Saturday, March 8, 2014
My journey to God's love
I have mentioned many times on my blog about my doubts of God's love, and some of the things that may have played into that. At this point in my life, it doesn't really matter why, so I am not going into the reasons. Suffice it to say that for most of my life, I not only doubted God's love. I was convinced He didn't love me or even care about me. If you have never had severe doubts of God's love, that sounds bizarre and possibly like I am making it up or exaggerating, but I am not.
The exact time that it began is not something I can pin down. I'd say all of my adult life, and most likely as far back as my teens. Maybe it began when I started getting bullied so bad at school. I don't know for sure. I felt that way for so long, it seems like all of my life, but I don't think I felt that way before my teens.
It is really hard to serve a God who you don't believe loves you. I have wondered looking back if I even every truly was a Christian, yet I do believe I was, just not a very good one, and shallow at my best. There were times my doubts of God's love weren't as bad as other times. Sadly, it seems when I didn't doubt His love and almost believed, was when things were going really well in life, but the minute discouraging times would hit, it seemed like He wasn't answering my prayers, and times got tough, I'd immediately go back to believing He didn't care.
I'd make an effort occasionally to believe. I'd even pray about it, but my prayers were for God to show me He loved me. Exactly what that would entail, I am not entirely sure, but it would have involved something miraculous, giving me something I needed or wanted, etc. Knowing my track record, no wonder God never answered those prayers........ He knew the second something bad happened, I'd be be back to doubting again. I wouldn't have answered those prayers either.
There was a period when I made more progress than normal with this issue and even spoke about it in church, but then stuff happened, and again I doubted.
This past year, I got sick of it. I decided I was going to do something about it, and hope that old adage about God meeting you halfway would hold true. Granted, I never heard it used specifically about believing God's love, but I figure it worked it applied in these circumstances too. 2013 became my search for God's love.
Just how does one reverse a lifetime of believing you don't matter to God? Seems a pretty tall order. You can't just decide to change your thinking like you change clothes. It takes a lot more than that. So here is what I did:
1) Books. I read. It seemed an obvious place for me to start, since I am a reader. A friend had recommended He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobson, and I had read part of it several months before and never finished it. I located it and started at the beginning, and read the whole thing. And I didn't stop there.
I tend to read a lot of fiction, and though I even read some fiction books that were a help in this area, Kathy Herman's Not by Sight being an example, I tried to read more non-fiction than normal, focusing on books about God's love and grace. And the more I read, the more my doubt was slowly chipped away.
Some would say reading the Bible should be enough. Maybe so, but this was my journey, and this is how I traveled a long, winding road, with a lot of hills and potholes, to believe God loves me. Which brings me to #2.
2) The Bible: I quit trying to follow any kind of reading plan. I didn't read through different books, and I steered clear of reading a certain amount of verses - something I still steer clear of. I believe its better to read one verse and get something out of it, than read 5 chapters and just walk away having read 5 chapters.
I focused on a few certain verses. John 3:16 was one of the main ones. There were weeks, I'd only read it. Every night. Other nights I'd read other verses about God's love and grace, bouncing back and forth between just a handful of verses. Lamentations 3: 22-23 was another:
22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
3) Music. During the summer, I walk a lot, and usually take my iPod. With the iPod, you can make playlists, as many as you want, and put whatever songs you want to put in the playlists. I made one titled "love" and put all of the songs about God's love and caring in that playlist. I didn't want to mix genre's, so it is all my favorite genre' of music: Southern Gospel. I came up with 93, and I think I have added CDs since then that have songs that could go in the playlist, and I most likely have overlooked some, but that is a good number of songs about God's love.
A lot of the days I walked this past summer and fall, I'd play that playlist. I'd walk a couple of miles most days of the week, listening to songs of God's love.
4) Prayer. I prayed about it. Daily. I quit asking God to show me He loved me, and asked Him to help me believe.
And then I reached a certain point that I started thanking Him for loving me. No, I didn't believe it yet, but I started thanking Him anyway.
5) Quotes. I started finding quotes about God's love and focusing on the truths of them. Such as this one: You can't do anything to cause God to love you more, or less.
I believe it was a combination of these five things, and maybe things I am not considering, but it finally happened. I can actually pinpoint when it happened. Oh, I had been making progress. It isn't like one day I was back at square one, and the next I believed, but I did have that point when the light broke completely through.
I was reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, and when I read how he told the story of The Prodigal Son, that did it for me:
While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). I am moved that the [prodigal son's] father didn’t cross-examine the boy, bully him, lecture him on ingratitude, or insist on any high motivation. He was so overjoyed at the sight of his son that he ignored all the canons of prudence and parental discretion and simply welcomed him home. The father took him back just as he was . . . We don’t have to sift our hearts and analyze our intentions before returning home. Abba just wants us to show up . . . we don’t have to be perfect or even very good before God will accept us . . . Even if we come back because we couldn’t make it on our own, God will welcome us. He will seek no explanations about our sudden appearance. He is glad we are there . . . [He will say, like the prodigal's father,] “Hush, child. I don’t need to know where you’ve been or what you’ve been up to.”
Manning also pointed out that the father didn't wait for the son to say all of the right words. He ran to meet him and embraced him before he could say anything. It was a simple truth, but it sure hit home with me.
Manning, and others have said, the story isn't really about the son. We make it about the son, and I have heard many sermons and lessons on the son. The story is about the father. His love, and how eager he was to forgive his son and welcome him back.
I wouldn't say I am at the end of the road in believing God's love for me. I think I can honestly say I don't doubt His love at this point, but I still don't grasp His love and grace as much as I should and want to, but I have made remarkable progress, and God has used many things to help, and met me much more than halfway.
Just today, I was reading a book about God's love and found myself weeping at different places in the book and felt that witness in my heart that yes, God loves me.
When I was about to finish this blog post, I was looking back through previous posts and found a similar one I did at the end of November, but I have gone at it from a different angle here, so if you read the first one "Getting" God's Love, I apologize for any repetition.
One of the songs that has been the most encouraging and helpful to me on this issue, No Limit by Jeff and Sheri Easter: