In high school, I was invisible, or I felt like it.
Everyone else was doing their things and having fun and, while I had a great group of friends, and I did win the actor of the year award at the end of grade eleven, I was never acknowledged for the things that we were taught really mattered, for the things that I had decided would also be important to me.
I went to a Christian school, which meant that saying someone had “a heart for God” meant that they cared about God and people, that they were growing spiritually, and that they did things that showed their deep commitment to their faith. We also had leadership awards at the end of the year for students who demonstrated this and I can remember so often teachers saying when they gave out these awards that the person who was getting them was someone whose leadership and service was not noticed by most.
So it hurt that, out of the five years I could have gotten that award, the only year I did was only because I’d signed up to go on a missions trip.
I would think about how my entire life philosophy centred around seeing people the way God sees them, and treating them with the love that he treats them with. How I would make friends with those who had few friends, how I would go and find new kids on the first day of school and offer to be their friends. How I would do everything I could to filter my actions and words for and to others through the question: “Am I recognizing their value? Am I helping them to recognize it for themselves?”
Right now, awards and other kinds of recognition don’t matter much to me because I’ve been burned so many times. During high school (junior high, too), I thought about ways that people could see that I really did have this heart for God that teachers would say they wanted to recognize and award, but it all felt as ridiculous and arrogant as pulling out a Jesus fish every time I did something loving and yelling: “I did this for God!”.
But doing what I was always doing left me unnoticed and unappreciated. And, yes, sure, this could all just be what I felt like during all this time. All this could be coming from my teenagerish self-centred blindness.
And yet, I can count on one hand all the times anyone in my life said or did anything during that time that communicated otherwise. I can even quote the words directly, say exactly who said them, describe where we were, how I was standing or sitting, and how I felt when they said it. You don’t remember that kind of detail unless something was important to you. The fact that it happened so little was hard.
Whatever it really meant, if it even had a meaning, I decided that it meant I needed to do it all better. I needed to follow God better. I needed to jump all the hoops and jump them perfectly. I needed to jump them when they were lit on fire.
As I think about it now, it’s all so ridiculous. I was trying to get the love and attention I needed from everyone around me but the only one who could truly give me what I needed. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off in order to make people notice you is the exact opposite of true Christianity. It doesn’t matter what anyone says in churches. Jesus said that his yoke was easy and his burden light. He said that he had given all of humanity a peace that doesn’t even make sense. Headless chickens don’t even figure in.
God would remind me this every once in a while but, you see, I didn’t trust him to tell me a solution, one that would truly satisfy me. Bad Alabama had tainted my faith in him. All those times that I’d cried out to him for words, all those times I’d just wanted to be held, I was convinced he hadn’t responded and, because of that, I had convinced myself that God had abandoned me in my darkest hours. You can’t trust someone who abandoned you if they claim to always be with you. If they’ve lied about that, what else have they lied about?
All of that started to change dramatically when I went to teen camp. The camp lasted for a week in August, starting the summer either before or after grade eleven. My parents had helped the youth leader of a church in a nearby town plan it, and they had also volunteered to be in charge of various things during the camp itself, which meant that all five of us (my parents, my two younger siblings, and me) ended up attending.
I could tell you so many stories about that camp, how God touched my life and the lives of those around me in profound and obviously-him ways, but the one that affected me the most is the one that I remember the least about.
One of the speakers at camp talked a lot about how much God loves people. How he simply adores us, can’t stop thinking about us, and really doesn’t care who knows it.
Now, I don’t know if this happened at teen camp or sometime after. I don’t know where I was or what I was doing. I don’t even really know what I’d been saying or thinking before hand. All I know is this:
I felt God’s love.
It was like a tangible thing, a cloud of love inside of me. I remember thinking “No, no, no! I don’t need this much love. I don’t deserve it; I can survive on less.” But I didn’t stop it, either, and it flowed into every corner of my soul, bathing my shattered dreams and broken hopes. It found all the wounds and closed them. It pushed itself into the absolute darkest parts of myself and filled them with light, filled them with all the life they had secretly known they needed, but had grown too jaded to think they could ever have. It was like drinking sweet water from a well after a lifetime of turning to dust.
We are born knowing the love we need to really and truly live. As we live our life, though, we do not receive love in that height, depth, width, and breadth because we are living with imperfect people who do not know how to love the way we were meant to love. Because we only get paltry offerings for so long, we forget about what we know we need, and accept what we can receive through our five senses as all we will ever get. We assume that we do not deserve any more, and tell ourselves that what the world will give us is enough.
We are dead wrong.
As I was wrapped in this all-encompassing love, I remembered a video I’d seen a while ago that had made a huge impression on me. In the video, the narrator had talked about how, when people are literally starving, they eventually reach a point where they don’t feel hungry anymore. They have gone with so little for so long that, in an effort to save them from pain, their body tells them that they have enough. You could put a giant, mouth-watering feast in front of them, and they might only eat a little and then thank you politely, because that’s all they think they need. And I realized that I had been the one starving, the one who had grown so thin that I couldn’t feel my hunger anymore, and the one who had had a feast spread out before them by the originator of all things, only to eat a few bites, smile, and leave.
I don’t know what turned on or off to allow this flood of unmerited favour come through me and around me and in me, but it fundamentally altered everything about how I saw God. In that one, simple, wordless act, God showed me in the most powerful way he ever had that he had created me to be full of an infinite love emanating from an infinite God who has taken up residence in my heart.
It was God. It was God. It was God. There is nothing like it in the world. All the most beautiful love stories and poems fall flat. Descriptions of religious ecstasy become empty. Feeling at one with the universe? That’s like comparing the twanging of a rubber band to the singing of the stars. Not even. No one in this world can love me like that, especially not me. No one in this world can love anyone like that, period.
And all those awards I didn’t get? All those people who didn’t notice me? All those philosophies I had embraced so that others would see them? All those works I did to achieve recognition?
“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.'” ~ Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV)
In the face of a love like that, nothing else can ever compare. This is why I can’t say that God is the Universe, that he is my higher self, or that he is the same as Allah or any other god of any other religion. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The only way to get to the Father, the source and embodiment of perfect love, is through him. To him, I am never invisible, and never have been.
This was when I realized what it meant for God to be my everything.