In The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the story of Edward Farrell, a man who traveled from his hometown of Detroit to visit Ireland, where he would celebrate his uncle's 80th birthday.
Early on the morning of his uncle's birthday, they went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. As the Sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight into the breaking light. For 20 minutes they stood in silence, and then his elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.
After catching up with him, Edward asked, "Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell me why?"
"Yes, lad," the old man said, tears washing down his face. "You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me."
Do you know that God not only loves you but that He likes you, desires you, delights in you, enjoys you, and is very fond of you?
Most of us do not live out of the reckless, raging fury that people call the love of God.
When I was growing up, I struggled to believe that God delighted in me, enjoyed me, and pursued me with a reckless, relentless, and radical love. I grew up just north of Detroit, in the care of kind and loving parents who have revealed the Heart of God to me and my 5 brothers (one of whom is now safe in the arms of Jesus) throughout our lives. But due to poor decisions I made in junior high and high school, I viewed God as distant, disappointed, and disengaged. How could He desire me? How could He delight in me, enjoy me, and long for me with such an enduring and steadfast love? I was a mess. A rebel. A troublemaker. A scrawny ragamuffin distrusted by administrators, policemen, and teachers.
As guilt and shame made barricades around my heart during my teenage years, I sought belonging, identity, and security in whatever and whomever would satisfy my need for love. Fitting in was my highest goal. Looking good was my greatest dream. Being accepted was the deepest longing of my wayward heart. I did whatever I could to numb the pain, fill the void, appease the beast, and quench the thirst of my aching soul. I was not acquainted with the God who receives rebel-rousers with open arms. I was not familiar with the God who lavishes affection, love, and tenderness upon criminals. I was unaware of the God who loves the unlovable ones with such an intense and passionate longing that no creature could fully comprehend. Even though I grew up in a grace-filled, loving, and merciful home, I saw God as a Judge who reminded me of my mistakes ... a Taskmaster impatiently waiting for me to get my act together.
When I turned 18, my family threw a banger of a birthday party for me. At this point in my life, I was getting more involved in church - playing drums for the worship team, leading youth group conversations, and participating in mission trips. While faithful people of God were speaking into my life and my heart was being awakened and stirred by the Holy Spirit, I continued to carry baggage and burdens from my past. As my 18th birthday party was wrapping up, my Grandpa Don (a dear family friend whom I've called Grandpa since childhood) came up to me and said that God had words to share with me. I automatically and immediately assumed that God had a bone to pick with me. He was going to bring up a hidden or secret issue from my past that was unknown to me and my family. He was going to expose me, reprimand me, chastise me, and put me in my place. This is what was going through my mind as we prepared to pray.
My Grandpa Don gathered his wife (my Grandma Marcia), my folks, my Grandma Jean (my Mama's Mom), and me into the living room of my family's home in Armada, MI. He said that he wanted to pray over me because God was giving him words to speak to my heart. I shrugged, bowed my head, closed my eyes, and nervously folded my hands. Surely God would give it to me now. I was anxiously waiting for Him to drop the Judge's gavel. I assumed that He was about to pronounce me guilty and dish out severe consequences. I was expecting the worst.
My Grandpa began to pray, and my chin dropped to my chest. What came out of his mouth were beautiful and poetic words expressing who God is and what He thought of me. My Grandpa highlighted His goodness, faithfulness, affection, delight, grace, forgiveness, mercy, love, tenderness, and strength. I could could go on and on describing how my Grandpa revealed the Heart of God. I sat there astonished and astounded. It was Good News! My Grandpa was speaking life-giving words of destiny, hope, and promise. God was not reminding me of my past mistakes. He was revealing His Heart for me, a Heart burning with love for a broken and beloved son whom He deeply loves.
After describing the beautiful character and loving nature of God, my Grandpa paused. This is when the floodgates of my heart and mind burst open. As long as I live I will never forget these words. My Grandpa said: "Nathan, nothing you have ever done, are doing, or will ever do has the power to separate you from the love of God." Immediately, I began to sob and weep in the wake of such reckless love. As my Grandpa spoke those words, I experienced the affectionate embrace, fierce forgiveness, and tender mercies of my Dad. I knew that He forgave me. I knew that He loved me. I knew that He was for me and with me. I knew that Jesus poured out this love upon me through His life, death, and resurrection. And I knew that I would never be the same.
I share this story with you to remind you that the Creative Creator, Divine Designer, Ground of all Being, and Source of all Life ... your Abba, your Dad, your Father, your Papa ... loves you with a fierce, ferocious, and furious love and longing that no one could possibly experience or fully understand this side of eternity. Nothing you have ever done, are doing, or will ever do has the power to separate you from the love of God. God not only loves you, but He likes you, desires you, delights in you, enjoys you, and is very fond of you.
A man named Zephaniah, who ministered to God's people in ancient times, expressed this delight and desire of God in a prophecy he penned several hundred years ago. He wrote: "Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."
Wherever you find yourself today, during this season of life, and in this moment, know that you have a Dad who has been singing a beautiful song over you from eternity past and will be singing this song of love over you for eternity and beyond. His love for you casts out all anxiety and fear. You may go to Him anytime and anywhere. He sees your heart; He gets it; He knows; He understands. He holds the entirety of your life in His hands, and the sacred blood of His Son covers you and overcomes anything that could possibly separate you from His Heart. He is for you and with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you ... no matter what happens ... He will never stop loving you. He is mighty, powerful, and strong enough to rescue and save you from the lie that screams "You're not loved!" You ARE loved. He will calm you in His love. He will dance over you in His love. He will bring you through the valley of shadows in His love. He loves you as you are and where you live. Here. Now. Right where you are. Your Abba loves you.
So cry, dance, laugh, and skip like Uncle Seamus. Like Zephaniah. Like this broken and beloved ragamuffin. You have not received a spirit of fear or timidity leading to slavery, but a Spirit of adoption and sonship though Whom you cry out, "Abba! Father!" He loves you just as much on your dark days as He does on your bright days. Said another way, His love for you does not fade or waver depending on what you do or fail to do. His love is not dependent upon smooth circumstances, success, sorrow, or struggle. His love for you is constant, continual, certain, contagious, and compassionate. His love for you is dependent upon His love for you. And His love for you is displayed, demonstrated, expressed, and revealed most clearly in and through His Beloved Son - the One Whom He loves and the One Who loves us as He is loved.
So be swept up today in the reckless, raging fury that people call the love of God. Rest in the reality that your Abba delights in you and desires you. He is proud of you. Proud to call you His child. He enjoys spending time with you. His Heart longs and yearns for you. And if you catch your eyes looking to the Sun, I dare you to chuckle and say out loud: "Ah, me Father is so very fond of me."