The ten-year-old girl stood in front of the congregation and sang with a purity of tone that pierced through heart-walls and commanded attention to the lyrics. I paused at the back of the auditorium doorway, unable to move. Normally I’d already be in my car heading home after the worship team I served on had finished up for the second service, but on this Sunday I could not get myself to leave until this child had fully delivered her message. I will never forget how I felt as she sang simply but profoundly of the great love of God the Father for her. I welled up with tears. Not tears of joy, but sorrowful tears of deep longing. For this personal love from God that she sang of, that she seemed to rest so confidently in, was a love I did not yet know for myself.
I wish I could report that I experienced dramatic life-change at that moment and went on to bask joyfully in the love of God the remainder of my years. But it would not be so easy. The days following continued a long battle with feelings of shame, inadequacy, fears of not performing well enough, a desperation to be approved and accepted, an unspoken void that remained unfilled. As a result I was immature, often foolish, full of defensive pride as a protective mechanism, slinging my pain around wildly and hurting many people in the process.
It’s been two decades since that girl sang her sweet song of grace, and it has taken me all of those twenty years to grow into a true knowing of that precious love of my Creator for me, his child. I mean the kind of knowing that comes from an interior place where you don’t have to think about it before answering, where you just know it in the way you know the most foundational facts about life itself. An experiential knowing, rather than mere head knowledge of the doctrine of that love.
Coming to know God’s love has been a process for me, gradual baby steps, along with a few moments where new clarity came to my heart abruptly in a crashing wave of grace. Though there has been growth, I also know that I still do not fully comprehend this most amazing love, that there is so much more of this glory to gaze upon and get deep into my bones. I remain desperate for God’s love, unable to live apart from it. I must remind my fretful heart constantly just how forgiven and loved I am in Christ. I must preach this good news to myself daily.
Now I have come to believe with all my heart that knowing deep down the personal love of God for me is the foundation for all change in me. If I am not resting in this incredible love, then everything I do will be endless striving. Without the constant reveling in the amazing gracious love of the Heavenly Father, there will be no true joy, no ability to risk, no living in freedom, no giving of myself to serve others. There is no doctrine, no commandment, no teaching that will ever be as fundamentally important for me, as absolutely necessary each and every day of my life, as the truth of God’s powerful never-ceasing love.
Perhaps others do not see it this way. But I suspect many of my readers get it. I think some of you know firsthand how coming to experience the love of God has changed you like nothing else could. And I wonder if perhaps some who read this are still not sure of God’s love and may be yearning to know that, through trusting him, he’s got you, that his love is overflowing to you through all that Jesus did for you, that he’ll never take it back and he’ll never let you go.
I’ve been marinating on these thoughts about the love of God filling the emptiness inside me as I prepared to post images of the glory of the Creator’s handiwork displayed on the rugged coastline of Oregon. It has been an unexpected joy to return this summer to the forgotten beauty of this coast, and my heart has soared with the sheer bliss of making compositions of seastacks at sunset, wave patterns, trees in fog, beach stones on sand, and more. But one spot in particular seems to represent that void I described. Along a particularly rugged section of headland near Cape Perpetua, there is a twelve foot wide round hole in the jagged rocks that fills with water when high tide brings a large wave, but just as soon as the water has washed over the rocks it flows rapidly down through the hole which becomes empty once again, looking like a bottomless pit leading down into the depths.
But God has not left me empty. Nor will he leave anyone empty who calls on his name. He came to fill the void in broken rebels like me. His words of assurance I can bet my very life on:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)