“Do you love me?”

Beside my bed, there is a rendition of the Christ Pantocrator icon — Christ looking ahead at the viewer with an expression of complete knowledge. Each morning, due to its proximity, the Christ Pantocrator is the first clear, complete image that greets me; a fact that is furthered by my terrible eyesight — and the reality that most other objects remain blurry until I put my contacts in for the day.

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His permanent expression, much like His love, is unchanging, available, and patient. Each day, those eyes ask the same question: Do you love me? Of course, my hope is to say “yes” each day — and like most, my response often falls short or comes with a set of caveats. Yes, I do love You! But I’m not ready for the pain that is coming. I love You, but…just give me some more time. I love You, I’m just not ready for the point-of-no-return. If I say I love You, can you promise it won’t hurt? Then the day happens: I’m checking emails, brushing my teeth, hastily pouring coffee in a portable mug, and racing out the door.

In times of confusion, anxiety, or hardship, we’re often pushed spiritually to look Christ in the eye and respond. I venture to say that, many times, we know the answer(s) to our biggest problems, deep down. We know that the right thing is probably the hard thing, the truth that we can’t ignore is a painful one, and the decision-making we’ve been avoiding isn’t going to be fun. At every turn, there He is, asking: But do you love me? On paper, we know: if we could simply offer Him our unrelenting love, no caveats, everything will work out. It is true! Yet, we resist again and again as our human status continues to fail us, falling prey to fear, comfort, habit, whatever makes us feel less alone.

Perhaps we can’t even accept the invitation directly from Christ’s hand and we need an instrument – Christ in another form. I remember a difficult conversation I had with a close friend last year. As I shared my deepest fears, everything that was holding me back from a difficult decision, my friend listened intently on the phone as I started to cry. Like many women, my tears were quickly followed with an apology: “I’m so sorry for crying!” But my friend responded gracefully with a chuckle that was brimming with compassion, saying, “Claire, don’t be sorry. I cried earlier this morning while watching a television show!” Somehow, in that deeply sincere chuckle, I felt the presence of God. There was something unique in it that I can’t put my finger on; something at once knowing, comforting, even paternal. It reminded me of a reflection I have often employed in times of struggle: the image of myself resting in God’s outstretched palm. Entirely cared for and lovingly watched over by a far greater, larger being. A child’s trust is present in that image.

And that’s what it has taken me so long to learn: that without a deep, perhaps childlike trust in our God, we will always reply to His question with a caveat. Our trust allows us to be easier on ourselves, too: there’s no need to fully understand our love for Christ in each response; we only need to continue to reply yes, our childlike trust leading the way, and the rest will follow.

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