God pastes his picture on our hearts

Tom Murray

As you can tell from my previous columns, I have the beautiful book of 1st John on my mind these days. A story that illustrates what this brief book is about was first shared by author and minister, Max Lucado. It is a story that says a great deal about just how it is that God comes to us and embraces us with a love that is unconditional.

A young Brazilian girl named Christina wanted nothing more than to escape the poverty of the inner city slum that her family lived in. Her widowed mother Maria loved Christina with all of her heart. But her care and devotion weren’t enough to keep Christina satisfied with her life of poverty.

Christina wanted to see the world. She wanted to know what life was like away from the despair that filled her life. She often lay awake at night dreaming of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away and disappeared. It broke her mother’s heart.

Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young and beautiful daughter, Maria quickly packed to go look for her. But before she boarded the bus, she stopped to get one last thing. Pictures.

She sat in a photograph booth and spent all she could afford on pictures of herself. And then, with her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she caught the next bus to Rio de Janeiro.

Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money, and so she began her search in bars and nightclubs and hotels. She looked every place she could find that had a reputation for prostitutes. Maria left her picture taped on countless bathroom mirrors, hotel bulletin boards and phone booths. On the back of each photo she wrote a note.

Soon both her money and the pictures ran out and Maria had to go home. She wept as the bus began its drive back to her small village. A few weeks later Christina woke up in a seedy hotel room. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes were now filled with pain and fear. Her laughter was gone. Her dream had become a nightmare. She longed to trade the beds she was now sleeping in for the dirt floor of their shack. But her little village seemed too far away to even dream of returning.

And then she saw it, a familiar face taped up on a glass mirror next to the door. She had never seen a picture of her mother before because her family didn’t have the money to have pictures taken. She took the small photo in her hands and turned it over. Written on the back were these loving words, “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” And so she did.

The love that this mother had for her daughter is something that all of us can grasp and understand. All of us seek to love others, and even though we may not love them perfectly, we love those whose lives we share in so many ways that we can’t even begin to count them all.

1st John declares that if we love God, and believe that he has redeemed us by his love for us, we will also love his children. We will love our children and our neighbors, and even our enemies, as he has loved us. And when our loved ones wander from us and from God, we will stop at nothing to find them. When our neighbors are in need of help, we will do anything to see that they are cared for. When our enemies are searching for peace with us, we will reach out our hands in welcome.

Jesus proclaimed that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind, and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. God calls us to love him unconditionally and without hesitation. And then we are called to take that love and share it with those around us.

The story of that poor mother searching for her lost child is a story of rebirth and renewal. It is a story that plays out each day as God’s love is shared by God’s people. It is the story of Easter, told and retold in every generation.

That’s what God did for us so many centuries ago. He came into this seedy and corrupt world and pasted his picture on the darkest parts of our hearts. Then God waited for us to find him so that he could tell us that he loves us and that we are forgiven.

Each month a member of the Cook County Ministerium will offer Spiritual Reflections. For June, our contributor is Tom Murray of the Lutsen Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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