Ever felt such a deep love for someone that it caught you off guard? Or look at your child and think ‘I never knew I could love this much!’? Or maybe it’s ‘worry this much’. Even our irritation as parents is often rooted in love. Our kids affect us so much because we love them so much.
While love is not a feeling, our emotions will be affected by those we love. And those we love most affect us most. By their sweetness or their rudeness. By their nearness or their absence.
Ever wonder how God feels about you? Think of what you feel for those you love most. Then multiply it by a trillion. Or become a parent. You won’t just see the heart of God. You’ll feel it.
I love my kids more than I realize. There’s a love in me for them buried so deep, I lose sight of it. Until a memory or event flips a switch and a dam breaks. Releasing a flashflood of emotion.
I’ll never forget the day we took our daughter to college. And then drove home. Without her. Maybe it’s because Stacey’s our firstborn or just because I love her so much but I never knew it would be so painful. I missed her long before we took that trip and long after we returned.
I was finally starting to adjust to her absence when I read a story by Bob Benson in his book ‘Come share the being’. He describes the day he took his son to college. (Thanks a lot Bob!)
“Nearly a year ago, Peg and I had a very hard week.
Wednesday Night: Mike slept downstairs in his room, where children belong. And we slept upstairs in our bedroom, where moms and dads belong.
Thursday Night: We were 350 miles away from home. He was in Ramada 325 and we were in 323, connecting rooms. With the door open, we talked and laughed together a long time.
Friday Night: 700 miles from home, and he was in Room 247 and we were in 239, but it was just down the balcony, and somehow we still seemed together.
Saturday Night: He was in the freshman dorm. We were in Room 239. It was getting harder.
Sunday Night: We were home, and he was 700 miles away in Chapman 309.
Now, we’ve been through this before. Bob Jr. had gone off to college, and we had gathered ourselves together until we finally came to terms with it – mainly because he’s married now and lives ten miles away, and he visits often with Deb and little Robert III. So we thought we knew how to handle separation pretty well. But we still came away too lonely and blue.
Oh, our hearts were filled with pride at this fine young man, and our minds were filled with memories from tricycles to commencements, but deep down inside somewhere, we just ached with loneliness and pain.
Somebody said, “You still have three at home!” Three fine kids, and still plenty of noise; plenty of games to go to; plenty of responsibilities; plenty of laughter; plenty of everything. Everything except Mike. And in parental math, five minus one just doesn’t equal plenty.”
After I read this, all I wanted is a dark room and a pillow to hide my tears in. I missed 'my girl'! No one can take Stacey’s place in my heart. No one. Not my wife. Nor my other children who I love just as deeply. But my sorrow was not because of any unresolved issue in our friendship. I wept simply because we have a friendship. A close one. I missed her. That’s all there is to it.
I wanted to stop reading. But Bob wasn’t done. Once I could see through my tears, I read on. After being reminded of what my kids mean to me, Bob reminded me of what I mean to God. Because of his next words and my raw emotions, I not only saw what God feels for us. I felt it.
Bob had everything but Mike, yet 'in parental math, five minus one just doesn’t equal plenty.” Then he said "And I started thinking about God. He sure has plenty of children – plenty of artists and singers and carpenters and candlestick makers and preachers – plenty of everybody
... except you.
And all of them put together can never take your place. There will always be an empty place in his heart – and a vacant chair at his table – if you are not home. And if once in a while it feels like he is crowding you a bit – getting pushy or fussy – try to forgive him. It may be one of those nights when he misses you so much he can just hardly stand it.”
He feels this way about you! When He’s crowding you and when it seems He's forgotten you. I assume He doesn’t care if I don’t see His hand. But circumstances never tell the whole story. Parents can say no for the child’s sake yet be accused of not caring at all. We do it to God too.
Some say God is unaffected by anything. Or anyone. Yet He called Himself a father. A groom. As parents made in His image, our hearts offer a hint as to what’s in His. No parent can love a child like He loves His and be unaffected by them. Nor do all He did for His bride and not feel.
Leaving Stacey was hard, yet I want her to follow her dream and her God. Who I trust with her care. So why was I an emotional wreck? One reason. Our home isn't the same if Stacey’s not in it. I agree with Bob. In ‘parental math, five minus one doesn’t equal plenty’. It’s still ‘minus one’.
There is a place in your heart for God alone. A place no one except God Himself can fill. But there’s also a place in His heart for you. And at His table. A place that no one but you can fill.
Growing up, I wondered how God could love me with all my sin, my weakness and my ‘stuff’. Then I had a child. And I understood. With a 2nd child on the way, I thought ‘How will I ever love another child as much as I love Stacey?’ Then Bryce was born. And I understood! When Cherish arrived, I fell in love all over again! And still today I love all of them as much as I love each of them. As a Dad, I now can see how God can love each of us in a deeply personal way.
You matter to God! Why? He’s a father! Who loves each of us as much as He loves any of us. Is it even possible? Jesus said the Father loves you as much as He loves His own son. Jn.17:23
I’ve heard this a lot. Yet like Israel, I find it far easier to believe in His indifference than His love.
For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me. Isaiah 49: 13,14
Despite the declaration in vs. 13 that God comforts His people and has compassion on them, that’s not how Israel sees God. They think He’s forsaken them. Their God has forgotten them.
Ever heard the declaration that God loves you yet felt like it’s true for everyone except you? Why is that? There could be many reasons. The shame of our sin makes it hard to believe it. The pain of unanswered prayer. Unexplained tragedy. Unresolved issues. Unrealized dreams. It can make it hard for me to believe I'm loved. At least in the personal way I'm told He loves.
But this week I heard another reason which I can relate to even more than those mentioned. Nancy once told her pastor Blaine Smith why she resisted giving her life to Christ for so long. She said it was simply because God’s love seemed too universal to her. Here’s what she said.
“I had no doubt that God loved me, yet it made no difference to me - for the fact is that God loves everyone. And if God loves everybody, what’s so special about the fact that he loves me?” Nancy
God made this beautiful earth for your pleasure. So you and 7.5 billion others can feel special!
Blaine says the way we talk about God can imply there’s no uniqueness in our relationship with Him. ‘We speak of Him loving everyone, loving them equally, impartially, the same way.’ That’s great but the problem is we crave individuality. We long to be originals not copies. Not only in our work. But in our relationships. We want to be loved with an exclusive kind of love.
I want to know I’m special to my Dad in a way no one else is. That He treasures me in a way He treasures no one else. The love we share is ours alone. I matter to Him in a way that's unique. But isn’t that a lot to expect of a father with so many children? Is exclusive love even possible? Listen to what God says to those who think He’s forgotten them. Or assume He doesn't notice.
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! Isaiah 49:15
Notice that God shows Israel what His heart is like by comparing Himself to a nursing mother. No one can love a child quite like her mother. She can love that girl in a way no one else could. Not even Dad. You'd expect her to love her child more than any other child. Unless the other child is hers too. Moms can somehow love all her kids as much as she loves each. So can God.
But I must clarify what I don’t mean. God loves all of us and each of us. But He doesn't love all of us the same exact way. Lisa Bevere said ‘God does not love us equally. He loves us uniquely. To love us the same would mean we're replaceable.' Not special. Our absence wouldn't matter.
She also said “Each of us are fashioned uniquely. And we are loved uniquely. When that second, third or fourth child is born, your love is not divided. It multiplies. Your love for each child is unique. Each child awakens your parental love in a different way. Interestingly you may love something unique about one child that is the opposite trait of what you love in another.”
That’s what God's like. He loves the world and every soul He created to live in it. Exclusively. The Scriptures are full of stories where God takes notice of individuals that no one else sees.
The Lord found Hagar alone in the wilderness. She called Him ‘the God who sees me’. Gen. 16 God said of David “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart". Acts 13 Jesus noticed a poor widow with a meager offering. Behind the gift He saw her heart. Luke 21 Jesus called Himself a shepherd who ‘calls His own sheep by name and leads them out’. Jn. 10 Jesus heard that they threw a man out of the synagogue. So He went looking for him. Jn 9:35 There’s more joy in heaven over ONE sinner who repents than 99 who don’t need to. Lk.15:7
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49:16
As God engraved the law on stone so it's permanent, He said He's done this with our names. He has made a permanent record of our names in a place He’ll always be reminded of us. His hands. Inscribed with nails. Written in blood. Most parents have photos of their kids in a wallet or phone. Why? Behind each face is a child we deeply love. It's why we love to see their faces.
This story makes me look egotistical. But since I am, why not? I saw a glorious sunset one night and thought “God painted this sunset just for me!” But a voice said ‘Seriously Jack! You really think you're that special?’ I said 'Yes!' Then me, myself and I argued over who is God’s favorite. While secretly doubting what I wanted to believe, I recalled a statement made by Dick Bolles.
He said that if a truth is universally true for all of us, it's no less individually true for each of us. If He made the world for 'our' enjoyment, He also made it for 'my' enjoyment. And for 'yours'. If God loves all of us, it doesn’t mean He can’t love each of us as much as He loves His own Son.
Reflection: I have other stories of how God loved me in unique ways. But so do you. And you need yours more than mine. Revisit your God stories. As you do, recall the details we so easily forget. How would life be different had it not happened? I think you’ll see God in the details. You'll see you were on His mind. Why? You're in His heart. He has a place in there just for you.