Thursday, July 13, 2006

Letting God Look at You

I wrote a few days ago about letting God love you, and someone asked me to write more on the subject. So here we’ll look at a basic condition or disposition for letting God love you. Before you can let Him love you, you have to let Him look at you.

You might say that this goes without saying, but I think it should be said anyway. Sure, God sees everything, He sees in the dark, He perceives our inmost thoughts and feelings, knows our history and our hearts. But the fact that the Omniscient One can do all this is not enough. Here we’re still at the negative point of admitting that we cannot prevent God from seeing us as we are. We have to come to the positive point of willingly inviting his gaze, showing Him that which we are afraid or ashamed to show anyone else.

A wound must be exposed before it can be treated and healed. A secret must be shared in order to create intimacy. Your inner depths must be opened up to God if you are to experience the transforming tenderness of his love.

I wrote last October about an experience of Our Lady seeing through me, as it were, and my finding healing in that. It may be helpful to reproduce it in the present context: “Once when praying before an icon of the Mother of God—one in which her eyes were looking directly at me—I suddenly became aware that she herself actually was looking at me, or rather into me, as if a window to my soul had just opened. She could see—and I knew she could see, and I wanted her to see, and I let her see—all that was within me: the good, the bad, and the ugly of my whole life. It was not an entirely pleasant experience, for there were things I wished never were a part of my history but that had left their mark on me. For a while I felt exposed and ashamed, yet it wasn’t like a judgment but rather a moment of cleansing and healing. I realized since then that even though God is fully able to see within us, if we really want to be transformed within, we have to choose to let Him see, let Him come in. That’s when the real spiritual work begins.”

There’s an initial uneasiness or fear about exposing one’s inner self, even to God. But that step must be taken, with trust in the divine compassion. He already knows; He won’t be taken aback by your frank self-revelation. “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me; you know when I sit and when I rise; you discern my thoughts from afar… Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it altogether… your eyes have seen all my actions” (Psalm 138/139:1-4, 16). See, He knows, but even so, He is waiting for you to tell Him, to show Him, to let Him see.

This is part of what it means to surrender to God. Surrender doesn’t mean only a willingness to do his will; it also means a willingness to expose to Him your most intimate secrets, your nameless fears and unspeakable agonies, your hidden desires. Therefore letting God look at you really means giving your very self to Him, entrusting your fragile heart to his strong but gentle hands, taking the leap of faith, of trust—because deep down you know that hidden wounds will never heal.

After overcoming that initial fear or shame—at least enough to take the leap of self-disclosure—there is an immense relief. The secret is shared, the soul is revealed, God is still there and, if it were possible, now He loves you even more. This brings peace and a further willingness to go on living in his grace and care—no longer running, no longer hiding in the dark corridors of anticipated rejection. He knocked and you opened, and He came in to share a quiet moment with you (see Revelation 3:20). And you discover at last that all manner of things shall be well.

This first surrender is probably the most dramatic, certainly the most necessary. But there will be more to come. No one can open the labyrinth of his entire life in an instant. There will still be long walks with the Lord through the winding passages of your soul. But it’s a lot easier now, and trust grows every day. You’ve found a Friend with whom you can share everything, with whom you have found forgiveness and understanding. He will still instruct and even admonish you, but now that He has won your heart and your trust, even a reproach will sound sweet, for you know that it is one more way of purifying and perfecting you, so as to enhance your mutual joy, in this age and in the age to come.

So, if you haven’t yet chosen to let Him look at you, I think that now is the time. You’ve nothing to lose—except fear and shame and the solitude of despair—and everything to gain. To let God look at you is to begin to let Him love you. It is significant that in St Paul’s profound ode to love in First Corinthinans 13, he approaches his conclusion saying: “I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”