We sat shoulder to shoulder in church, just as we had hundreds of times before. Though he’d left home after high school and we no longer shared Sundays together, a break from a tough semester of college brought him home for the weekend. So we went to church, just like old times.
I can’t remember the full sermon that Sunday, and I doubt my son remembers it either. But somewhere in the middle of the message, the pastor scanned the Saturday night crowd and asked a pointed question:
“You know you don’t have to be good for God to love you, right?”
Was this a rhetorical question? A test? Multiple choice would be easier. Maybe true or false.
No one said a word. It seemed as if we collectively held our breath, waiting for the punchline.
“Let me say it another way.” He paused. “With a show of hands, how many of you grew up believing you needed to be good for God to love you?”
The congregation came to life as hands raised throughout the auditorium. Men and women, young and old. From the sound of it, I guessed the majority in the room had a hand in the air. Truth is, I didn’t look. I was too busy paying attention to what was happening in my own row.
I didn’t hesitate when the pastor posed his question. Yes, I grew up believing I had to be good for God to love me, that His love was conditional. This belief drove me well into adulthood, and too often I still slipped back into legalism — toward myself and others.
I held my hand up along with hundreds of others, feeling both sadness at the truth and relief at the camaraderie. I wasn’t the only one who’d been duped.
And that’s when I noticed my son’s arm raised high right next to mine.
My stomach sank, but I was not surprised. Though the only light came from the platform, I tried to see my son’s face through the dark.
“I’m sorry, babe,” I whispered. “I’m sorry.”
Out of all the things I wanted to do right as a mom, this was the big one. And now, when it seemed too late to do anything about it, I discovered I’d blown it.
“It’s okay, Mom,” he whispered.
I shrugged, smiled. “I know better now,” I reassured him, reassured myself.
He didn’t miss a beat. “I do too.”
Mercy, sweet mercy. I didn’t deserve it, I knew. He gave it to me anyway.
Which is what I think God had been trying to tell me about Himself all along.
God’s presence doesn’t sit in judgment. He sits in mercy.
He doesn’t withhold His compassion until I get all my Christianity right. He doesn’t even wait for me to have it all together to show me His kindness. Though my prayers are flawed and my performance unpredictable, though I claim to love Him and can’t always understand Him, His mercy carries me. It carries every single one of us, flawed children and parents alike. And the glimmers of His presence cover us like a bottle of glitter upended.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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 8:35, 37-39 (NIV)
My friend, I have a question for you. Do you believe you have to be good for God to love you? Do you fear your mistakes and failures are keeping Him at a distance and causing Him to withhold His love? Are you afraid that one wrong move will rip His presence away from you, forever?
If so, I have good news for you.
God’s presence sits in mercy, not judgment.
He is with the broken and the beat up, the rejected and unloved.
He loves you not because you deserve it, but because His love can’t help it.
That’s the truth about how He feels about you. Not just for today, but for always. His unending, never-failing love is based on His character, not yours. That means, no matter how far you feel you’ve walked away from Him, no matter the mistakes you made yesterday or the ones you’ll make tomorrow, His love will find you. Always.
This is an excerpt of Relentless by Michele Cushatt (2019) used with permission from Zondervan.
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No matter how far you feel you’ve walked away from Him, no matter the mistakes you made yesterday or the ones you’ll make tomorrow, His love will find you. #relentlessbook -@MicheleCushatt: Click To Tweet