The chapel was quiet, the silence only slightly broken by a few gentle guitar chords softly rising to heaven from a little back corner.
It was dark, with a single light illuminating the altar, drawing the attention of everyone in the room to that spot.
The soulful voice of my friend Anna came in softly at first, then more intensely as she sang,
“You see me,
And you know me,
And you love me,
Through & through.”
It was a beautiful moment; thirty or so girls from Aquinas College gathered in that gorgeous, airy chapel with its wooden floors, light colors, & darker wooden beams stretching to the ceiling, lifting our souls to God in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This time of adoration marked the beginning of our annual women’s retreat at Bethany Retreat House in Dickson, Tennessee.
But as I sat there, with all of this beauty & grace around me, I found that I could enjoy none of it.
I sat there – trying to sing, to pray, to do something, anything substantial – but I couldn’t.
I was angry. I had been angry with God for awhile, but I hadn’t really realized it until a few days before the retreat. It was the end of October 2016 & I had just turned nineteen a few days earlier. In the six months or so previously, I had noticed God working very visibly in my life, but I didn’t understand or like some of the changes that He had been making, such as taking a dear friend out of my life for awhile. Just before the retreat, I had reached the point where I could no longer pretend that my anger wasn’t there & so I sat there in the chapel fuming, unable to focus on much else.
But it was more than that. I felt abandoned. I felt hurt. I felt weak. I felt broken. More than anything else though, I just felt… ugly.
So – in confusion, in anger, in quiet desperation – I looked to the altar & asked the question:
“God – why do you love me?!”
“I’m not worth it. I’m not worthy of your love.”
The voice on the other end of the phone cracked & I felt my heart falling to pieces in my chest. Both of us were quiet for a long pause after those words were spoken. In that silence, I could hear his pain. It was in that silence that my heart broke. Again.
It’s incredibly difficult to be rejected. But I would argue that it is the worst feeling in the world to have someone you love tell you that they don’t deserve to be in your life because they hurt you. In my opinion, that can be even more painful than whatever they did to hurt you in the first place.
I had been expecting this phone call for awhile. I had confronted my friend a few weeks earlier & we had yet to clear the air completely. Now I was studying for a semester abroad in Italy, we were 5,400 miles apart, & I had to rely on the fuzzy medium of FaceTime or a Facebook Messenger call to talk to him. And once he said, “I’m not worthy”, all I wanted to do was to grab him by the shoulders, look him straight in the eye, & say, “Yes, of course you are!”
Yes, of course you are.
I could be wrong, but I’m willing to take a chance & bet that I’m not. I believe that all of us, no matter who we are or what circumstances have shaped us, have felt this way at one time or another.
Beaten down by the weight of our mistakes, our weakness, our failings, our brokenness, & our sins, we find it difficult to look up to the light & see ourselves as we truly are – beloved sons & daughters of a loving God. Our sense of our own self-esteem & self-worth are torn down by any number of things: other people’s harsh words or actions, the unrealistic expectations of perfection we set for ourselves as a society, & most importantly, the attacks of evil.
(Yes, the Devil is very real & he wants nothing more than to tear us down & cloud our perception of ourselves, because when we are weak, then he has the potential for more power over us.)
To see ourselves as we truly are: it is a daily struggle, & a difficult one at that. To see ourselves in the Light that is Christ – in all of the weakness & brokenness of our human nature, yes, but also in all the glory of God’s incredible mercy & love in creating each one of us in His own image & likeness – that is the goal. If you’ve ever heard the word humility, that is precisely what it means.
You are worthy of love.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from; you are made in the image & likeness of God, & as a result of this, you have a dignity & a worth that cannot be taken away from you. These things cannot be diminished. It is possible to fail to live up to them &, by giving into to sin & to evil, to be less than you were created to be. But nothing can change this fact, a fact so constant & so unalterable that it can be relied on as a ship relies on an anchor to keep it from drifting away to where it is not supposed to go: You are infinitely loved by God & His Love for you is so great that He has given you an eternal worth & dignity as His son or daughter.
You are worthy of love.
Whatever else you may have been told in the past, love is not something that you earn or deserve. Love, when it is true & good, is freely given. Love is willing the greatest good for the one that is loved. Another person’s respect, trust, loyalty & the like are things earned or deserved, but not love. You cannot earn the privilege of someone else wanting the best for you; that is a free choice they must come to on their own. Know that as long as you are on this earth, no matter how much you screw up & no matter what your past looks like, there is always tomorrow & you can always be made new. You are a human being with a body & a soul created by God in His own image & likeness. That is your identity. Because of who you are, you are worthy of love, not because of what you do.
You are worthy of love.
It is my prayer that each person reading this has, at one time or another in their lives, experienced a love that is both true & good, &, in particular, an encounter with the love of God. I say this because once you have, it changes you. If you allow yourself to be open to love, then it will have the power to transform you – to transform the way you think, the way you act, the way you see the world, & hopefully, the way you treat others.
There’s a Scripture passage written by Saint Paul which contains a beautiful description of what love is & what it is not, often read at weddings (1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8). It reads:
“Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not arrogant.
It is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury.
It does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.”
Why does God love me?
Because I am His daughter. Not because I’m pretty or smart or funny or because I have a knack for writing or baking or anything else. He loves me just as He loves each one of His people whom He created: completely & unconditionally.
Am I worthy of love?
Yes, always. God gives us His love constantly & is always looking for ways to show this incredible love to us. However, it is our responsibility to be open to receiving it.
We live in a broken world, broken by sin & broken by evil. Although we might be trying to live as well as we can & striving to be the men & women God created us to be, we know that this is not the case with everyone. There will always be people trying to tear you down, to make you believe that you are not worth their love or their time. Know that this is a reflection on them, not on you. If someone does not love you in the way that God calls us to love each other, it might be because they have never learned what true love is or how to love in the right way. They too might be under attack at the hands of evil, which in turn, might be using them to attack you as well.
Remember: You have a worth & a dignity which no one & nothing can take away from you. You are WORTHY of love!
(Also, happy feast day to Blessed Edith Stein (also known as Bl. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross!)