"We love because He first loved us."
1 John 4:19
I grew up the youngest of ten grandchildren on my mother's side. My family is filled with achievers. My sister is four years older than me, beautiful, and was an all-star fast-pitch softball pitcher in high school. She was brought up to pitch for her varsity team as a freshman and I grew up reading her name and seeing her picture in the local newspaper often. I have several cousins who are amazing volleyball players (which was also the sport I played) and they went on to receive prestigious athletic scholarships and awards. I have many cousins who are musically gifted, play instruments, and sing beautifully and my mother and grandmother are well-known and well-loved in my hometown. From the time I was born, I have been referred to as "Rhonda's daughter", "Marlene's granddaughter", "Val's sister", or "So and so's cousin".
Eventually, when I met Anthony, who was in a well-known, popular local band and eventually took on youth ministry, I was known as "Anthony from Moorland's girlfriend" or "the youth pastor's wife". It took almost no time at all for me to start referring to myself in those contexts, as well. It wasn't until I went to counseling a few years ago that my counselor pointed it out. She said, "when I ask you about you, you tell me a lot about your husband and your family... but who are you? What are your passions? Where is your identity?" That question stuck with me even after I stopped my counseling sessions and I set out with God to find an answer.
What started as a simple prayer asking God to show me who He created me to be, where and how to use my talents and where my passions are, turned into a much greater journey than I had anticipated. My question was met with a question. The Lord said, "Kimmi, this is about so much more than your gifts and talents. It's not a matter of what you identify with, but where your identity is found and if you really, truly believe that I love you and value you just as you are - all by yourself. Do you really believe I love you? Do you know how much I love you? Is your identity found in being loved by me?"
I had to be honest with myself and the answer was clear - I struggled believing and accepting the love that God has for me. Sure, I knew He "loved" me. But, in my mind, He loved my potential. He loved who He created me to be and I definitely wasn't there yet. I found myself in this viscous cycle of striving to become this perfect version of myself that, in my mind, was the Kimmi God loved. I was a high-anxiety perfectionist who criticized myself often (my work, my looks, my words - everything). I was weary, worn out and sad.
This realization took me on a journey that has lasted years and still counting. My goal was (and is) simple - I wanted to find out how much God loves me and I wanted to believe it and accept with every fiber of my being... and I wanted to live from that place.
What I've found (so far) is that there are two truths to God's love for us...
The first is that there is no striving in the love of the Father. We already belong to Him. There is no competition, comparison, quantifying, qualifying, and there is no cost. He does not require us to be anyone other than who we are in this moment - flaws and all. We don't need to prove ourselves worthy of His love or earn it. We are His children and, just as my son doesn't have to do anything to earn my love or affection, so it is with the Father. This love is 100% free and takes zero effort on our parts.
The second is better said in the words of St. Augustine, "God loves each of us as if there was only one of us." I only have one son, but if Anthony and I are to have more children, they will not be interchangeable. One will not be able to replace the other. My love for each will be infinite and immeasurable, but unique to each of them. Author and speaker, Lisa Bevere, says it best when she says, "God does not love us equally. He loves us uniquely." Our value to God and His love for us is incomprehensible and unlimited, but is unique to each child. We can dig deep, test His limits, try to outrun it but we will never be able to find the beginning or the end of His love because it does not exist. It is infinite and vast and boundless, but is still kept special and one-of-a-kind for each one of us.
These truths are crucial to understand as a body of believers. The love of the Father is the truth on which our entire faith stands. And yet so many of us find ourselves with a major identity crisis. We operate out of doing love instead of being loved. Instead of "We love because He loved" we behave as if "He loves because we do". This is so backwards and, I believe, is the number one threat to the Christian faith. Think about it... if His love is dependent on our own capabilities and capacities, we're all screwed. And if we don't believe God loves us and we can't accept that love, how can we expect others to believe it? And if we qualify ourselves, what's stopping us from qualifying others? We must get the order right - WE because HE.
Church, let's get our identity back! Let's stop doing love and, instead, BE LOVED. Let's take captive those thoughts that Satan hurls our way that, somehow, we are undeserving or we didn't make the cut. Let's realign our hearts and our minds with The Word and test what it says - that God's love for us is unique, special, everlasting, infinite, and limitless. Let's operate from the overflow of that love instead of our own efforts. Let's be the church God desires us to be!
You, my friend, are loved by the God of the universe and don't let anyone tell you any differently.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."