“God made someone really special when He made me!”
Are you able to say those words and really mean them? I said them for the first time at the age of thirty-four, and I’ll always remember it, because this moment changed my life. You see, deep down inside, I had always struggled with a feeling of worthlessness. I wasn’t smart enough, I wasn’t pretty enough, and I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t yet know and understand that I was the light of my heavenly Father’s eyes.
I believe that each one of us, to a greater or lesser extent, feels that we are unlovable. But that voice in our heads that tries to bring us down from the inside out is really just Original Sin doing some of its finest work. After the Fall, we found ourselves naked, and since then we have been ashamed to be seen by others or by God in our nakedness. And yet a cry wells up in every human heart to be who God intended each of us to be—naked, but unashamed. We desire the freedom of a small child, who can run around his parents’ yard with abandon, without a hint or trace of shame at his nakedness. We desire to run, just as we are, into the loving embrace of the Father. I am speaking, of course, of spiritual nakedness. We want to know that if, in the midst of our sin and misery, we expose the most vulnerable places of our hearts to God, we can remain confident that He still loves us—just as a child remains confident before a loving father.
I had a spiritual father once who used to greet me in an unusual way. Rather than calling me by my name, whether he was walking toward me down a hallway or coming to sit next to me, he would greet me as “Child of God.” I remember the first time he said this. I remember where I was sitting, and what I was doing, and how I was feeling in that moment, because these words made such a deep impression on me. He was proclaiming a truth to my heart: I am God’s child. This is the most fundamental truth of our existence: we are God’s children. St. John writes: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1, emphasis added). There are no conditions added to this statement. We are God’s children.
St. Paul also states this plainly: “We are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). He loves us as a father loves his children, even if we think that we don’t deserve to be loved. Caryll Houselander comments beautifully on what we know of
God’s love for children, and so what we know of His love for us, since every single one of us is His own child: “In God’s eyes being something comes before doing something. He sets a little child among his apostles as an example of what He loves. He says that heaven is full of children.”
This struck me very deeply one night as I lay prostrate on the floor during Eucharistic Adoration. When it came time for the priest to bless the people, I stayed right where I was. I just rested. I did not need to know when it happened or how it happened. God was doing His work—whatever it was that needed to be done in my soul—without my needing to be aware of it. I was being instead of doing, receiving instead of striving to give, and the beauty of that receptivity overwhelmed me. It was a profound moment of freedom in my life, and it was so simple; in that moment, I was simply present before God as His child, knowing that I could do nothing to earn His love. He already loved me, before I did anything at all.
Loved in Our Littleness
I remember when I first discovered the freedom of being loved for who I was and not for what I did. During the Divine Liturgy, I noticed a small boy with his parents in the pew in front of me. He was very little, certainly younger than two years old. As the Eucharist was being consecrated, and as we attempted to ponder this great mystery, he stood in his pew, with his back to the altar, quietly playing with a little book. He was completely oblivious to what was happening around him. I looked at this child, and all I could see in that moment was God’s great love for him. I knew in the depths of my heart that, although this child was ignorant of and oblivious to the great mysteries of God, he was inexpressibly loved by Him. He was loved simply because of the nature of who he was—a beloved child of God—not because of what he could do or what he knew. He was completely dependent on his parents for everything. He could not even receive the sacraments unless his dad first scooped him into his arms and carried him to the altar. Yet, in spite of his complete helplessness, he was peaceful. He was able to be at rest because he knew his dad would take care of his needs, even when he did not know what his needs were.
Jesus says to His disciples, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). There is something about these little ones that shows us who we are to the Father, what our relationship is with Him. We are all His little children. Are we not all, at the end of the day, ignorant of the great mysteries of God? They are, after all, beyond the comprehension of our human minds. Try as we might to understand it, are we not all somewhat oblivious to what is truly happening on the altar? And yet, in spite of our ignorance, He gazes with inexpressible love on those who have come to the altar to receive Him. At the Last Supper, Jesus calls His own who are there with Him “little children” (John 13:33). Can we open our ears well enough to hear Him saying this to us? For say it He does.
In the book of Wisdom, we hear, “How would anything have endured if you had not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved? You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living” (11:25–26, NRSVCE). Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). And in Isaiah we hear, “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand” (42:6).
We would not be at this altar to receive Him if He had not first called to us. Like this little boy, we could not even receive the sacraments if our Father did not scoop us up and bring us to Himself. But there is a difference between us and that little one. As we grow up, we become extremely self-sufficient and believe ourselves to be very much in control of our lives. We begin to forget that it is the Lord who has called us to Himself. We begin to forget that we are dependent on Him for everything and that, apart from God, we can do nothing (John 15:5). We become restless and anxious, and, just as we earn our wages through work, we begin to think that we have to earn God’s love. We begin to be bound by the shame caused by our sin. We no longer rest in His unconditional love, and we forget how to lose ourselves in the security of His embrace. And so Jesus points to the little ones among us, showing us how we should be, as we once were—helpless and constantly in need of Him—resting in the knowledge that we are loved.
We must remember that He takes care of our needs, even when we are not aware of what we need, for “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8). He shows us our worth, not by our strength or ability but by who we are: we are His children, made in His own image.
Editor’s note: this article was adapted from Mother Iliana’s recent book, The Light of His Eyes: Journeying from Self-Contempt to the Father’s Delight, available from Sophia Institute Press.