Run into God’s arms — he loves you

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As I have confessed to you many times before, I do not consider myself a good pray-er. My prayer is often dry. Dry as in, “is anybody listening?” Not that it doesn’t “count” or anything, but I am hardly a mystic.

So when something dramatic happens in prayer, I often take it as a sign that it is not just for me, but to be shared with all of you as well.

It was a few days ago. While praying, I tried to imagine how God was seeing me at that moment. Immediately, I received an image of Jesus Christ, Savior of the Universe, with open arms and a huge smile on his face, welcoming me the way I used to welcome my nieces and nephews when they were little (and still excited to see me), and ran full speed into my arms. He was doing the same, ready to catch me as I ran to him, and delighting in it the same way I used to delight in the joy in their little, miraculous faces.

I know, it could have just been my imagination. But the immediacy and vividness made it feel like something more.

Even it was just my own imagination, it still reflects the truth. It staggers me to think that he could love me as much as I love the five beautiful children he has placed in my life. And yet, my faith tells me that he loves me even more. Infinitely more. That is almost impossible for me to fathom. Still.

As I said, I think this little vision is for you as much as for me. To help you see and maybe begin to grasp his love for you.

We have all heard that “God is love.” Repeatedly. Some of us even affixed the phrase to felt banners in our CCD classes back in the ‘70’s. But, at some point, we hear it so much that it becomes just another meaningless phrase. How many of us really know it? How many of us really base our faith in a relationship with a Father who loves us madly?

I think that, no matter how often we hear that God is Love, it is all too easy to revert to a rules-based mentality. To be “holy”, I just have to do “x” and “y.” Avoid sin. Say the rosary. Try not to have too much fun.

There is nothing wrong with any of that. In fact, it is all true. (Except, of course, the fun part.) But on its own, it isn’t going to make you holy. And, without a thriving, active relationship with God, it’s going to be difficult to sustain any merely rules-based program.

My favorite saint, St. John Paul II, said that once we start asking what we are supposed to do, we have left the realm of love and entered the realm of ethics. When somebody is in love, the “rules” come naturally. A man in love doesn’t ask “How many times am I supposed to send flowers? How many buds per delivery?” He wants to show his love, as often and as many ways as possible. It overflows.

When we are in love with God, we want to serve him. We’re looking for ways to serve him more. It gives us joy.

The problem, of course, is that God is generally unseen. It’s easy to have a reciprocal relationship with a flesh-and-blood person. But two-way conversations with the Lord of the Universe are a little harder to come by.

There are two important keys to a real, loving, two-way relationship with God. The first is Scripture. If you’re in love with someone, you want to learn everything you can about them. All the more important when we can’t tangibly see our Beloved. How do we get to know God better? By reading his love story, the Bible. We see God’s first revelations to his people. We see Christ in action, curing the sick and welcoming sinners. We see his sacrifice for us.

If we aren’t studying Scripture, the God we worship might very well be the product of our own imaginations, and not the actual God who has revealed himself to us.

The second key is prayer — the heart of the relationship. It’s where we talk to him. Our prayer shouldn’t just be rote recitation of formulas. It should be true communication, a sharing of the heart. St. Teresa of Avila said that “prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” We pour our hearts out to him. We share our struggles. We thank him for our blessings. We ask for his help.

And, if we can manage to block out the noise of our lives, we will find that God speaks to us, through prayer and through Scripture.

I want you to do a little exercise for me. Close your eyes and ask God to surround you with his peace and protection. And then imagine him, with outstretched arms and a big smile on his face, waiting to catch you as you run to him.

And then pray. Talk to that guy. Pour out your heart to him.

He loves you.

Featured photo by Robert Nyman on Unsplash

COMING UP: The shock of forgiveness

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Every so often, the media will pick up a story that serves as a potent reminder of what it means to be a Christian. That’s because living as a Christian in today’s post-Christian society is an unusual way of living, contrary to what the rest of society might say about it. It is not “outdated.” It is not “irrelevant.” It is radical, countercultural and, to some, even incomprehensible.

On Oct. 2, the trial of Amber Guyger came to a close. Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, was charged with the murder of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old man who lived in the same apartment complex as Guyger. On Sept. 6, 2018, she walked into Jean’s apartment, thinking it was hers, saw Jean sitting there on the couch, and after giving verbal commands, shot him twice, killing him. It was an absolute tragedy and played into the ongoing national conversation about police behavior toward people of color (Guyger is white; Jean is black).

What I want to focus on is a particular moment that came at the end of Guyger’s trial, after she had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Jean’s younger brother Brandt took to the witness stand to address his brother’s killer directly. He wasn’t planning on saying anything during the trial but changed his mind at the last minute. A prompting of the Holy Spirit? I think yes, based on what happened next.

“I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things you may have done in the past,” Brandt told Guyger. “If you are truly sorry … I forgive you. If you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.” He continued, “I’m not going to say I hope you die … I personally want the best for you … I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want … and the best would be: give your life to Christ. Giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.”

But it didn’t stop there. Brandt was bold enough to ask the judge if he had permission to give Guyger a hug. He was granted it, and they embraced for over a minute, Guyger weeping into Brandt’s shoulder, just as some of us might do were we to be embraced by Christ.

Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement to her in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. Guyger has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her black neighbor in his apartment, which she said she mistook for her own unit one floor below. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Brandt has every reason to hate Guyger. This woman gunned down his innocent brother who had his whole life ahead of him and was given a lighter sentence than what she originally faced. Those in the courtroom and watching on TV wouldn’t have been shocked to hear Brandt tell Guyger that he hopes she rots in hell. No, the shock from those in the courtroom – and subsequently, the rest of the nation – came when Brandt did the exact opposite.

With those words and the simple act of embracing his brother’s killer, Brandt gave the world an incredible witness to the forgiveness Christ calls us to live as Christians. Of course, you can count on the bickering voices of social media and pundits to take this powerful moment and exploit it for their own agenda, but that’s because many of them don’t understand. It is not normal in our culture to forgive. It is also not easy. And that’s what makes witnessing something like this so shocking. It was not supposed to happen, but it did. It defied every expectation. Make no mistake about it: Brandt was living his call to be more like Christ in that moment. And it is exactly this moment – this shocking moment – that we are able to get a glimpse of what it is to be a Christian.

Following Jesus does make for quite a shock. And it is that shock that we are called to bring to the rest of the world, just as Brandt Jean did.