A friend and I were headed for haircuts together. It was definitely time: My naturally curly hair was starting to resemble, at alternating moments, a lampshade or a labradoodle. As we circled a roundabout discussing spiritual matters, her confession tumbled out. “Honestly, I’ve always struggled with whether God loves me—as an individual.”
Her vulnerability echoed a statement I’d mulled over not too long ago. I know God so loved the world. But does He “so love” me? Strangely—humbly—I now felt like I had unshakably come upon the answer to that question. But how had I gotten there? My thoughts drew me back along my own meandering spiritual path.
In college, friends and I had remained ever cautious of the postmodern, individualistic, “God-is-love-and-that’s-all-you-need-to-know” theology, and the curious supremacy of the individual in so many modern churches. We’d seen “God wants me to be happy” employed as the reasoning behind far too many counter-Scriptural decisions. So it seemed necessary to wrestle through the Bible’s treatment of God’s love for the individual.
But more than that, the question waged war in my own gut. A deep-seated insecurity made me highly suspicious of love in general, let alone any theology with reports of such vast love aimed specifically at yours truly—though outwardly I’d be the first to affirm that truth. Inside, however, my impression of God’s “approval” had become subtly, inextricably plaited with what others saw, with their approval…which silent, ingrown scar tissue reminded me I didn’t always have. Far from operating out of my deep satisfaction from the Living Water, I was a perpetually unsatisfied well-digger. I was certain no one else would accept the raw version of my soul. So I wasn’t about to buy into any “you are special!” mumbo-jumbo without solid Scriptural backing.
Thankfully, the Bible bears a rich lode to the seeker in this category. Paul exclaims over Jesus, “who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, emphasis added). Paul’s primary proof of God’s love of him as an individual? The Cross: I have a strong, a perfect plea; a great high Priest whose Name is Love.
Winding myself even further through the stories of ancient seekers, I’m quietly astonished by God’s responses to these strugglers. Questions of calm intention and omnipotence expose God’s compassion for their own most sacredly held wonderings. From an abandoned, pregnant Hagar (“Where have you come from and where are you going?”) to the blind Bartimaeus (“What do you want me to do for you?”) to the disciples (“What are you looking for?” and, “Who do you say that I am?”), God’s gentle, all-seeing, arresting questions reveal His careful knowledge of and nurture for our souls.
Likewise, Jesus wasn’t simply concerned for mass quantities of people coming to Him. He took the time to answer Nicodemus’ burning question under cloak of night; to swivel his gaze toward Zacchaeus’ tree; to reply to a troubled John the Baptist locked in a slimy cell. He shielded Mary Magdalene’s weathered, tender soul when He might have been winning the approval of scads of Pharisees. He set a tortured, lone demoniac free at last.
To Jesus, one matters.
We’d all likely agree that each person matters to God. But when it comes to us, in our own moments alone, we can allow fear, doubt, and darkness to trump the gifts piling up to our left and right, evidences of a Father: My name is graven on His hands. My name is written on His heart.
Truth is, as I’ve looked back at how God’s brought me from my jaded, skeptical, highbrow position of holding His love at arm’s length, my delicately veiled ingratitude has been revealed. Most of us would be appalled by a well-loved child—a teenager, perhaps?—insisting, “My parents don’t love me. They love all their kids, and I happen to be lumped in to that category.” Any mother who’s meticulously guarded her diet when she only suspected the double pink lines on that stick, who’s forfeited countless REM cycles to middle-of-the-night feedings, or who’s scrubbed vomit from the carpet would counter (at least mentally), where were you when I took such pains to care for you?
God has not left me as an orphan—in any sense of the word. Choosing insecurity in His love, for me, was denying the beauty, warmth, and privilege He’s so generously moved heaven and earth to bring me. Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, brother to renowned author Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote, “The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!”
This week, may the arms of your own heart unfold to embrace this waterfall of God’s care: a reality that it’s everywhere, as He constantly pleads your case before God’s throne.