain and frustration of a personal, moral, professional, or relational failure on my part is the hardest thing in the world. It breaks me. Why? Because I've rooted my identity in my ability to be good and never fail in those ways. Did I know I was doing this? Well of course not, because that would be the wrongthing, and I never to do wrong thing! I'm perfect! I never do the wrong thing because I can't handle what'll happen if I mess up!
How can I feel God's love if I don't need it? How can I know what God's love means to me if I never accept that he loves me despite my crap? (And yes, I do have crap. Admitting it is the first step.) Honestly, I'm not even sure how to go about doing that. But I do have a hunch:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.
It's so funny. The very thing I was doing to be okay, to be acceptable, worthy, free of blemish, actually ended up putting me in chains.
Being enslaved to the yoke of perfectionism means certain punishment come the times I slip up. God's love doesn't look like punishment. God's love looks like mercy (James 2:13). If I'm not merciful to myself, can God be merciful to me? My mind is my own worst enemy. When I fail, all the hateful, negative thoughts come screaming in and rip apart my perfect exterior like knives. I'm learning to be kind to myself. To by judged by the law that sets me free instead of the law that keeps me enslaved to my own best efforts. And when I do that, I begin to feel God's love and accept his caring correction when I fail, instead being torn apart by my outbreaks of self loathing any time I screw up. I also, by the way, discover more of who God made me to be when I throw off perfectionism and jump into the unknown world of being okay with failure, because failure doesn't define me anymore, love does. It is a serious burden to be your own correction officer (or better yet, prison guard) especially when the free gift of grace is just sitting there, waiting to beckon you into freedom from the pressure of your own performance. Failing will become acceptable because no longer is value attached to perfection, but instead, you'll grow tall and strong like a tree by a river, firmly planted in the river of God's unfailing, liberating love.
Fear is a prison guard. Faith is a patriot.
You better not screw this up or you're worthless.
You're known and loved and valued despite what you can offer, so get out there and live.
And it does take a little bit of faith to accept that God's love can anchor your self worth more reliably than your own efforts. How do you do this? Well, for me it's been choosing to do things I know could result in failure. I gotta start letting myself be free. I have to give God's love a chance to protect me or my strict rulebook will just keep stealing my joy and freedom. It's immersion therapy in a way. It's retraining my thoughts and actions to new patterns, which really just looks like following my heart instead of my head. What will it be for you? I really don't know. However, I do know that if you seek God you'll find him. He's all for giving us more of him, more of freedom. Ask and you shall receive.
Which, by the way, is how God's love has changed my life. Any time I've failed and my self preservation process has been exposed as insufficient, his love has always been ready to accept me and make me whole again. It is reliable. It is continual. It is pure. It accepts. It corrects. And it is always leading me to new levels of freedom. So, I guess that that is what God's love means to me...
It means freedom.
Thanks for reading. I hope it encouraged you. I'm not perfect, and there's always more of the Lord to discover. If you'd like to see the original post on Jennie's website, you can head here. I also encourage you (especially all you brides) to check out the rest of her website, because Jennie is an incredibly gifted live wedding painter!
Also, did you love the images of trees growing by a river?
They're images from my Rio Frio series, and you can purchase them! In print or digital form! Maybe you need a reminder of God's river of love hanging in your office, or you'd like to be reminded of his love every time you look at your phone background. They'd also make great gift ideas.
Speaking and teaching is one of my favorite things! Whether you're a youth pastor needing a summer camp teacher, a teacher looking for chapel speakers, or a volunteer organizing your church's women's group, I'd love to be at your next event!