An Only Child

February 6th, 2013

"Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age." (Jesus, in Matthew 28:20)

Patti and Bruce, feeling a tug from Jesus, welcomed a four-year-old foster child into their home. Originally the child welfare organization told them Jonathan would be staying with them and their four other children for about a month. Five months later, after a couple of attempts to place him back with his mother, he’s still living with Patti and Bruce. The process has been messy and complicated. This little boy is sweet, charming, and winsome at times, but angry and confused at other times. So sometimes he cuddles and hugs, but other times he acts out: yelling, scratching, hitting, and even biting.

My friends have loved this child, even as he tries their patience, even as they sometimes despair over the difficulties his birth family faces: poverty, illness, and so on. When they tuck him in at night, they ask him, “Jonathan, when God looks at you, what does he say?” And they have taught him to answer, “He says, ‘I sure do love that little boy!’”

When Jonathan first came to them, he did not know the answer to the question. In fact, in his little four-year-old heart, perhaps Jonathan’s circumstance may have caused him to assume that if God even looked at him at all, God would have said, “There’s a bad boy, so bad his mommy had to send him away.” But that is not true. And so Patti and Bruce have taught Jonathan to replace the lies with truth. And the truth is, God sure does love that little boy.

The truth is, God sure does love you. When he looks at you, his first thought is love. The question for many of us is, does God even look at us? Could he pick our face out of the crowd? Or does he just love us out of obligation because he loves all people? Does he love us generally, along with all the other people in the world, or does he love us specifically, intimately?

Augustine asserted, “God loves each of us like an only child.” You may not believe that. Or perhaps you do believe it on an intellectual or theological level, but you don’t feel it. You have never, or perhaps only rarely, experienced that deep love. But what if he was right?

We sometimes have trouble feeling God’s love. But there are practices we can engage in that will help us experience his loving presence. There are things we can do, ways we can train our hearts, so that we can truly know his love personally and profoundly.

Dallas Willard writes that human beings are meant to live in ongoing conversation with God. It is possible to live with an awareness of his presence throughout our day. In the 1600s, a monk known only as Brother Lawrence wrote a series of letters and journal entries that became the book The Practice of the Presence of God. Even as he did chores in the monastery like peeling potatoes or scrubbing the floor, Brother Lawrence would turn his thoughts toward God. Thinking about God, speaking to him about everything, caused him to feel God’s presence with him throughout his day. Jesus’ love was a palpable reality in his daily life.

He wrote: “I still believe that all spiritual life consists of practicing God’s presence, and that anyone who practices correctly will soon attain spiritual fulfillment. . . . There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God.2

I agree completely, but I don’t live in a monastery. I’m a wife, a friend, and a working mom of two teenagers. I volunteer at my church, attend my kids’ games, hang out with my neighbors, and work a lot. I run the house and my own business from that house. My days are full, containing everything from grocery shopping to writing magazine articles. I’ve been known to have a client meeting via phone while driving a carpool. Is it possible for me to experience God’s presence throughout my day? To know, and be able to declare, that he sure does love me?

It is not only possible to live this way; it is the way we were meant to live. Jesus didn’t just come to save humankind; he came because he wanted to have a relationship with you. Because he is God, he is able to miraculously connect with each of us simultaneously in a deep, intimate way. If we cannot feel that presence, if God seems distant, the problem does not lie with God.

But the very good, amazing news is that God deeply desires to connect with you, to be a constant, comforting presence in your life. You simply have to train yourself to be aware of his presence. That is what you are invited to do over the next forty days...

The Bible teaches that God is omnipresent—he is everywhere. We are often unaware of that presence, but simple practices of faith will help increase our awareness of God and help us experience his love in a tangible, real way...

Presence Practice

Today, take some time to sit quietly. Invite Jesus to be with you as you let your mind and heart settle down. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths just to slow your body down. When you feel as though you are ready, ask yourself the question my friends asked their foster child: what does God say when he looks at you?

Be as honest as you can. Your gut reaction may be that God says, “Who’s that?” or “Oh, her again. What does she want now?” or even “How did you mess up now?” Sit with whatever comes to mind. Where did your ideas about what God says about you come from? What lies or misconceptions cloud your perception of God’s love for you? Write down your gut reaction in your journal...

Can you replace any negative thoughts with the truth? God loves you and delights in you. You are his beloved child, wholly and deeply loved. Say to yourself, When God thinks about me, he thinks, “I sure do love that (your name).” Write this new thought, even if you don’t fully believe it yet, in your journal. If you wrote something negative as your first response, cross it out.

As you go through your day, think of God looking at you with love and delight. Think of him saying, “I sure do love (your name)!” Thank him for loving you and ask for his help in feeling that love.

2 Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God(New Kensington, Pa: Whitaker House, 1982), 29.

excerpted from: Deeply Loved: 40 Ways in 40 days to Experience the Heart of Jesus by Kerri Wyatt Kent ©2012 Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

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