You are Loved (For Who You are and Not as You Should Be)9:46 PM
As the bent little old man stepped onto the stage of our university chapel I groaned inwardly. He was dressed entirely in a jean ensemble with quilt-work patches on his knees and shirt pocket. "Who on earth is this crazy," I thought to myself while my friends and I eyed each other warily. Hobbling to the platform, he looked around at his audience, and with a distinct, cracked voice, and a slight trace of a New York accent, began.
"In the words of St.Francis of Assisi when he met Brother Dominik on the road to Umbria- 'Hi.'"
We all let out a relieved laugh. The old guy still had a sense of humor. Going on, he then related the history of his fascinating life. I found myself enraptured. From a troubled, abused kid in New York, to an ascetic living in a cave in Spain, to a priest who left the priesthood, his seemingly demure appearance belied the epic story that was his life. Much like the pieces of fabric carelessly stitched onto his clothing, the patchwork of his life drew us into the ultimate story of God's love for mankind. He spoke of his persistent quest for God and how he had devoted his entire life to getting God's attention. However, his battle with alcoholism cost him everything, eventually landing him on the streets of Ft. Lauderdale covered in his own vomit. It was then at one of his lowest points, that he reached out and found not the sternness of almighty God, but the grace of Jesus who picks us up off the ground, brushes us off and irregardless of our clinging filth, holds us in His arms.
I remember being irresistibly drawn to every meeting he spoke at; in fact, our whole campus was. Night after night, every seat was full as we looked into the eyes of somebody who seemed to have "it." The final night he spoke, he asked us to close our eyes and imagine Jesus standing before us, to imagine the look on His face. As he turned on his broken down old tape recorder and played a hymn, I heard muffled sobs all around me. The words of this man echoed in our minds. "Do you know that He loves you for who you are and not as you should be," my Pharisaical Christian lifestyle flashed before my eyes; how I judged others and lived a double life of "quiet" sins. I couldn't look Jesus in the eye for fear of what I would see on His face. Disappointment? Sadness? Anger? Disgust? Finally I willed my heart to look God in the face and what I saw there I'll never forget. The King of the universe looked back at me with compassion, longing, affection, and hope. I left that meeting shaken. It opened a door I've never quite been able to close, the door to Jesus' heart.
This week, God reminded me of that moment in time when He first began to catch hold of me. I've been in ministry for a while now and truth be told, I've forgotten. I've forgotten what it's like to look into His eyes and to know that "He loves me as I am and not as I should be." I got so caught up in being there for other people, I forgot that He is there for me, that He wants to be there for me. I forgot that we used to live magical days together where my heartbeat seemed to beat in time with His. I forgot that He wasn't angry, that He wasn't disappointed, that He wasn't upset I hadn't gotten more done or wasn't driving myself hard enough. I'd forgotten that He longs for my company, longs for me to turn and see Him, that He doesn't want anything from me; just my heart, only my heart. In fact, I got so caught up in how other people viewed me, I found I was no longer able to extricate their opinion from His. I write this in all honesty, because maybe you're like me, and you just need to stop a moment and remember. Maybe you need to halt the chaos and busyness of your life and look into the eyes of Jesus and see yourself reflected there. Maybe you need to remember what you once had before it is lost. Maybe you need to find it for the first time. And maybe, you just need to lay your brokenness at His feet and allow Him to pick you up, dust you off, irregardless of your clinging filth, and hold you in His arms.
If you have the time, I would highly recommend listening to a recording of Brennan Manning. Though he's passed on, his legacy of grace has not, and his words carry power.