Do You Believe that You too are God’s Beloved?

In his talk “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry,” Henry Nouwen said,

“God has become so vulnerable, so little, so dependent in a manger and on a cross and is begging us, ‘Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you really love me?’ That’s where ministry starts, because your freedom is anchored in claiming your belovedness. That allows you to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they are beloved, chosen, and blessed. When you discover your belovedness by God, you see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It’s an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you will see how deeply your sisters and your brothers in the human family are loved.”

Let this sink in: as we consider the offer of intimacy— true, meaningful intimacy with Jesus— it changes the way we carry ourselves. All of the subconscious questions most of us ask when we enter a room are already answered: Will I be accepted? Noticed? Does my presence here make any difference? Does anyone care that I am here? Will I be true to my conviction? Am I loved? Am I known? Am I understood? All of these questions are already answered by the only One who has authority to truly answer them.

If we don’t get these question(s) answered from God, nor come to believe in a deep place that we too are God’s beloved, we will keep asking others to answer these questions for us. The only question worth asking is, “Am I loved?”—and the answer is unequivocally YES!

How do you answer this question?

The Humanness of Jesus

The apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians tells us, “…But (Jesus) emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and became as human beings are” (Phil. 2:7, Phillips). A lot of people have argued about what Jesus emptied Himself of, exactly. Most Christian scholars agree that when Jesus came to Earth as a human, He emptied Himself, or set aside, His divine attributes—that is, His omniscience (knowing everything), His omnipresence (being everywhere, always present), and His omnipotence (limitless in His power). As a human, He was limited in all these qualities simply because of He had a human body. But let’s set that thought aside for now.

My question is this: what if He didn’t just empty Himself, but also added something? What if that something was human nature? If that were the case, then of course Jesus would have had to limit the access He had to His divine nature. He couldn’t fully operate out of His divine nature and still have the full experience of being human. Those two natures contradict one another.

This is the really challenging part. How human was Jesus, really? He was born of human flesh, grew physically like any other human would, had veins of actual blood, got hungry, thirsty, and tired. He died a physical death. He felt human emotions including anger, despair, joy, grief, sadness, excitement, and wonder. Jesus struggled—He was tempted, confused at times, limited by others’ lack of response, frustrated, and often lonely. It all sounds pretty human to me.

If I were Jesus and had a “God card” I could access anytime I wanted, I would have certainly used it to avoid the daily struggles of being human. However, although Jesus possessed His divine nature throughout His life on Earth, He mysteriously gave up His access to this nature in order to fully possess humanness. Let that sink in for a moment. God, through Jesus, became like us. I don’t know about you, but this makes Jesus—and in turn God the Father—much more relatable and “follow-able” than a super-human, superhero-like God.

To be open to the idea that we are loved is to respond to a God who chose to be human and vulnerable. As Dan Brunner said in a lecture at Soul Formation Academy, “A human Jesus is a broken Jesus who identifies with our brokenness.” Jesus, in His human nature, completely identifies with us! He gets it—our joy, our sorrow, our loneliness, our longings. Jesus meets us in our humanity. He is, after all, the fullest expression and example of what it is to be human.

Belief On Ramp #4: Identity Statement

In this exercise, revisit the lies you realize you have believed about yourself. For some, this may mean you are recognizing for the first time that those voices in your head telling you that you are less than, not enough, imperfect, unworthy, etc., are not true, and are in fact, flat-out lies! Whatever those lies are, identify them and jot them down.

In addition, write down specific negative words or phrases that come to mind about yourself (such as for me, things like “I am a boy, not a man”). Then write down the opposite of those words. That is often where the truth is revealed about who we really are!

This is my personal identity statement that I have been reading each morning for the past 12 years:

My name is Shawn Raymond Petree, Beloved, I am loved.

I am Your chosen son. I am family.

Your Spirit is in me. Jesus is formed (and is forming) in me.

I am an heir of Your Kingdom, a prince, a saint. I chose joy today!

I am a strong, confident, warm, truthful, assertive,

creative, courageous man; a warrior.

Husband to a beautiful, godly wife.

Father to three provided children.

Friend to many.

I am loved.

Lent: Believing the Truth About Ourselves

It’s one thing to expose the lies we’ve been believing about ourselves throughout our lives; it’s another thing altogether to do something about them. The really life-changing work happens through replacing those lies with truth.

At the end of the kayak adventure with my friend Ryan, I decided to be honest with myself about the messages that were running in my conscious and subconscious mind throughout most days. I took some time and wrote down the words and phrases that described my internal dialogue. The first words that came to mind were scared and afraid. Then, worried. Then a realization that I would, at times, bend the truth in hopes that others would approve of me.

Next, I admitted to myself that I performed for others and cared a lot about what others thought of me. After that, the painful descriptive word weak. Through this process, it also came to light that I would often hang back and not take initiative. Then the kicker, just one word: fearful.

Once I got these specific words out on paper in my journal, I laid them in front of me and had a very practical conversation with God. Although I had been following Jesus for a while, this type of frank conversation with the Father was somewhat new to me. It went something like this: “God, thank you for revealing these deep lies I’ve believed about myself for many years. Only You fully know when each of these lies set in. I don’t want to live like this anymore. I know these lies are not from You, God. Show me a way out of this pain.”

After I sat in silence for a few moments, staring at this page in my journal with so many painful lies scribbled out, an idea came to me that I believe was from God. What if I wrote down the opposite of each lie? To take it a step further, I wondered what would happen if I awoke each morning and read aloud these descriptive words—words that were the opposite of what I currently believed about myself. It could be powerful! (Chapter 4 Am I Loved?)

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Lent: Belief On Ramp #3

Belief On-Ramp # 3

For this one, set aside a minimum of four hours, again, unplugged if possible.

Begin by going through your life in 10-year increments. (Allow 15 to 20 minutes per increment.) Identify any core memories or consistent messages from others you remember hearing during that increment of time that might have developed into a lie you still tell yourself subconsciously (e.g., I’m too small, too big, can’t do anything right, always in trouble, won’t amount to anything, not worth my parents’ time, bossy, difficult to get along with, etc.). Write down anything that comes to mind.

Be as honest with yourself as you can about the possible lies you may believe today. Go through a typical day/week in your cur- rent life and try to identify when you consistently get down, frustrated, or are particularly hard on yourself (20 to 30 minutes). List anything that comes to mind.

Now look over your various lists and notes and write out the top three lies you might be believing. As you read these words or statements about yourself, do they resonate?

Take these lies to God. Admit that you have believed these things about yourself. Ask Him to free you of them. Finally, turn each of these lies into an “I no longer . . .” statement (e.g., I no longer believe that everyone will eventually leave me).

Thank the Lord for the freedom that is yours through Christ Jesus, and ask Him to fill you with His Spirit, to live out the opposite of these lies—and the truth that you are loved.

Lent: Lies Exposed

“…I realized there were three core lies I’d believed most of my life.

First, I realized that, for a long time, I had been believing the lie that at some point everyone was going to leave and I would be left alone. Because of my past, I was living my adult life as if the story of my upbringing was going to be replayed over and over. Put simply: it was the fear of abandonment that came into the light.

The second lie that surfaced surprised me a bit. I was living a strange lie that I was a boy, not a man. That may sound a bit odd so let me unpack it. A boy looks for safety and security, expecting others to create it. A man creates safety and security and invites others into it. I didn’t feel like I could handle many of the situations I encountered on a day-to-day basis. When I met these situations I felt like a boy, ill equipped to handle what was in front of me.

The final lie was exposed as I sat on the bluff overlooking Guemes Channel. Enjoying the serenity of that beautiful vista, I realized there was a deep conviction that I wouldn’t ever be fully free or at peace. The line of thinking I’d been caught up in was that my life could only be “okay.” There was something in me that believed I could only manage the fear, anxiety, and depression that shook me at times. In my mind, a life at peace with God and others, even with myself, was not attainable.” (Chapter 3 Am I Loved?)

Lent: Chapter 3 Am I Loved?

In the process of beginning to learn what “belief ” really means, I decided to explore the opposite of belief, which is fear. Where might fear and anxiety have come into my story?

I knew without even having to think twice about it. The scene was the living room of my childhood home. I was seven years old, sitting there with my nine-year-old sister and four-year-old brother. Even as I write these words, I can see our couch, a lamp on the table beside it, and the entrance into the kitchen. That room already had undesirable memories for me, as it was the place where our parents had sat us down nine months earlier to tell us that they were no longer going to be married. Our mother had primary custody of us, so it was the four of us in the living room on this particular night, a night forever etched in my memory.

We had just returned home from my tee ball game and I was standing next to a chair in my brown and green baseball uniform. My brother and sister were sitting on the couch with our mom when strange words came out of her mouth. “Kids, I believe it is best if I leave town and don’t see you again.” There’s not much I remember after that statement, apart from the crying and begging her to stay.

While I may not remember what else happened in the moments following my mom’s statement to us, I now realize as a man how that moment caused me to believe some things about myself that were not true. This happens to a lot of us. Not this specific scene, but a scene or multiple memories that invite us to believe a lie instead of the truth about who we are. Being able to identify events in our past that have had a profound impact on how we see ourselves is one thing. However, creating time and space to get at these lies and replace them with truth is an important step in learning to really believe who God is, what is true about us, and that we are completely and fundamentally loved.