A Basic Question

“Does God love me?”

In some ways, it seems like a question that shouldn’t even come up for me anymore. After all, God’s love, the God-who-is-love, and a return on that love seems to be the motivation behind everything I do. So why did I find myself in a state of panic the night before a retreat I was helping to run, facing a question I thought I had laid to rest? Why was I so scared of God, unable to sleep, tossing and turning in tears and saturated with what seemed like a certainty that God hated me?

Doubt in God’s mercy is the root of all sins, I heard a speaker say this weekend. You go to confession, you are forgiven, but then you start to wonder: can God really forgive something I did that was so horrible? I don’t “feel” forgiven. I keep making the same mistakes. What’s lovable about me? A temptation to despair is one of the devil’s most useful lies. And when you throw depression into the mix, what you get is a spirituality of misery, one that is closed to mercy and peace. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are buying into these lies about who we are, about whether or not we are God’s beloved children.

Looking at the crucifix this weekend on retreat, on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, one message came through loud and clear: “Why won’t you let yourself receive my love?” I have often chased the small things here below. I have told myself that I have enough in my earthly loves. This little bit will satisfy, because it is all I can secure, all I can defend, all I can be sure will never be taken from me. And yet this weekend one priest preached, “God gives us only as much as we hope for.” He wants to give us an abundance of life, not just a small, measly scrap. But if our hearts are dead to hope, how can He work in them? How can He get us to let go of smallness and see that He wants a relationship with us, a relationship in which we are meant to find fulfillment and happiness? Why do I keep my heart so small and so hidden?

Ultimately I was able to recognize the spiritual attacks for what they were and to renounce them. But the experience reminded me about my particular wounds and what I need to look out for in my thoughts and feelings. Just because I “dealt” with these problems once doesn’t mean I’m not still susceptible to them in times of trial. And I share this perhaps too personal story for a reason: if you believe that God wants you to miserable, even with the smallest bit of your heart, you are wrong. You are allowing a lie to persist, and I believe it is one of the most soul-damaging lies one can buy in to. Here’s the truth: “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

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