Sitting there in the wheelchair, he was beaming like a young person heading off to the first day of school. This “first day” was, however, the first day of the rest of his life. After a very long and challenging journey, this gentleman was heading home cancer free.
“You know, I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to get cancer but, man, I had no idea how much people love me! It’s like I died, went to my own funeral and listened to all these folks go on and on about how I touched their lives.”
It is both true and unfortunate that it often takes a major crisis in our lives to find out how much we are valued and loved by others. Time and time again I have walked pastorally with individuals who are overwhelmed by how much people love and care for them.
In the beginning of our sacred story in Genesis we learn two foundational truths: we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and God saw what God had made and it was good. We also quickly learn in our creation narrative both the vastness and uniqueness of what God creates. Hence, each and every one of us is uniquely created in the image of God, and God is pleased with what God has created.
The challenge is that while most of us are aware that the creation narrative is clear that we have been created in the image of God, many of us do not fully embrace this fundamental truth about ourselves. Rather than owning the unique image of God made manifest in ourselves, we either view ourselves as less than or unequal to the image of God we see in others.
At the very core of God’s design for all of creation is uniqueness. No two creatures are the same. Identical twins, bees, and snowflakes are all uniquely created. And God saw what God made and it was good! As such, one of the most important things we can do in our faith journey is to fully embrace how God has uniquely created us. This is the fullness of what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. To love the uniquely created image of God in the other as we love the uniquely created image of God in ourselves.
For over a decade, whether at a youth event, camp, confirmation, or school, I have had countless opportunities to be with young people. At every opportunity I have said it was absolutely critical that they fully embrace that each and every one of them was made uniquely in the image of God. My reasoning for being so emphatic about this is simple. The sooner in your journey you can embrace being the unique, beloved child of God that was created in you, the sooner you can love God, love neighbor, love self. And honestly, one of the things that makes me feel so blessed to have served in ECMN is that thousands of young people have not only heard this truth, but are clearly fully embracing it today.
Love God, love neighbor, love self—change the world.