A few months ago, I was watching an episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” featuring Jerry Seinfeld chatting with Dana Carvey (aka, Saturday Night Live’s “Church Lady.”) They were talking comedy, with Carvey moving from one impression of a president to another when he suddenly stopped, looked at Jerry with a serious expression, and asked, “When do you feel most loved in your life?”
Seinfeld was struck dumb by the question, as was I. He just stared at Carvey for a couple of seconds until Carvey answered his own question. “For me, it was when humans started to call me Dad. You are famous to a billion people, but only three people in the world get to call you Dad.” Then he went right back to his goofy schtick.
It was quite a moment. And I have come to believe it is one of the most important of all questions we can ask each other: When do you feel most loved in your life?
A Question Worth Pondering
I host a podcast on the Missio Alliance network in which my guests discuss leadership and pressure. No matter the topic at hand, I ask each guest that question, and I marvel at the answers. Many guests are fortunate enough to be able to name a human in their life who fully loves them, such as a spouse or a child. Others move their response to the divine. One of my recent guests said, “There are moments when I just know that there is something in the universe that loves me. There really is something there.”
As a pastor, I would suggest that the something is a Someone, and that Someone loves us particularly and specifically. This truth continues to unravel me, even when I struggle to believe it. This particular love has gotten me through some very dark times. Sometimes I know it to be true, sometimes I believe it only by faith. And I keep great company with the man who once said to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
But it is a life-shaking reality, that there is Someone in the universe who loves us unconditionally.
We live in a world generally starved of love. There is plenty of talking, but not much listening. There is a great deal of heat between humans now days. There are millions of people weathering large doses of pressure. People carry a level of unaddressed chronic anxiety that is wearing our souls down. It manifests in fear, hostility, and shame, and it results in an inner need to ‘do something’ in response. What can help us manage all the pressure and stress surrounding us?
The Power of Perfect Love
Recently I have been struck by the apostle John’s words that perfect love casts out all fear, and I have spent a good amount of time pondering that short but powerful statement. Here is how I interpret it:
Shame, anxiety, and fear cannot inhabit the same space as love. They compete for the same space, but when you are filled with any of these three, they can be displaced, cast out, by love. You cannot feel any of these while feeling deeply and profoundly loved. That makes love a mighty powerful force, which begs the vital question above, “When in your life do you feel most fully loved?”Shame, anxiety, and fear cannot inhabit the same space as love. They compete for the same space, but when you are filled with any of these three, they can be displaced, cast out, by love. Click To Tweet
As I listen to people, I find what most blocks the love of God is our own inner critic. The internal voice of condemnation that says “you are not enough” or “you should know better by now” or that you are deficient in any way. And I think the tremendous challenge is to walk by faith and recognize that the inner critic is a form of self-righteousness. Not that you think you are better than others, but that your righteousness is based on ‘self’ and not on Christ. You depend on your own view of yourself, and you elevate it above God’s view of you.
Christ stands there, his stone remaining untouched on the ground. And he says, “Who condemns you?”
And you find yourself saying, “Well, I condemn me. All the time. I am Never. Good. Enough,” instead of saying “No one” so that you can hear his healing words, “Then neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”I find what most blocks the love of God is our own inner critic. The internal voice of condemnation that says 'you are not enough' or 'you should know better by now' or that you are deficient in any way. Click To Tweet
But if you are harsher on yourself than God is, then you are putting your opinion above God’s. That is SELF-righteous.
Hear the good news of Jesus: there is now therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
A Call to Self-Kindness
I wonder what your life would be like if you were at least as kind to yourself as God is?What would your life would be like if you were at least as kind to yourself as God is? Click To Tweet
Living by faith, then, becomes the very difficult discipline of believing what God says over what you think. This takes time and requires kindness to yourself. Sometimes it requires a trusted friend to remind you, or time with a therapist, counselor, or spiritual director.
As I have fought this ongoing battle in my own life, I have found that creating a ‘Life Living List’ helps God’s perfect love cast out my fear, shame, and chronic anxiety. I have several dozen items on my list, categorized by ‘people, places, and activities.’ Being with someone or doing something on the list helps displace or cast out the fear, shame, and chronic anxiety. I am surprised at how little time some of the items on my list take and what an impact they have to open my soul to the love of God. (If you want to create your own list, you can download a simple free template with instructions here.)
I keep adding to my list as I notice what opens me to God’s love. For example, I have discovered that a good belly laugh with people you love and who love you is a gateway to God’s incarnational presence. It turns out that shame and anxiety cannot also inhabit the same space as laughter. The world is starved of both love and laughter. How can you both pursue and offer both?
As spiritual leaders, we would do well to ponder and ask ourselves this question on a regular basis. Start now: When in your life do you feel most fully loved? And begin to note the answers that bubble up. They can become pathways to the liberation you seek and that you need to experience to more fully become the person God has created you to be.