One of my most distinct memories from middle school is of my very first dance. I can still see my reflection in the mirror, denim Bermuda shorts and all. (Clearly I was a fashion expert). I had straightened my unruly hair, and even painted on a bit of my mom’s black mascara. Now these dances were super casual, hence the Bermuda shorts. Most of the boys wore the same mismatched outfits they had on during school, and even the older kids never really went as couples. But there were slow dances, and I had my secret hopes of sharing one with the cute boy from my English class.
I had made the mistake of sharing this secret with a particularly chatty pair of friends, and about halfway through the dance, the boy approaches me, and, hand outstretched, asks me to dance. Sweet, right?
I’m sure it would have been, if I’d accepted. What I did instead was mumble something, perform an immediate about-face, and speed walk straight out the door and downstairs to the girls’ bathroom. I hid there, on a conveniently placed bench, until another well-meaning group of friends coaxed me out. And there he was, on the staircase, with the two friends who had initiated this entire ordeal.
“He likes you and he wants to dance with you.” They announced to me, clearly confused by my unreasonableness. Thinking back, I can see the hurt expression he donned as I once again retreated to the bathroom, where I called my mom under the guise of a migraine and begged her to come pick me up. I spent an hour that night crying in the shower.
What I could never explain to him, or to anyone, including myself, was that it wasn’t him I was rejecting. It was me. The moment he approached me, I had the idea in my head that the entire thing was some elaborate hoax meant to humiliate me. As soon as I’d agreed, his friends would have popped out of nowhere, camcorder in hand, with permanent evidence of my stupidity. Because there was no way a boy like that could ever actually want to dance with me.
And of course that wasn’t logical. He was quiet like me, and sweet. He would never have been that cruel. I doubt any of those boys owned a camcorder. I was painting my own view of myself onto other people. This misguided perception caused me to turn down opportunities just because I couldn’t believe they were true. I didn’t think I deserved them.
That was more than ten years ago, and I can still feel those emotions so clearly. And I’d be willing to bet that some of you can too.
I don’t really know what happened to that boy. I changed schools the next year, and I aside from occasional encounters on social media, I don’t think I ever saw him again. Although I’m not certain he’d even remember me now, that one incident definitely changed his perception of me forever. And it’s the first thing that comes to my mind when we talk about the concept of living loved.
Let’s dive into the gospel for a second. If you’re a Christian, or you grew up in the church, you’ve probably heard this a million times. One of the first steps to accepting the gospel is realizing that every single person on this earth is a sinner. Your mom, your dad, the perfect girl at school, the guy you’ve been crushing on, you, and me. I’m pretty sure I was born with low self-esteem, so I never really had trouble with the fact that I was totally not holy. It was the next part that was always the issue for me. God loves us. God loves us. We are filthy, dirty, broken sinners and all logic would justify our pure God leaving us exactly where we were. But His love for us was so powerful, so unimaginable, that He became like us. Through His son, God took on the form of man, and walked this earth as we walk it. He sent that same son to die a horrible, agonizing, and humiliating death, so that we could be freed from a prison of our own making. If you read this jumbled mess of words and don’t come away with anything else, know that God loves you more than you could ever even begin to comprehend. He always has, and He always will. He loves me as I’m sitting on my bedroom floor surrounded by laundry that should’ve been washed weeks ago, and He loved me all those years ago at a middle school dance when I didn’t even know him. And He will love me tomorrow when I wake up way too late, and every day for the rest of eternity, He will love me.
Maybe putting it like that sounds a little boastful. But it’s not. I never did anything to deserve God’s love. We never can. It’s impossible, we could never ever do anything to warrant the grace that He shows us. And the beauty of that is that we can also never do anything so horrible that His love could be taken away. If we lived every second of our lives with that knowledge at the forefront of our decisions, we’d probably be doing things a little differently.
Now, I’m not trying to say that if I had realized God’s love for me I’d be happily engaged to a boy from my sixth grade dance. I could have said yes and had my worst fears confirmed, maybe a group of twelve year old boys would have taunted me for weeks. But living with the knowledge that we are loved unconditionally by the all-powerful God of the universe gives us the courage to say yes despite our fear. The pain of any heartbreak can never measure up to the joy of our Father’s love.
I’ve taken you on this rather extended journey into my embarrassing past to say this: God loves you, even when you’re crying alone in your shower. God loves you, even when you can’t feel it. God loves you when you’re making the same mistakes at twenty that you made at twelve. He knows. He knows. He sees every flaw, both the real and the ones inside your head. He’s seen every bit of your heart. He knows. And He loves you. Live loved.