I sat at my computer, trying desperately to come up with a few words that made sense. But nothing came. I felt empty. Overwhelmed. Beaten down. I questioned my ability to write. My power to keep going. My worth as a person.
These feelings were not new. In fact, they had appeared so often that I had a go-to remedy for this malady of the soul. I reached for a stack of cards that I keep on my desk and read these words:
“The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
I read each word slowly and meditated on the truth of God’s love for me. God was with me—even in my frustrations. His mighty power can save me—even from my gloom. He rejoices over me—even if I can’t come up with a cogent sentence. He quiets me with his love—his stillness calms my distracted soul. He loves me—so much that he sings love songs to my heart.
I set the card back on the stack and took a deep breath. Words did not magically jump onto the screen. Deadlines did not disappear. But I could cope. I could rejoice in my identity as a beloved daughter of God and work from a place of worth instead of a frenzied state of trying to prove myself.
I was learning to live like I’m loved.
For years, I got things all backward. I subconsciously thought I needed to accomplish great things for God. I never said that out loud. But somehow it seemed to me that I needed to prove to God that he didn’t make a mistake when he saved me. In the back of my mind, I thought that if I memorized Bible verses and served my church, if I prayed more and helped people in my neighborhood, God would surely love me more.
But love in God’s kingdom works the other way around. God loves us because he loves us. Nothing we can do can make him love us more. And when we realize that blessed fact, we find the freedom to do all kinds of wonderful things. We can relax in our position of God’s beloved and stop striving. We can love others better because we’re filled with God’s love. Our to-do lists seem more possible because living in God’s affection helps us see what is necessary and what isn’t. Our time in God’s Word seems less like a duty and more like time with the One who loves me.
True Spiritual Work
Perhaps theologian Henri Nouwen summed it up best when he wrote, “My true spiritual work is to let myself be loved, fully and completely.” (1)
When I first read that, I thought: That doesn’t even sound like work! To me spiritual work meant a long to-do list: read three chapters of the Bible, spend at least ten minutes in prayer, serve on the church committee, and volunteer at the homeless shelter. And while God often does call us to do these things, Nouwen reminds us that what God wants most of all is for each of us to open our hearts to intimacy with him.
The One who created us in his image and gave himself up so we could live with him forever asks us to simply receive his love. When we do that, all of the wonderful spiritual practices and works of service will come spontaneously. Reading the Bible becomes reading God’s love letter to us. Prayer becomes our response to that love. Serving others becomes our offering of thankfulness that spills out of the love that Christ has poured into our hearts.
Live Like You’re Loved
So what does it look like to “let myself be loved”?
Maybe when I feel overwhelmed, I can take a few moments to walk outside and look for signs of God’s love for me: the awesome pattern of the clouds in the sky, the scent of clematis in the backyard, the sound of birds in the neighbor’s tree, the soft breeze on my face. Too often I rush past these gestures of God’s affection for me.
Maybe when I start comparing myself to others and feel I’m falling short, I can remember that God purposely created me with straight blond hair and a tendency to work too hard, but he loves me just as I am.
Maybe when I start to listen to the voices in my head calling me stupid or ugly, I can remember that God calls me “Altogether Beautiful” (Song of Songs 4:7).
Maybe when I mess up, I can remember that God still welcomes me with open arms. He doesn’t reject me but invites me to return to him for forgiveness and mercy.
Maybe when I’m striving to prove myself, I can remember that nothing I do can make him love me more than he already does. God’s love for me never changes based on my accomplishments or failures. My Father’s love is everlasting.
Maybe when I’m feeling “less than,” I can read God’s love letter to me in his Word. I can pull out my stack of cards that tell me of God’s passion for me and let each word seep into my soul until I can remember I’m precious in his eyes.
Let’s all learn to live like we’re loved. Then we can find relief from comparison, rest from striving. We can ignore the labels the world applies to us and live in our identity as God’s Beloved. When we experience the flood of overwhelm, we can climb in the boat of God’s affection and grace.
God continually pursues us with his relentless love. Let’s live like we’re loved, fully and completely.
1. Henri, J.M. Nouwen, You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living (New York: Convergent Books, 2017), 17.