If you were to survey 100 Catholics and ask them to summarize the central message of Christianity in a few phrases or sentences, you might hear 99 of them use the word “love” somewhere in their answer. If Catholic religious education in the past 50 years has made anything stick in our minds, it might just be the idea that God loves us. 

But does believing in a loving God really matter to us? Does it make a difference in our lives? 

At times I have struggled to know God’s love in a personal and meaningful way. It’s often easier for me to think of God’s love as a distant concept, rather than as an actual, loving relationship between persons. 

Sometimes—even subconsciously—I imagine God’s love more like that of a “rockstar” who says “I love all my fans,” without really knowing any of them. 

Or sometimes God’s love seems like a different kind of star: a flaming ball of gas constantly emitting heat and light (“love”) somewhere far, far away. It’s there, no question about it. I can even see it sometimes. But it always lies far off in the distance, and I can’t feel its heat on my face. 

Such a general, distant “love” isn’t much to write home about. 

Yet, in one of the most intense periods of suffering I have experienced, something clicked. Amid disorienting pain, when my self-understanding and faith in God were twisted, stretched, and (so I thought) almost shattered, I came to realize something simple and profound: our hearts can doubt what our heads are convinced is true. 

The realization opened me up to more discovery and freedom. 

With my intellect, I believed fully in God’s existence and in His care for me. 

But my heart wasn’t sure. 

With my powers of reason, I agreed with all the brilliant minds who have articulated the Catholic Faith with subtlety and grace. But my heart felt, and feared, the possibility that it could all be fake. 

With my mind, I could look at all the ways God had guided and provided for me over the years. But my heart needed a real, immediate assurance that my heavenly Father saw me, knew me, and cared for me. 

This need for reassurance affected my sense of self. In my head, I knew I offered something valuable to others. But my heart called this value into question, bringing debilitating pain. 

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” said Jesus (John 8:32). 

Indeed. But this type of “knowing” surely goes deeper than a cerebral “agreeing with.” It must, somehow, reach to the depths of our hearts. 

Once I started learning to let Jesus meet me, not just in my head-space of thoughts, reason, doctrines, and plans, but in my heart-space of longings, fears, hopes, doubts, and insecurities, 

I began to taste yet again—and even more deeply—the radical freedom of the children of God.

In my pain and suffering, I learned that I didn’t merely need some well-intentioned friend or mentor reminding me that I’m loved by God. I needed a fresh encounter with the One who loves me. What I had always known and believed in my head (and taken for granted, feeling tempted to write it off as a trite, obvious truth for children’s books) I needed to learn, to hear, to believe, to experience once again.

Few words carry the power and significance of “I love you.” To hear these words with the ears of our hearts, uttered from the God of the universe uniquely to each of us . . . Well, that is a grace of inestimable worth.

We cannot force this event to happen. We cannot demand that God speak in a certain way or timeframe. Nor should we grow discouraged or blame ourselves if we go for long stretches of time without this reassurance from God. But let us not be ashamed to admit that we long to know that God loves us and cares for every detail in our lives. Let’s pray and ask Him to teach us this truth again or for the first time in the depths of our hearts.