I was praying today. Praying for me is always a strange adventure, I never know quite where it will take me - sometimes I intend to talk to God about one thing and invariably my heart leads me to talk to him about something quite different. I am discovering God is primarily interested in the truth (the existential sense, not the over-rationalized Enlightenment sense). I went to talk to God about one thing and discovered I needed to talk to him about a rather different issue. The moment I entered into conversation with God I found myself awash in anxiety. This was particularly disturbing given that I had spent a substantial amount of time recently trying to unearth this deadly growth in my soul. Why had all the anxiety come back? And even more frustrating is the nature of anxiety, it is emotional numbness, and thus an ignorance about what actually is wrong. I knew something was wrong, but what it was I couldn't say, and when I don't have words for my heart I feel so lost, desperately clammoring for a sense of self.
So I waited. I listened. I watched. Where will my anxiety take me?
It took me to the truth. The truth is I have immersed myself, yet again, in a functional self-salvation. The motivations of my heart erupted into actions, actions that betrayed my true new self. My self-salvation looked like this: I needed others to validate me, I needed others to tell me that I was ok (that my thoughts, beliefs, inner experiences, were real, true, good), I needed others to be pleased with me, I needed others to not be disappointed with me or upset with me, I couldn't handle others supposed judgments of me. I was using all kinds of various actions to fill these deep needs, actions such as writing, speaking, planning ministry, even who and how I looked at others. I was trying to be a good little boy and keep the world around happy with me, yet always afraid that it wasn't, always constructing a whole life around the fear that I'm not ok... a whole life around the fear that I'm not ok. My whole constructed life could have been strong, but my heart was weak - what good do strong walls do for a city with a cowardly ruler?
The walls protect me.
The walls isolate me.
Better to be a city with no walls and a strong ruler... in fact if the ruler is strong enough he doesn't even need walls because he has nothing to fear.
But I am afraid.
How does a coward find strength?
I found myself asking this question, feeling particularly exposed before my God. In my exposure I asked, "do you love me?" A word from God would restore my soul. Only one thing can break me from my fears. Only one thing can make me strong. If God loved me then I wouldn't have to get others to tell me I'm ok, I wouldn't need others to validate me, I wouldn't doggedly pursue others affections, approval, and attention. I would have all those things in God. But why, why should God love me? I could offer all the same things to him that I do to others: you know the usual achievements, accomplishments, humor, wit, kindness, all-around likeability - all those things I use to get others to love me. But those things feel small before God, and even before myself - its as if my soul says "I don't want to be loved for those things!" I want love, you know the intrinsic kind, where I'm loved deeply, at my center, loved for my distinct "Sam-ness."
But how can I know that God loves me, you know me, that deep, secret, hidden me that is wonderfully precious but also tragically lost.
So I asked the question again, "God, do you love me?"
I waited. I listened. I watched. And then this...
"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this - that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."
That's beautiful, but not the whole story. It's not just a diffuse experience of love, its the kind of love that has been demonstrated. Other translations say "showed" as if God's saying, "Hey look, if you want to know, I mean really know, that I love you then I'll show you - look at my Son, he's my factual, demonstrable, historical, real proof that I love you and that nothing can separate you from me, not even the love of my Son." Bizzare but Beautiful.
Still I was a little puzzled, I mean how do I know that was for me. So I asked God.
I waited. I listened. I watched.
"In love he predestined us..."
This completed my experience. It was like God saying, "Sam, you believe Jesus is for you because you were meant to." It is my destiny to believe that this demonstration of the love of God was for me. It's for me because I believe it's for me, I believe it because I was meant to believe it by God, from eternity past. The ground of my belief in the love of God is God's eternal love of me. "We love because he first loved us."