You have probably heard the cautionary tale about the boy and the scorpion. They are at a raging river. The scorpion pleads for help, and the boy full of compassion carries him across in his bosom, only to be stung by the ungrateful scorpion at the end. “You knew what I was when you picked me up!” sneers the scorpion to the dying boy and we are left with the moral to choose our companions more wisely.
Today’s Gospel tells a different story. Jesus knows quite well who is at the table with him. He knows one will betray him for money; another will in cowardice deny even acquaintance with Him—not just once, but three times. He knows the others will run away in fear. He is “deeply troubled” because he knows that He will all too soon feel both the very real sting of profound personal betrayal and then the ultimate sting of death at the hands of those He deeply loves.
Yet He knows that they are more than their sins, and He loves each of them, inviting them to His table, into the deepest and most profound intimacy with Him. And He continues to invite each of us, even while we are still sinners. He loves (and calls) each of us, before, during, and after our sin.
For quite a long time, I did not believe that God loved me. I don’t mean that I denied it as doctrine—I could in fact wax poetical about the love of God as a theological abstraction. But I could not believe it as a particular and personal reality, for I knew who I was. I thought that maybe God loved the Girl I Ought To Be, but He couldn’t possibly love me. Or, maybe being God and all, He had to love me, but He didn’t particularly like me. I suspected He was perpetually disappointed in me, waiting for me to become someone else, someone He could be proud of.
I remember going once to a priest for Confession who heard my litany of sins and said, “You need to stop trying so hard and just let God love you.” I remember now my inward eyeroll, as I thought, “Great. Another wishy-washy ‘liberal’ priest who missed everything I just confessed and how I am not trying hard enough…”
But then something strange happened. The next priest I went to in Confession said the exact same thing. Then another, then another, until it was too many to count. I started to wonder if God was actually trying to tell me something. 😊
I am still learning how to do this. But one key component for me (that I have mentioned previously) was instituting a designated daily prayer time, a time set apart to receive God’s love.
It is not that I didn’t pray before. I would even sometimes pray at great length—usually when I was either deeply desperate or deeply inspired. Other times I would be sure to “say my prayers”; to discharge that duty so that I wouldn’t feel guilty. But as a result, I avoided prayer when I didn’t feel like it—and when I most needed it.
Having a designated prayer time has required meeting God when I wasn’t camera ready. When I would have preferred to wait until after I had gone to Confession, or perhaps hadn’t even finished sinning yet. When I was stewing in anger or sulking or full of a thousand distractions.
Being “forced” to pray in those moments is when prayer got real. When I had to be honest about myself, my motives, my desires. “Lord I am not a big fan of your plan today.” “Lord, I know this is wrong but I really want to do it anyway.” “Lord, I don’t want to forgive her—here’s why….”
Sometimes my anger turned to tears. Sometimes temptation dissipated. Sometimes my entire prayer time was a wrestling match with me not yet ready to let go of my will. Sometimes I had to just let God hold me like a toddler in a tantrum. Sometimes I felt better; sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I didn’t feel much change during prayer time itself, but over time I would see the strength of the sin losing its force and hold on me.
Years ago my friend and I were going to take her two small children to the carousel. Her four-year-old son who had been dying to go suddenly balked and decided he would rather “stay home” while we took his little brother without him. We couldn’t understand this change of heart—why would he want to miss out on something he had been so looking forward to? My friend knew her son, and she knew what questions to ask. It turns out that he had pooped his pants, and wanted to hide the fact, even if it meant missing out on the joy that was planned for him.
God loves us even in our mess. He invites us to come to Him even while still filthy, to be changed and to receive the joy He has in store for us.
We say that God’s love is unconditional. That means that He loves us all the time. His love doesn’t wait for Easter Sunday, when all is right again. He loves us on Holy Thursday, when betrayal is imminent. On Good Friday, when its ugliness is revealed. On Holy Saturday, when we start to see just what His absence really looks like.
Challenge today: Ask God to show you the love He has specifically for you.