Tony didn’t have any friends.
At eight years old, he didn’t know what it was like to play soccer or climb trees. In fact, he didn’t know how to relate to other kids at all. Except with his fists.
Tony was born with a hernia on his genitals that caused severe deformation. His parents couldn’t afford to dress him, so he ran around naked in the Ugandan village where he lives. Kids teased and bullied him for his deformity. He learned how to fight, because his peers didn’t want to play.
Tony was convinced he was unlovable, that something was fundamentally wrong with him and that he would never experience the love from his parents or peers that he so deeply desired.
Tony didn’t know it, but God saw and loved him right there, as he was. No one had ever told him that. But even if they had, what good is the love of an invisible, intangible being when all an eight-year-old kid wants is a hug?
When staff members of Kibo Group (a development nonprofit that works in southeastern Uganda) saw Tony, they didn’t say, “Don’t worry about the bullies, because God loves you.” Instead, they saw that God had placed them there to be the hands of Jesus and to show the love of God.
Tony couldn’t feel the hug of God without feeling the hug of God’s people.
So the Kibo staff gathered together their personal funds to get him to the nearest town, Jinja, so he could get the medical treatment that his parents couldn’t afford.
In Jinja, Tony received the kind of love he had never before experienced. The Kibo staff gave Tony three meals a day. He watched TV for the first time. Everyone greeted him when he walked into a room. He dressed in new, clean clothes to prevent infection after the surgery. He played with his peers in Sunday school. He went back to his home village a hero, with a quickly healing wound and lots of stories to share with the kids that would soon become his friends.
At one time or another, we are all Tony-with-a-hernia. Something that has happened or something we have done leads us to believe we are unlovable.
In those moments, you are loved. Even if no one tells you that, even if you can’t see it for yourself, even if you don’t feel that it’s true, the truth is that you are loved with the unimaginable, inexpressible love of the eternal God. My prayer in those moments is that someone tells you that God loves you and shows it.
This, after all, is what Jesus meant when he said:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:34-40, NIV)
The second greatest commandment isn’t to tell people about your love for God or even God’s love for others. The second greatest commandment is to be the love of God to others. In other words, the natural manifestation of love for God is showing the love of God to one’s neighbor.
So this is my second prayer: In the moments when you are Tony-after-surgery, I pray you will be the person who sees when someone needs the love of God and doesn’t just tell them about God’s love, but shows them what God’s love looks like.