The lights were dimmed and there was a guitar softly strumming in the background. Before me was Jesus Himself in the Eucharist, placed inside a monstrance, surrounded by the soft glow of nearby candles. It was the perfect setting for a time of intimate prayer. However, as is typically the case at certain points in my daily prayer, I found myself restless and a tad bit bored.
Before I knew it my eyes were scanning the chapel, observing the several priests scattered around hearing the confessions of young adults. I found myself drawn to a specific pairing and, I confess (pun intended), I watched as a young lady confessed her sins to a priest. There was something about her body language that I found interesting. Her feet were crossed and her legs were timidly shifting from side-to-side. She had her hands clasped together, resting between both of her knees. She was sitting far back in the chair and as she spoke she would either look down at her feet or to the ground off to the side. I noticed she would frequently pause, take a moment to think, and then continue where she left off. I’m no body language expert, but my intuitions told me that she was feeling uncomfortable, reserved, and perhaps ashamed. The way she was speaking made me think that she was trying to say everything perfectly so as not to scandalize the priest or to truly admit to herself what she had done.
I then pictured myself in the place of the priest. I thought, “If I were the priest hearing the confession of this young lady, what would I try to do or say to create an atmosphere where she could feel as comfortable as possible sharing what was going on in her life?” I wouldn’t want her to worry about scandalizing me, I would want her to be honest and authentic; I would want her to be her “true self”. I knew that the more honest she could be with herself, the more authentic of an encounter she would be able to have with the overwhelming mercy of Our Lord. This got me thinking about a very important truth in the spiritual life which I am slowly discovering as time goes on: “God doesn’t care.”
In case you’ve never heard it before or you still have trouble truly believing it, our deepest identity as baptized Christians is beloved sons and daughters of God the Father. We’re not merely creatures brought forth from a distant policeman in the sky; we are adopted sons and daughters made from love, by love, and for love. This truth is essential for understanding the meaning of our lives and providing us with the interior freedom we all desire.
Yesterday I read from Psalm 103:13-14, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on the faithful. For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” This passage reminded me of how well my parents know me (as frustrating as that may be for me at times). They have known me from the moment of conception and they spent a ton of time observing every little movement I made as a child. As I aged they began to learn what made me tick, what brings me peace, and what motivates me. In some ways they know my “true self” better than I do. They certainly knew me better than I knew myself when I was too young to reflect on my behaviors.
To an infinitely greater degree, God the Father knows us in the very depths of our being. He told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). He knows us better than we know our own selves and He loves what He sees. As St. Augustine puts it, “In my heart of hearts, God is closer to me than I am to myself.” Part of that knowledge entails that, “He remembers that we are dust.” Because of this knowledge of our true selves that God has, it is implied that He doesn’t care about (at least) two things: our sins and our accomplishments.
Because our deepest identity is beloved sons and daughters of a loving Father, our sins don’t make Him love us less and our accomplishments don’t make Him love us more. His love for us is not dependent on what we do or don’t do, but rather is in virtue of who we are in our very essence. He cares about our sins in the sense that He knows how harmful sin is in our relationship with Him and with those around us, but these sins do not define who we are. In the words of Pope St. John Paul II, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us…” Similarly He cares about our accomplishments in the way a father might rejoice with his daughter after a stunning dance recital, but these accomplishments do not define who we are. Jesus himself reminded the apostles who were excited about the success of their first mission, “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
So what does this mean for us? It means we shouldn’t hide behind our sins or our accomplishments in the presence of God. After Adam and Eve ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Scripture says, “they hid themselves from the Lord among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). The young lady I saw confessing her sins seemed to be “hiding”, in a way, from revealing her true self in the midst of her sinfulness. Yet, “He remembers that we are dust” and sees the identity of the person who lies beneath those sins. At the same time, we also tend to hide our true selves from God behind the mask of our accomplishments. We wait until we are at a B+ or better in our lives before we can let God look at us, as though He will only love us if He can be impressed with how well we are doing. Yet, “He remembers that we are dust” and sees the identity of the person who lies beneath those accomplishments. He wants us to come to know our true selves, our deepest identity as a beloved son or daughter, so that we can realize the way in which He knows us and so that we can allow Him to love us in the depths of our being.
So the next time you approach God in prayer and feel too ashamed to let Him love you because of your sins or you feel the need to impress Him and earn His loving gaze by telling Him about all your accomplishments, just remember: God doesn’t care.