Last fall I had the opportunity once again to serve as meals coordinator for Interfaith Hospitality Network, where we house, feed and provide clothing for homeless families displaced from their homes due to financial duress, usually caused by a significant illness, breakup of parents, or loss of the family’s main income source.
After dinner, I stopped to talk to one of the single mothers as she washed dishes in the church kitchen. She opened up to me quickly about the struggles of her life, in particular her recent divorce. Complicating matters, she shared that her ex-husband had, against her wishes, taken her 9 year old son to live with him. Although she had a job, she had yet to save the money to hire a lawyer to secure her custody rights. She seemed lonely, bitter about her life, and angry with God.
Listening to her story, I felt great empathy for her, and did my best to acknowledge her pain. I then shared that I was soon needed back home by my family, and that I would continue to pray for her. As I left the church parking lot, I began rehearsing through my mind what I could have done differently to help this woman. Halfway home, I realized that I had neglected to tell her the most important thing she needed to know – that God loved her and sent His Son to save her.
I remembered being in a similar desperate situation a number of years ago myself, when, having recently graduated from Ohio State, I decided to move from Columbus to Cincinnati to “start my career”. A change of address did not fix the problems of this young man (me) who had not yet accepted Christ, and who was living a dangerously self-focused life. Being all alone in a new city only made matters worse.
It all culminated on a Friday night in 1989 as I sat alone in the driver’s seat of my car, having just experienced a breakup with a girlfriend. It was at that moment that I sensed God speaking to my heart, and he posed to me this question:
Is there anyone in this world that you TRULY love?
As I sat there, I could not honestly answer that question “yes”.
Then God followed with this:
Is there anyone in this world that TRULY loves you?
After searching my heart, I found that I could not confidently answer that question, “yes”, either. There in emerged the loneliest moment of my life.
But then God said, “I love you.”
It’s hard for me to fully explain in words the peace that came upon me at that moment – a peace for which everyone on the planet Earth longs. I drove home to my apartment, and committed to stop chasing the temptations of the world that were wasting my time, talent, and treasure. In the words of the psalmist, “In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.” (Psalm 118:5)
I picked up the Bible, and began to read it, and it was as if i were reading about me. I started in the Gospels, then, while reading Paul’s letters, came across Romans 5:8:
“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
I realized that I was a sinner in need of a savior, and that Savior was Jesus. Having learned about Him in church and Sunday school growing up, I had always believed in Him, but now, for the first time, I realized that, as a demonstration of His great love, that he actually died for my sins. I confessed my sins, and surrendered my heart to Christ. This began a lifelong journey of trusting Him with my life, believing His Word, the Bible, and knowing that Jesus loves me.
Even Karl Barth, the revered Swiss Reformed theologian who actively opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, when asked if he could summarize his life’s work of theology in one sentence, stated simply, “In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'”
So, looking back on my encounter with the woman at the church, I believe she needed from me not just sympathy (although I trust that my listening ear helped), or a lecture, but to hear the words,
“God loves you”.
I could have then followed up with “And to prove it, Jesus died on the cross for you, and for me. You can trust Him with your life”.
I pray that from this day forward, no matter whom I meet, or what conversation about the struggles of life in which I am engaged, that I will be ready to share this message of hope and peace with God.
Jesus loves me – this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong –
They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.