I think I wrote this after reading something about God’s love being something that people imagine in order to feel better. That sort of thing frustrates me! People who obviously have no experience themselves of a thing handing down judgement about something they don’t understand, but think they do because of academic study. But it’s also sad, because what they don’t know is something so great and precious and life-giving, and they live not realising its existence around them. This, then, is my response a statement like that.
The love of God is not an imaginary thing that we must create in order to feel. It is the most powerful force in the Universe; it is what causes the sun and the stars to shine, allows life to exist, and pulls souls to their greatest height. It is there in every little thing that occurs in our lives.
I grew up being taught about the Gospel of Jesus Christ; that I was a daughter of God, and was here on this earth for good reason. I was taught that He loved me and knew me personally. This felt right and true to me, but because I grew up believing I was less-than-loveable, because my experience of human love was inconsistent and I lived fearing it would always be withdrawn at some point, I could not hold that truth in my heart for myself. I believed it was true – the things I understood about the nature of God supported that – but I felt, as I did about so many good things, that it was true for everyone except me. How could a Being as omnipotent as God be aware, truly aware, of insignificant, constantly-failing me? How could He love me so completely and personally when those I wanted to love me on earth couldn’t? I couldn’t reconcile my faith in this truth with my experience of life, or my conception of myself and my worth. But I wanted it to be true.
As a young adult, I was invited to serve as a volunteer representative for my church for a period of 18 months. I travelled to Tahiti, French Polynesia, via a 12-week training and language-learning period in the United States. During this training period, I met some wonderful people; young adults like me, who had been invited to serve overseas to share a message of hope and joy. They were ordinary people; I remember not being able to get through most of my meals because we were laughing so hard; people played pranks on each other, there were tough times and misunderstandings. But what I remember the most, and what had the greatest impact on me, was their love. I began to learn that I was, in fact, loveable; that people really cared – about me – and that my expressions of love were well-received. Although we each had our struggles, the message we were called to share gave us hope and a joy and peace that overrode the difficulties and helped us to act in loving and cheerful ways. It was one of the happiest (and most fun) periods in my life.
When I finally arrived in Tahiti, I found that the reality of what I’d committed to do was hugely challenging; it required everything I had, and more. I felt inadequate in the language, the planning, my teaching skills and basically just everything. But I knew that what I had was important, and I wanted to share it. Each morning we prayed and studied and discussed the day ahead. One morning, during my personal study time, I sat at the kitchen table with all of these feelings and desires running through my head and heart. I wanted to do this well, I wanted to enjoy it, I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone. I prayed wholeheartedly, and as I sat there I was filled with a warmth that overrode my fear, disappointment and loneliness. I felt in my mind and heart words assuring me that God, at that moment, was aware of me and that He did, truly, love me – the truth of that being confirmed by the overwhelming and soul-filling warmth that I felt – that I had gifts to share and good reason to be where I was. It was the first time I’d experienced this for myself, and although things remained difficult and even got more difficult, that knowledge forever changed how I felt about God’s love. I didn’t just know it as an absent fact, but as a reality which I’d experienced; something I actually knew. I had to first believe that I was loveable; my experiences during that training period had changed my view sufficiently to lead me to this point. With this knowledge, I knew that nothing else really mattered. It didn’t matter if others felt I wasn’t doing a god job. It didn’t matter if it took me ages to learn the language. What really mattered, what would last through it all, was this – the true and actual, infinite love that God was and which He had for me. This moment was completely simple and brief, but it was indelible. Through the time that I spent in Tahiti doing this work, I came to understand my relationship to God in a different, more holistic way; I developed a deeper and more mature faith and trust in His promises, an actual knowledge of His love for me and for those I met; I had many other sacred experiences which confirmed to me that God knew each of His children, intimately, and He loved them powerfully. He knew the state of their hearts; their desires and struggles.
Since then, I have had many other experiences that have caused this sense of God’s love – in general and for me personally – to grow into a firm and beautiful conviction. It’s truly a weakness (something that was weakly held and caused discouragement and other weak points in my soul) that God has turned into a strength. I absolutely know now that He knows and loves me. I have felt it in so many ways and at so many times when I needed it; when I asked to be reminded of it, to be comforted, to be helped. He has answered my prayers over and over, from the little things to the big ones. Not every prayer gets answered in the way I want it to; often I have to wait or be redirected to a different goal; but I am led to learning and wisdom, and given hope and direction. This is just my experience, of how I have come to believe in and know the love of God as it pertains to me. It is manifest in much larger ways, though, that impact everything…. which I might approach in another post. For now, I hope my journey gives insight into the reality of God’s love for individuals and how He brings us to the point where we can see it.