Knowing Love

Knowing God’s love can be complex and it’s very individual. He loves each of us uniquely. Single mom, Elizabeth, shares how she has experienced God’s love on her journey to get through toxic shame. Walking through the worst parts of her story, where she feels a visceral sense of self-hatred, has shown her God’s love for her in incredible, pure ways. His love for her has gone from something she knows in her head to something she knows in her heart. Her awareness that God wants her to be free of toxic shame has demonstrated his love for her more than she knew was possible. His pursuit of her, to extract that from her life, is a direct reflection of his deep love. He wants her to be free of it because he knows how much it hurts her. As God has removed the shame, layer by layer, she has sensed His desire for her to have freedom and peace and that is because of His love for her.

Now, she no longer feels like she needs to apologize and repeatedly confess things to God. She has freedom from that cycle of shame where she was always apologizing or feeling sorry for something. She no longer feels that God can only love and approve of her if she behaves in certain ways. As parents we never expect our kids to apologize over and over again for something they’ve done. Yes, there is a certain level of repair required in our relationships, but we don’t want them to constantly seek approval from us.

God doesn’t want that for us either. We can authentically own the dark places in our lives and invite God into them and receive His love. We don’t have to clean up first or perform. In the dark valley, God draws near. In that place, Elizabeth has found freedom to be okay in her humanity. She can let go of her ideals of perfection that led her to think she was never acceptable in God’s eyes, as if she was never good enough. The truth is we are all sinful and broken. God isn’t surprised by that. We do have things that cause shame, but we are human and that is okay. God isn’t waiting to catch us in our humanity and berate us or punish us. He is waiting to embrace us. There’s something beautiful when we are fully known by God, in what we think are our darkest moments, and realize He still loves us.

Kimberley Mitchell felt loved by God throughout her journey, but she grew up performing for Him and asking Him for continual forgiveness. Kim shares, “It wasn’t until I became a single mom, and “the bottom dropped out” that she began to experience God’s love more fully. She thought, “I’m the biggest failure in the world. How could this happen to my life? How in the world am I going to go on? When I was in the deep dark pit, just knowing He was there, He let me be angry and ask all the questions and yell and scream at him. And yet at the end of the day, I can’t even describe in words, how I just knew and felt him holding me in such a special way that it overwhelmed me.” It was in those years that Kim saw Him differently. She knew He loved her no matter what.
But she still had the tendency to perform for God. Five years ago, Kim moved from Canada to Nashville, and she felt like she lost her identity. She felt so unknown. Then, at the end of last year, she was sick and had no answers as to why. It was an incredibly difficult time, but God met her in her bathroom for days on end. She was limited in what she could do in her daily life and she wondered if God was disappointed in her. During those months, God showed up for her and reminded her she doesn’t have to perform for Him. He loves her in her helplessness.

Robert Beeson shares he has experienced God’s love many times over the years. To “know” something can be an intellectual exercise. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know…” and hints at far more than just an exercise of the mind. Robert felt most loved by God when he has felt the most down. In those moments, he knew God’s love in a profound way. He shares that as a single dad, having gotten his daughters ready for bed, he would be alone at night. He would sit and listen to a song on a lullaby record by Plumb, “God Will Take Care of You”, over and over again. As he listened, he felt loved by God. It wasn’t anything he encountered, there was no breakthrough, he just got still and realized he had nothing to offer. In getting quiet, during one of the darkest times, God was there with His love.

What gets in the way of receiving love from God?
Shame keeps us from experiencing God’s love. Robert said for so long he felt inadequate and unworthy of God’s love. Sometimes when we come from a deep-rooted church background, we don’t feel like we can measure up, and we start hiding. When we hide, we aren’t able to experience God’s love because we won’t let Him into those places with us. It is only in intimacy with Him that we can know His love fully.  

Intimacy is “into me see”, and that is what is needed before we can receive God’s love. We need to let hi into the darkest places in our lives. Often, though, we get caught in this cycle of performance and pretending. We miss the intimacy of letting God see all of us but that is where trust is built and so is our ability to receive His love. When we embrace our mess and let God into it, we find more peace. It is in that honest humility that we can connect to Him more fully.

Elizabeth shares that what keeps her from experiencing God’s love is washing dishes. Elizabeth has dealt with love being conditional. Recently, she was hanging out with her boyfriend and he got upset about something. She immediately went and started washing dishes, even though he had said he would take care of them. As she was washing the dishes, it clicked. She was doing the dishes to make him feel better and to keep him from being more upset. She realized then that she has done this repeatedly – performed in some way whether cleaning or getting things done as a way to repair whatever shame she feels if someone around her is upset. Doing the dishes was getting in the way of receiving love. She needs to stop “doing the dishes” and instead look at what feeling she is avoiding through her performance action. When she can stop performing, she can start receiving.

Mathew 22: 37-39 says, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.

As we explore a deeper sense of feeling and knowing God’s love, an outcome of that is loving others as we love ourselves. But loving ourselves from a godly perspective isn’t the same as self-love from a worldly perspective. Loving others as ourselves comes from knowing we are loved by God first. As human beings created in His image, His love is foundational to who we are.

As you sit here right now, do you love yourself. If not, why not?

Elizabeth shares, “There are parts of myself I am learning to love every day. I didn’t have a voice growing up. I wasn’t able to question things. I wasn’t able to doubt things.” As an adult, she has learned that curiosity and questioning are part of who she is but that was stifled. Now, being around others who encourage that has made her realize she loves her curiosity. She’s also starting to love the darker, shadowy parts of herself too but at times she finds herself wrestling with how much she loves herself.

Robert shares he is aware of all the reasons why he should love himself, but that it isn’t easy for him. The root of performance goes deep. He equates love to being able to measure up, and when he doesn’t, it’s hard for him to love himself fully.

Kimberley says she loves herself; she gets up every day and cares for herself, but she recognizes she doesn’t like things about herself. And while she loves herself, she knows she doesn’t love herself the way God loves her, because she sets conditional boundaries for that love. She also has things she is learning to accept about herself but the stuff she doesn’t like helps her realize she needs Jesus.

Like Elizabeth, Robert, and Kimberley, most of us go in and out of being able to love ourselves. There are times it’s easier than others. When we feel and know God’s love for us, it helps us love ourselves too. We need reminders of His love so we can embrace who we are too.

Questions to guide us in knowing God’s love:
What does God say about the way He sees you?
1 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone and the new is here.” We are made new because of God’s love for us and there is nothing we can do to earn that. It is because we experience God’s love that the old things go away, not the other way around.

Hosea 2 says that God is going to “woo her and court her and bring her a bouquet of flowers and she will know me.” This passage helps us see that we are worthy of being known and passionately loved by God. He sees us as someone worth pursuing.

Genesis talks about how God created us God-like, reflecting his nature, and God looked at what he made and said it was “good, very good.” From the beginning, God saw us with great value as His beloved creation.

How does God feel about you?
Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is with you, the mighty warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you. In his love, he will no longer rebuke you but will rejoice over you with singing.”
This is how God feels about us. He delights in us and rejoices over us.
John 3:16 in the Message says, “This is how much God loved the world. He gave his son, his one and only son, and this is why, so that no one need be destroyed. By believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble to send his son merely to point an accusing finger, He came to help and put the world right again.”
God loves us. He is not there to accuse us but to help us. This is how He feels about us; He loves us intensely enough to give his own’s son life on our behalf.

Psalm 139 says, “How precious it is Lord to realize that you are thinking about me constantly. I can’t even count how many times a day your thoughts turn toward me. And when I waken in the morning, you are still thinking about me.”

God is constantly thinking about us. When there was a divide between us eternally, He sent His son to provide a way for us to be reconciled to Him.

What does God believe about you:
Psalm 139:13-16, “Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you. The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”
God believes we are wonderfully made. We can be happy about that and embrace it. Sometimes we question God’s love because we don’t experience it from those around us.

Loving yourself starts with God’s love for us but our understanding of His love doesn’t come naturally. We often hide from it because of shame and an awareness of our failures and shortcomings. But God doesn’t require us to perform, to be perfect, or to be sin-free, to receive His love. He wants us to know His love, His deep merciful and kind unconditional love. He calls us to Him saying, “I love you as you are.”

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