God loves me. I do usually manage to believe that; it’s about the most basic tenet of the faith. Wonderful as that is, though, it’s not enough for me.
I was sitting in Mass with that tightness in my chest that’s been there so long, I forget it isn’t normal. I’ve gone to Mass every Sunday of my life, and being in Church still always revs up my adrenal system. My body always gears up for some kind of “fight or flight” scenario. I suppose that’s a common enough side effect of living with scrupulosity; just being in a church feels dangerous.
I was praying my usual prayer, the one I launch into by sheer force of habit: “Dear God—ugh, I’m sorry. Sorry I suck so much. Sorry I’m doing such a lousy job with this life you’ve given me. Please do something about me. Please make my life into something you can use.”
And then I stopped because I was just sick of it. What kind of a relationship is it where all you ever talk about is how much you’ve failed? It’s exhausting, and it doesn’t seem to be helping.
God, I Need You to Like Me
I prayed a different prayer today: “I want you to like me. I’m glad that you love me, but I need you to like me. I can’t talk to you unless I know you like me.”
It felt borderline blasphemous. What, did I want to impress God with my wit, intelligence, or accomplishments? Do I expect there to be some kind of equality in our relationship? No, not exactly. But God did make me who I am; is it such a stretch to remember that he takes joy in it?
God and I aren’t equals. He doesn’t need me, and I’m still totally dependent on his mercy for every good thing in my life, but then, that describes my relationship with my children right now too. And I don’t just love those kids. I think they’re fantastic. I think the world is lucky to have them. It’s not just that I’d give my life for them, or make all kinds of sacrifices for their health and happiness. It’s that I like them. I take so much joy in spending time with them. They’re delightful and fascinating, and just plain fun.
Am I allowed to believe in a God who sees me that way? I think so. Jesus is the one who taught us to call God our Father, and any parent knows that for all the inequality between parent and child, the joy is not lessened.
God Longs For You
Trying not to forget our own dependence on God, a lot of us construct this picture in our minds of our own misery and sinfulness, where God is some kind of benevolent rescuer. He’ll look down from heaven, wrinkle his nose, and say “Good grief, what a wreck she is. Look who needs a bail-out…again. Fine, fine, I’ll go and sort this out.” He’ll save us, sure. He’ll dole out the blessings we need. He’ll comfort us, protect us, forgive us. He’ll even die for us. But he’s so personally aware of the ugliness of our sin, the weakness of our attempts to do right, that he does it with exasperation, not enthusiasm.
That’s a God who loves you but doesn’t really like you. And that’s the version of God that feeds my scrupulosity. When you’re constantly throwing yourself on the mercy of a God who’s willing to save you, but also sees you as a disappointment and a failure, you bet you’re going to be afraid. You always feel like you’re on thin ice, like you’re always just a few days away from making him throw up his hands and stomp away.
It’s terrifying. But a God who likes you the way you like your baby? A God who looks at your face, and sighs with happiness, and thinks to himself how he can’t wait till we can be together for good? That’s who God actually is, and it’s a good thing too, because that’s who I need him to be.
At one point, Jesus cries out in total frustration “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling!” (Mt 23:37). I used to read it as though he’s just remembering, for the umpteenth time, how uncooperative we are, how belligerent, how frustrating.
I see it differently today. I see a Jesus who really just longs for closeness with us. Not just because we need him to save us so badly, but also because—could it be this simple?—because he likes us.
Delightful to God
I don’t just nurse my daughter because she’ll die without the source of calories. I don’t just play with my pre-schooler in order to improve his fine motor control. I also do that stuff because those kids are awesome, and limited as they are, being close to them is indescribably delightful to me.
Now that I’m a parent, it’s easier to imagine a God who actually enjoys our company. And it’s that thought, more than anything else, that is starting to ease that sharp sting of fear that I never thought would leave me.