You don’t forget a moment like this, when you’re so giddy with God’s love springing up like a geyser that you just have to tell someone what happened.
I rushed into the church on a Tuesday morning to tell a friend. He was a seminary student who worked there, and I was eager to share how God was remolding a doubting heart. Because this heart — this one that now beats for the Messiah — used to doubt His very existence.
That day, I was like one of the shepherds, those hillside wanderers who showed up at the side of a feeding trough more than 2,000 years ago. I had discovered God Incarnate. I was rendered breathless and dizzy — and head-over-heels-in-love — with a Savior who was as real as skin.
I had to tell.
The friend was just leaving the church for a meeting when I caught him in the hallway behind the empty sanctuary.
“You got a minute?” I asked.
And he did. He set his briefcase on the carpet, and he leaned against the wall as I spoke.
I tried to hurry, to tell him quickly what God was doing in me,
and how the Lord had been working overtime to erase doubts that plagued me,
and how I knew
that I knew
that I knew
that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
And how, at long last,
I really believed in the work of the Holy Spirit.
And how …
And how …
And how …
Oh, it felt impossible to boil down in three minutes the depth of love I felt. It was an Emmaus-style burning that stretched to the tips of my toes. How could I put words to this?
I was, at last, in love with a Savior. Like a bride, I had shouted YES! to the proposal of the Messiah, and I was as certain as I’d ever been that He’d slipped a wedding ring on my finger!
The seminary student listened intently, studying my exuberance, and he released a heavy sigh that felt like a wagging finger. “Now Jennifer,” he began.
“Now you know that you didn’t really ‘ask Jesus into your heart,’ right?” he questioned.
And it was as if someone was trying to pull the wedding-band off right during the honeymoon.
“Wh-what?” I stammered.
“You didn’t actually ask Jesus into your heart,” he instructed sternly.
“But I …”
“It’s not possible,” he said. “You don’t choose God. God does the choosing. Go read John 15:16.”
I’m sure he said more. And he probably was more reassuring than I remember all these years later. But today, all I can recall is him picking up that briefcase and walking out the door, leaving me deflated.
And right now, as I tap out these words on a keyboard, fresh tears sting these eyes. I didn’t expect these tears today — all these years later. But that cut deep, and I bled for a while.
I wondered that day: Was what I experienced real?
Years later, I can answer the question beyond a doubt: Yes. What I experienced was most certainly real.
I don’t believe the seminary student intended to deflate my faith; in fact, I think he’d be crushed today to know how much pain it caused. In hindsight, I also understand the theology of what he was saying — that we can’t take credit for our own salvation.
And, indeed, in typical God-style, good has come of the pain. Because the student’s instruction prompted me to dig deeper, to explore why I believe what I believe.
Still, it hurt. It felt like the church and its leaders left me in tatters in the hallway of an empty church.
But God …
Oh yes. But God. (For every pain in our life, for every hurt in our heart, there is a sentence that begins like this: But God … )
I had been wounded that day, but God pieced me back together.
In that empty church, I felt the Love of the Father perhaps more strongly than I ever had up to that point. I was a hurt and wounded traveler, on my own road to Emmaus. But God walked up beside me that day and threw an arm around the shoulders of this shuffling pilgrim.
Out of that vast storehouse of love, Jesus made the first move: He chose to love me and to die for me and walk with me on this road.
And, I made the next move. I did make a choice: To accept His offer of love.
And with the Love of the Father
And the Love of the Son
And the Power of the Holy Spirit in me,
my own heart still burns within … even today.
This. Love. Is. Real.
Father, Thank you for loving me through my hurts. Thank you for reassuring me that your love is real. Thank you for never chastising me, even when my theology looks more like a toddler’s than a scholar’s. Help me, in turn, walk alongside weary travelers on their own dusty roads to Emmaus. I want to love like You love. Amen.
Each Wednesday, I join Ann Voskamp as we explore spiritual practices that draw us closer to his heart. Today, we contemplate this: “Loving Like Father.”
PHOTO: A small excerpt of surrender, from my first-ever prayer journal.