• Rebekah Barbera

Jesus Loves Me (This I Know?)

When it comes to the topic of God’s love, I thought I had it all down as a church kid. I knew all the Sunday School answers. I could recite the appropriate Bible verses before my age hit the double digits.

“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“…I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

I could sing the catchy songs like “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” till the cows came home.

In my head, I knew these words held the truth about God’s love. And yet, did I really understand or accept God’s love for me? Did I truly feel loved by God?

Eight-, sixteen-, even nineteen-year-old me would have answered with a proud, “Yes, obviously!” to these questions. But as much as I would like to say that this was true, it simply wasn’t. I didn’t truly feel loved by God. In fact, I had a very skewed idea of what God’s love really looks like.

In order to explain my mess of misconceptions around God’s love, let us flash back to a slightly shorter, nerdier, bespectacled version of myself in fifth grade…

I had spent a whole hour and a half – practically an eternity for a ten-year old – doing my math homework the previous night. I sat at my desk in the first row with my math book opened proudly to last night’s homework, neatly written. My teacher came to my desk and stopped. He looked at my book and, to my horror, asked where the homework from last night was. Confused, I realized then that I had done the wrong questions for homework. All my answers were wrong. No gold star for me.

As the kid at the top of the class who got all the answers right and always did her homework, I wasn’t just disappointed, I was devastated. My pride would like to say that I definitely did not sit there and cry about it, but I definitely did.

How on earth does this have anything to do with God’s love, you might ask?

The thing is, my identity as a kid was wrapped up in my actions, in perfectionism, and in how I compared to others. That’s why even small failures, like doing the wrong homework, were so devastating to me. From my rather unhealthy sense of identity flowed the mindset that my worth also depended on my achievements.

Despite all the verses, sermons, and songs that told me otherwise, I believed the lie that God’s love had to somehow be earned. That it was somehow dependent on me. I thought I had to be the best student and the best Christian there was in order to be worth loving. Since I certainly wasn’t perfect, I wondered, deep down, if God loved me less than He loved others. I figured that maybe, just maybe, He would love me more if I performed better.

I didn’t realize that this way of thinking shaped my life and my relationship with God for a long time. I didn’t see how I couldn’t freely receive His love because I honestly didn’t feel worthy of it.

My identity and view of God’s love changed during a weekend getaway when I was twenty. Having recently recommitted my life to God, I wanted to set aside some time to connect with Him. In true Canadian style, I booked a cottage for a weekend in Northern Ontario. Some of the most precious times of worship that I’ve ever had were during that weekend, sitting on a lounge chair overlooking Georgian Bay.

At one point, I remember God’s presence being so tangible that I kept opening my eyes to look next to me, half-expecting to see Jesus sitting right there beside me. He felt that close. I remember talking to God and casually thanking Him for showing up. I admitted that I wasn’t really sure if He would come. Before I could fully get the words out, I remember hearing so very clearly His response in my mind:

“Why would I not come? I love you.”

His words completely and utterly wrecked me. I realized then that I didn’t have to beg God to show up in my life. He wanted to be with me - so much more than I even wanted Him to be. Why? Because He loves me.

I finally understood that His love has nothing to do with what I am or am not, or what I’ve done. His love for me is totally dependent on Him. I don’t have to feel good enough to be loved, I just am. While I had always known in my head that this was true, my heart finally got the message. I came home from that weekend a changed woman.

One of my favourite music artists, Cory Asbury, sums up God’s love so beautifully. In his song, “Reckless Love,” I love the line, “I couldn't earn it, I don't deserve it, still You give yourself away.” That’s what God’s love is - a gift freely given.

I am loved because He has deemed me worth loving. Worth dying for, even. It’s as simple as that.

Today, my challenge to you is this: ask God how He feels about you. Whether God answers through a verse, through that still small voice that always seems to say what we most need to hear, or through the myriad other ways He communicates to us, He will answer. And you never know, His answer just might change you, too.

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Photos by Christopher Vega