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“LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” JESUS TELLS US IN MARK 12:31. On the surface, it’s an easy idea to grasp, though not always to practice. But the truth is that some people find it difficult to love themselves and accept the fact that God loves them, too. The problem may stem from their life’s circumstances, or maybe personal shortcomings with which they’ve struggled. Yet the belief that the Creator of the universe actually cares about even the lowliest among us is key to living in sync with God and the life to which

He is calling us.

  

You Are Worthy of Love

 It’s not uncommon for someone to joke about their shortcomings: “Well, I’m no Mother Teresa!” That’s because Mother Teresa, winner of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, was lauded as a paragon of selflessness and holiness. So when it came to light in 2007, with the publication of secret letters, that the holy woman had deep, hidden struggles with despair and depression, the world was astounded. Surely Mother Teresa of all people should’ve been secure in the knowledge that God loved her! Yet in the book “Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta,” Mother Teresa wrote this: “When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven – there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” Mother Teresa’s spiritual struggles remind us that our feelings of worthlessness and loneliness don’t mean that God doesn’t love us with all His heart. But the distance between the head and heart can sometimes be the greatest in the world. So how can our spiritual lives blossom when we imperfect humans do not feel worthy of God’s love? Rather than let Him see us in all of our frailty and vulnerability, do we push Him away and flavor our daily interactions with despair, sarcasm, or assertions that we don’t “need anyone,” not even God? The fact is, until we can accept that God loves us unconditionally and without reservation, we will not face our lives with confidence or purpose. It can be difficult to accept this unconditional love from God. Our fallen human natures struggle to understand how someone could love us, especially when we hurt or fail them. But time and time again in the Gospels, Jesus uses parables to illustrate the extravagant love of God the Father for us. Think of the tale of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11- 32). A young man demands his inheritance—a slap in the face while his father is still alive—and then spends it all as he travels the world and becomes a party-boy. Then, when the money runs out, the son decides to go back home and beg forgiveness. Not only does the father forgive him, but he showers the wayward son with all sorts of luxuries. Jesus was using hyperbole to illustrate that we don’t “earn” God’s love—He gives it to us even when we think we’ve messed up irrevocably. Though human justice would demand that the father teach his son a lesson, God’s love says, “Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him...Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.” (Luke 15:22-24) And the beautiful thing about God’s unconditional love is that He slowly teaches us how to love others like He loves us. We begin to see our lives for what they are—a chance to live a deep mystery of love where everyone plays a part. Instead of being mere receivers, we are now able to be givers.

 

Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche, a network of 147 communities around the world for mentally disabled persons and their caregivers. In an Aug. 5, 2015 interview with “America” magazine, he gave some beautiful insights into the value of a person:

• “Love is to reveal to someone: ‘you are beautiful and you have value.’”

• “The mission of Jesus is to announce a good news to the poor. What is that good news? It’s not just that ‘God loves you,’ but that ‘I love you!’ The whole of the message of Jesus is to reveal to the poor that they are precious, whereas we live in societies where so frequently they are put aside.”

• “For myself the future is to grow gently into weakness and to discover that in the heart of weakness there is the presence of God. And after that, growing in weakness, we grow in the greater weakness which is eventually to fall in the arms of God when we die.”



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