The first thing I noticed was the blood. Blood on the kitchen floor, blood drops peppering the carpet, wadded up paper towels soaked in blood. I didn’t know where he was yet, but I knew he was hurt.
We have rules in our house about not playing with knives, and we’ve had to add other rules, such as not playing with razors, or saws, or axes, or drill blades, or anything else that a small boy could possibly find in Daddy’s garage that would be sharp enough to cut him. These rules have been in place in our family for a long time—since the first boy was old enough to push the first chair against the kitchen counter and pull a butcher knife out of the knife block. But just because we have these rules doesn’t mean they’re always followed.
I imagine that’s why the bleeding boy hid from me—because he knew his secret spear-carving had broken the rules. I suspect he tried to patch up his own cuts so that he might avoid having to admit that he’d disobeyed. But it wasn’t his disobedience that I was thinking about when I happened upon the bloody evidence. All I could think about was finding him and making sure he was OK.
Finding him didn’t turn out to be too terribly hard. After searching in his room, the basement, and the backyard, I eventually found him hiding at the edge of the woods near some blackberry bushes. I hurried over to his hunched little body and saw immediately that the wound was on his hand. He had tried to cover it up—a crisscross patchwork of about 12 adhesive bandages spread over his sliced-up palm. But the blood was still soaking through. He was hurt pretty badly.
“Sweetie!” I exclaimed as I led him into the house, “What are you doing out here? Why are you hiding from Mommy? Why didn’t you tell me you were hurt?” I asked him.
He hung his head in shame. “Because, Mommy,” he sheepishly admitted, “I just knew you’d be mad that I used Daddy’s big knife to make my stick into a spear. I didn’t know what you’d say. I was afraid you wouldn’t love me anymore.”
“Listen to me,” I ordered, bending down on one knee in the wet grass so I could look this guilty, fearful little boy straight in the eyes. “I don’t care what you’ve done wrong—when you’re hurt you come to me. Mommy is a safe place. Mommy will always help you if you’re hurt, honey. There’s nothing that will stop me from loving you—not when you’re naughty, not when you’re sneaky, not even when you make me very mad. You don’t run away from Mommy when you’re in trouble. You run to me. Understand?”
He nodded his head, the first signs of relief showing on his little face. “OK Mommy,” he agreed, “OK.” I took him inside and began to peel off his ill-placed bandages.
“Mommy?” he asked me, “You really mean that nothing would make you stop loving me? What if I did the baddest thing in the whole world? What if I killed somebody, and went to jail. Would you love me even then?” Big brown eyes waited earnestly for my response.
“Well, I would be really disappointed in you,” I admitted, “and probably angry that you made an awful choice and ruined your life. But no, I wouldn’t stop loving you.” Silently, I marvel at the absurdity, the sheer impossibility, of anything coming anywhere close to stopping my ocean-deep love for this child.
“Are you sure?” he needed to know.
“Son, you are mine!” I exclaimed. “There’s no love in all the world like a mommy’s love for her child. Someday, if you have your own kids, then you’ll understand what it’s like to love somebody no matter what.”
He nodded his head, then winced a little as I cleaned his cut, twisting his hand as I applied pressure to make the bleeding stop. But his questions weren’t over. “Mommy, does anything make Jesus stop loving us? Would He love me no matter what too?”
Good question, I thought. Thousands have wondered the same thing.
“Yes, sir.” I smiled. “That’s in the Bible, that He loves us no matter what. But you know something?” I asked him. “A lot of people are just like you! When they do something sneaky or naughty, instead of running to Jesus to tell Him all about it, they run away from Jesus and try to fix it on their own. They try to hide!”
“But that’s silly!” he laughed. “You can’t hide from God!”
“You’re right,” I admitted. “But often when people do bad things, they feel like God doesn’t love them anymore.”
“Maybe,” he thought out loud. “Maybe they need to have their own kids too!” We laughed together as a large new bandage went on his little hand. I felt grateful for the teaching moment. But inside I was thinking not of other bad people “out there” in the world. I was thinking of myself.
I don’t sneak knives out of the garage to whittle spears with, but I am pretty proficient at cutting up my own heart. I’ve been known to run and hide when I’m angry with God, when I’m doubting Him or feeling discouraged about Him. But when my soul is torn and bleeding, when all the “bandages” I paste on don’t come anywhere near healing my wounds, at that time, hiding is the worst choice I can make. When my life is falling apart, and especially when my relationship with God is threatened, it’s then that I most need to run to Him. It’s the times I’m in trouble that I need the assurance of God’s love the most. But that’s exactly when I, too, am the most likely to feel unworthy of His love.
The apostle Paul assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37–39).
That’s a nice verse, but in real life, it can be hard to digest. I can know in my head that God loves me and trust that a logical, rational reading of this verse proves that nothing stops His love. But sometimes on an emotional level I feel pretty unlovable. I feel afraid that my sins will keep me from God, and I’m unsure of whether His Holy Spirit can live in me when I’m making bad choices. I can conclude logically that nothing can separate me from His love yet still wonder whether my sins separate me from His love. Like my son, when I feel “bad” or “naughty,” I feel more like hiding from God than running to Him for His love and comfort. Maybe I feel like I need to earn His love, or at the very least “deserve” it. Or perhaps I assume that His love isn’t real unless I can feel it.
But this verse assures us that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not even our shame, our guilt, our doubt, or our instinct to run and hide. The Bible gives a pretty extensive list: our death can’t separate us from His love, because in death believers have the assurance of life eternal with Jesus one day. Our lives can’t separate us from His love, including all the things we might choose to do wrong over the course of the years. The present mistakes we make can’t stop His love, nor can the future mistakes we haven’t even thought about making.
And when this doesn’t make sense to me, I just think of my kids again—I don’t know what stupid mistakes they’re going to make with their lives in the future, but I know that I won’t stop loving them. After all, angels, demons, heights of joy, depths of depression, powers of evil, nor anything else in all of creation can separate us from the love of our God. That’s a profoundly unshakable love! No matter how I may feel about the idea, God’s love transcends my feelings and fears as the ultimate reality.
How might we all be living differently today if we could fully digest the fact that nothing can separate us from God’s love? When we feel truly loved and cherished exactly as we are, nothing is more validating and freeing. Rather than wanting to abuse that love, a person secure in love feels compelled instead to respond to it, to honor it, and to live for it.
Is your own heart bandaged and bleeding today? Have life’s edges been too sharp, too jagged? If so, don’t stay away from God until you’ve got it all figured out. Don’t hide until you’re good enough to earn His love. Seek Him, find Him, run to Him instead—because He’s waiting with the healing that only He can truly give: He’s waiting with loving arms that are unconditionally wide open.