As my last post discussed, the Word of God is living and active. It is “living” because it speaks directly to my experience now, even though some parts of the Bible date back 2500 years or more. It is “active” because it probes my heart. It may convict me of sin or encourage me. It may heal long-held hurts.
In the summer of 1988, the Lord was doing some deep restoration in my heart. Besides drawing me to spend a great deal of time in Eucharistic adoration, He led me to read and reread Isaiah 40-55. One of the issues He addressed was my lifelong sense of feeling insignificant – worse, a burden. The root was that as the 8th of 12 children, I could see that my parents struggle throughout our growing years to provide for us financially.
My parents would have been shocked to hear that I saw myself as a burden. Had I expressed the thought, they would have rushed to reassure me. But I didn’t.
My reasoning, as a child, ran as follows. There are 12 of us. If I weren’t around, wouldn’t it be easier to provide for the rest? Certainly my parents wouldn’t have had so many children, if they’d known the strain it would put on them. Or at least, I didn’t matter much. Out of so many children, I wouldn’t be missed.
I wasn’t in any way suicidal. But I felt that if I just weren’t there, it might make things easier for the family. To compensate, I tried to help my Mom out with her chores. I tried to be very well-behaved, get good grades, and not get into conflicts. I tried – figuratively – not to leave much of a carbon footprint.
I carried this into adult life. If I got up earlier than others, I’d try to be superquiet. I’d try hard not to bother or annoy other people by requiring too much attention. If I was in a group that was boisterous, I’d look nervously around to see if we were bothering others.
In a group conversation, I’d assume that what I had to say didn’t matter much. I remember the shock of the first time I spoke in a group in which they all became silent, looked at me, and waited for me to finish speaking. They actually appeared interested in what I had to say. They were listening. It was unnerving. I felt, “I’d better make this good, if all of these people are paying attention to me.”
Then that 1988 summer, God brought about a crucial healing through His living and active Word. In Isaiah 40-55, often referred to as the Book of Consolation, the Lord addresses the Jews who had been exiled to Babylon. After years of siege, the starving inhabitants of Jerusalem were captured by the enemy. The king and his sons were executed. Their glorious Temple was destroyed, as well as the city walls. The exiles had lost everything, and sometimes everyone, dear to them. They were absolutely desolate. Had God forgotten them? Did He know or care about their suffering?
As I read and reread the Isaiah passages, I fed and fed on those that told the exiles that they were precious and beloved to the Lord. Isaiah 43:1-7 spoke words of great comfort:
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.”
What God had said to Israel, I knew He was saying to me. “I am aware of your struggles, and they matter to me. I am with you, always. I will protect you and take care of you. You are not a burden. You are precious to me – honored – and I love you.”
Isaiah 49 spoke even more deeply to me. The chapter is too lengthy to quote in full here. But in it, Israel speaks in its own name about being called by the Lord even from its mother’s womb. The Lord promises, in image after image, that He has created Israel for a glorious, grace-filled purpose and mission. Verses 14-16 directly addressed my sense of being insignificant, a burden.
But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
I read that chapter over and over. Each time I drew new life and nourishment from it. The living and active truth of God’s word was hammering at the lie that I was not worth anyone’s time, attention, or love.
During one reading, I suddenly had an interior vision. God the Father was pacing back and forth in front of a large crowd. I was in the midst of the crowd, my head down. I was saying to myself, “He doesn’t see me. He will not notice me. He doesn’t know I’m here or that I even exist.” At that moment, He stopped and faced the crowd. He pointed to me and fixed me with His gaze. He spoke, clearly and forcefully.
I see you.
I know you.
I choose you.
I love you.”
It was overwhelming. I cried and cried. The lie was finally wiped out. The wound was healed. He saw me. He knew me. He chose me. He loved me. From all eternity. Always had, always would. I was not a burden. I made a difference. It was good that I existed. God had planned me for glorious things from all eternity. I would never be the same.
God has a healing, freeing, particular, empowering, glorious word to speak to every one of us. If you haven’t already, give Him the chance to do so. Open His word. Ponder it, chew on it, take it in. It won’t be the same word I needed – or need – to hear. It will be specific to you. Even if it were the same word, it would speak to you in your uniqueness. His word is living and active. It is one of the many ways through which He accomplishes in us “immeasurably more than we can ask or even imagine” (Eph 3:20).