How does God feel when He looks at you?

“What do you miss the most about living in Tanzania?” a friend asked.

“Getting up when the sun goes up, living completely within a two-mile radius, knowing all my neighbors, and going to sleep when the sun goes down,” was my quick reply.

When I first returned from overseas, my answer would have focused on the people I missed or the projects I was passionate about. Now, it’s the pace of life that I long for the most. These days, I get up after the sun comes up, live between many continents, feel guilty about not knowing my neighbors better, and go to sleep long after the sun goes down. 

Recently, that longing for a simpler schedule and more grounded life led me to sign up for a silent retreat. I had a nagging feeling that I was missing something that God was desperately trying to tell me. At least, I hoped that was the case. And I hoped that some set-aside time in prayer would provide the answers to the swirling questions and competing priorities I was fighting against. 

Just as I was about to leave for the retreat, I had the sudden, overwhelming urge to dig through a box of books in the garage. What if there was something in one of those books that God wanted to teach me? What if one of them held the answer to living in America without losing my mind? God just might choose to speak to me through The Listening God by Miriam Pollard or He may choose to use Just This by Richard Rohr… or, well you never can tell with God, so I should probably give Him at least a dozen options. 

On the drive to the retreat, I looked at my bulging book bag and laughed. Then I looked again. It reminded me of something. The week before, I had gone on a business trip to meet colleagues from my new job for the first time. Usually a last-minute packer, I had been very proud of myself for packing the day before the trip. Yet, a few moments before I left for the airport, I had experienced a sudden, overwhelming urge to throw in just one more jacket, just one more shirt, just one more pair of shoes. My new colleagues might dress better than I did, so I should probably be prepared for any possible circumstance. 

During the first day of the retreat, I met with a spiritual director. She asked me why I was there, and I gave a pat answer about wanting to spend time with God. Then she asked a harder question:

“How do you think God feels when He looks at you?”

“Like He wants to spend more time with me” was my quick reply.

I couldn’t bring myself to say what I really thought: When God looks at me, He’s disappointed. 

Let me tell you from personal experience – thinking that God is disappointed with you leads to a lot of unhealthy responses. Either you work harder and harder to shift His opinion (like stockpiling books to make sure He has what He needs). Or you do everything possible to keep from disappointing others (like stockpiling clothes to prevent people from judging you). Or you project all that disappointment onto other people in your life (like stockpiling complaints against your husband because you blame him for making you return from the mission field… but that’s a story for another day… or maybe just one for my therapist). 

Believing that God looks on us with love is such a basic tenet of Christianity. It’s one of the first Sunday School lessons we hear. It’s one of the first things we tell people of other faiths. “God is love!” “Jesus loves you!” But even though we know this and even though the Bible tells us so, it’s easy to forget that we are loved. 

When I left the retreat, the spiritual director gave me an assignment: Ask God every day what He feels when He looks at you. After doing this for the past few weeks, I haven’t had any amazing “Aha” moments where God’s love filled my heart and made me sing. I haven’t had any visions or insights or learned any three-part plans to finally feel loved again. But what I have experienced is the growing realization that God is, in fact, looking at me. 

God sees me. God hears me. God knows me. 

That sounds a lot like love to me.

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Alyson Rockhold

Alyson Rockhold was a missionary in Tanzania, Haiti, and Zambia. Now she works in communications at Global Water Center. You can follow her on Instagram @alysonrockhold She and her husband live in Lafayette, CO.

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