taking the words of Jesus seriously

I was shuffling forward in the communion line, with my five year old granddaughter Lucy in my arms. I was lost in gloomy thoughts, brooding on my past and on my doubts, failures, and my past meanness to my wife Genie (we’ve been married 44 years) when I was young, stupid and so woefully controlling as a teen “father.” I was feeling that going to church was a waste of time. I was feeling unworthy in every sense of the word and sinking into a gray depression.

Lucy is always in and out of my arms in church as she has been since she was born. So I’d actually forgotten I was holding her. (These days I hardly know how to be in church without a grandchild riding on my hip.) With my head bowed and my eyes closed I shuffled forward to the chalice to receive the “body and blood” through a ritual I don’t comprehend and that seemed entirely pointless that day. I was adrift in my melancholy. Then I felt the touch of Lucy’s hand on my face and—startled—opened my eyes.

It took me a moment to remember where I was. Lucy was gazing into my face. She wasn’t smiling, just gazing at me in that straightforward way that only a child achieves: with serious concentration and offering me a transparent “look” that had no agenda. She wanted nothing from me. All I saw in Lucy’s expression was unconditional trust. All I saw was a child who knows me now and who never expects anything but kindness from me. She did not know of my past sins, failings and bitter self-accusing regrets. Lucy was not judging me. I was accusing myself while she was just gently touching her grandfather’s cheek, checking to see why my eyes were closed.

Lucy inclined her head and kissed me. This thought crashed into my brain: I am being seen as I’d like to be perceived, not as I see myself. I have seen the face of God.

Our best hope is not found in correct theology, but in the love we express through action rather than words. Our best hope is that love predates creation and thus that the Creator sees us as ever young. Our hope is that when we look at God through the eyes of the loving Christ we will see who God really is. Our ultimate hope is that God will be looking back at us as we’d like to be seen.

**This article is an excerpt from Frank Schaeffer’s new book  WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD How to Create Beauty, Give Love and Find Peace to be published June 1

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