“God, tell me You love me.
Because I’m not sure I believe it yet.”
This is the prayer that changed my life.
As a young, insecure, extremely lonely and incredibly introspective boy in junior high school, I sat in the window seat of a hotel, crying this out to God late one night while on a church youth ski trip.
There is something you should know about me. Something most who know me do not fully believe upon first hearing it.
I have been lonely most or all of my life.
You see, I grew up with a multitude of friends.
I had a plethora of activities I was involved in and even excelled at. I was charismatic, adventurous, athletic, smart, somewhat funny, and generally likable.
I was invited to most parties, often picked first for sports or games, had sleepovers, won little league championships, and yes, I had a handful of “girlfriends” before I even got to middle school.
I was a very social kid.
And yet, starting as early as first grade I always felt this nagging sense that I was different than others. For years I wondered if anyone really understood my heart when I said certain things or when I believed the things I believed.
I had a people who knew a lot about me,
but I wondered if anyone really knew…
As an adult, this feeling has never left me. In fact, it often felt like the closer I got to people–a close friend, a family member, a girlfriend–the longer the gap grew between who I was and who they thought they were seeing.
Shoot back to the young teenager sitting in the window boldly asking God if He really loved little, misunderstood me, or if I really was all alone in this skin of mine.
This moment and a million others like it have created the other most defining part of what makes me, me:
I am irrevocably in love with the God I have come to know.
Now as a full-blown “adult” I view my loneliness quite differently than I did growing up.
I still wonder if anyone really sees the real Kurtis. I still struggle VERY hard to communicate the inner depths of who I am in ways that translate to others. Most people still only catch glimpses and some of my very closest friends still have NO real clue, but one massive shift has taken place since those days as a lonely, frightened child.
Now, I am a frightened child who, though I may still feel quite lonely,
I know I am never truly alone
and I am known more intimately than I could imagine.
And best of all, I know I am loved no matter what I do, say, or believe inaccurately.
You see, over the years of crying and crying out to God for comfort, for connection, for belonging, I have found myself embraced time and time again by a God who is the very embodiment of comfort, of intimate connection, and of giving a place at His table to those without a true home.
This is important because as we step toward overcoming the loneliness in our life, as we strive to truly connect with the world around us, we cannot move forward without first addressing our ideas and images of what we call “God.”
St. Clare of Assisi once said,
“We become what we love
And who we love shapes who we become.”
And a well-known theologian, A.W. Tozer says it slightly differently when he says,
“By some secret law of the soul,
we tend to move toward our mental image of God.”
You see, we simply cannot skip over our image of God to get to “the good stuff” because the root of our loneliness and our connectedness to this world are both firmly planted in our beliefs about purpose and existence itself.
If the world is just a happy accident, then we are nothing more than skin sacks of biology at work, and our only purpose is to avoid misery for our short time on this floating rock.
If everything around us is “just an illusion,” then we are merely imagined entities and the purpose of life is to avoid reality at all costs.
If this universe is the calculated plan of an intelligent, greater being but it has gone awry and nothing is good anymore, then we are no good, and we hold on to life only by the mercy of an unpredictable and erratic God that we can never truly understand, predict, or trust.
However, if the source of life that fills every square inch of space,
if every nanogram of matter in this universe is bursting with the spirit of a God who loves,
and who knows me…
life suddenly becomes rich indeed.
And so, I become wealthy, even in my poverty.
Even in my sadness, my pain, or my deep loneliness, when I see God as the loving, comforting, and all-inclusive form of Jesus,
I steadily notice my loneliness slipping further and further away.
This is the God I know.
A God who doesn’t trifle or quibble over semantics.
A God who doesn’t care if we think He is in everything or if He can only be found in an ancient gathering of books called the Bible.
A God who is not asking me to work harder, do better, or make Him proud.
He is a God who does care if I sit down at His table, where He has prepared a place just for me.
He is a God who cares if I know I am loved.
He cares enough to meet, comfort, and welcome me into a place where I want to be the best version of myself…
because I finally belong somewhere, and I want to be all there.
So we’re starting at a place we have been before, a place where I ask you:
“How do you view God?”
If this is too deep, too vague, too philosophical a question for you to answer on the spot then let me encourage you to try a couple of things that will help you navigate this process. Both practices require you to block out a little time and to grab a pen and paper.
You can use a journal, a lined notebook, or just a blank piece of printer paper, but whatever form you choose it is important that you physically write instead of typing on a computer. This is important for many reasons, but mostly because the physical act of putting words to paper with our own hand makes things more real, more tangible. Typing is great for speed, but it can be deleted like that! It’s just digital, it isn’t really…real.
So grab your pen and whatever you are writing on and do one or both of the following exercises:
In whatever form is most comfortable for you, write down any words, thoughts, phrases, ideas, or pictures that come to your mind when you think of God.
- You can use one-word descriptors like “Big. Distant. Close. Kind. Mean.”
- You can use metaphors or nouns like “Teacher. Friend. Parent. Punisher. Disciplinarian.”
- You can use phrases like: “God makes me feel little” or “God watches every little thing I do wrong.”
If you are a picture person like me or a gifted artist (not like me) you can answer it by imagining God in your head and drawing.
You can describe how God looks, how does God act, how does God treat you?
Does God greet you with kindness or does he wag his finger in disappointment?
Does He hug you with abandon or get right down to business?
When you picture God, do you see a He…or a She?
This is not your definitive theological statement about God.
There will be no drawing lines in the sand right now.
You’re not saying what God actually is or isn’t. Right now, you are simply expressing how you feel when you think of God, and there is absolutely nothing right or wrong about that.
As my wife always says,
“feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just simply are.”
So let your thoughts about God simply be and let them be on paper in front of you.
If the first one feels too directed or limiting then try this instead:
Write a letter to God
Try to picture Him again in your mind (close your eyes if this helps…it usually does). Maybe He is sitting directly in front of you on your couch. Perhaps you and He are in chairs across a small table at a coffee shop.
Now tell Him how you feel.
During this time I promise you He will not interrupt. He will not argue with you, or defend Himself, or laugh. He will not seek to make you feel guilty or wrong for how you feel or what you say.
This time is for listening, and He is here to listen to you.
Now write down how you feel about Him.
If we are to connect with the world around us, we have to start by connecting with the source of our being;
with our idea of God.
And to do that well, we have to begin right where we are.
Not where you were as a child, nor where you “should be,” only where you actually are, feelings and all.
For more help with this idea I wrote a very similar post a few weeks ago titled “Starting Where You Are.” You can check that out or contact me for clarification by leaving a comment below or emailing me personally at Kurtis@kurtisvanderpool.com
Just so you are prepared, I will most often speak of God in reference to the God of Jesus
because that is who I know.
That is who has always known me.
That is who met me in that window seat all those years ago, and that is who I entrust my entire life to.
If this bothers you, by all means, feel free to replace and pronouns or proper nouns I use in the future with ones your own. For maximum benefit in our time together, let me encourage you to be right where you are with the subject of God and to use the identifying vocabulary that best fits.
Authenticity is key to development.
When life has you crying out for more;
when you long for connection to something bigger than yourself,
something greater than what you can see,
Who is it that comes to the table?
If your feelings toward God are fearful, angry, or full of resentment
then any spiritual work we do without first addressing our perspective will only lead to more frustration and pain.
If the words you use to describe Him are distant, cold, and calculated,
it might be time we talked about the closeness and tenderness of God.
Let me encourage you to do this with full, raw and unfiltered honesty,
because who you see across that table will set the course for everything else we explore together.
As you do this, remember one thing above all: