The idea is so simple that it would be easy for it to become cliched or trivial: God loves you.

Notice the idea isn’t “God loves you IF...” The glorious truth is, in the words of one author, you have never looked into the eyes of a person who doesn’t matter to God. And that is true when you look into the eyes staring back at you through the mirror. Nobody is disqualified from being loved by God. Put simply, nobody has a right to tell you or me that we don’t belong. Every day, each one of us is loved by God, whether we feel that way or not.

One thing I like about the Jesus stories in the Bible is that there was no such thing as an outsider among the crowds who followed him. By welcoming all, Jesus erased the line between “insiders” and “outsiders.” Everyone who wanted to belong did belong. For Jesus there was no such category as “those people” – people upon whom one might look with disdain. When Jesus looked at people, he looked at them with compassion. When Jesus looks at you and me, he looks at us with that same compassion.

One day Jesus issued an invitation: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Those are hopeful words. To those of us who feel alone, shunned, or like an outcast, God says, “You are not alone; I am here with you.” Sometimes we carry a load of regret or, frankly, sin, and we are in need of redemption. God is a redeemer who gives us a future. Sometimes we are paralyzed by shame or secrets. God says, “I know you, and I love you. You are not shameful in my eyes. Come to me.” When we are imprisoned inside ourselves, wallowing in loathing and self-hatred, God says, “You are beautiful to me. I love you, my child.” When the pain inside feels too great for us, God comes and bears it with us. You and I are not alone.

For many of us, the hardest part of the journey of faith is trusting that we are loved. It’s simple to say that God loves us, but to really believe it -- to begin to absorb the truth of God’s love -- takes faith and trust. And that can take time. Nothing can change us more than understanding and trusting that God loves us, regardless of who we are or who we aren’t; regardless of where we’ve been or what we’ve done; regardless of what we carry inside of us. Learning to trust that love and to give ourselves to it is a powerful, hopeful, life-giving journey.

God’s love has the capacity to change us. Learning to trust that love is how we begin to absorb it, like a healing salve for our souls. I find that learning to trust God’s love is a lifelong process. And no matter how far we might think we’ve come, there’s so much more we can grow into, because God’s love is fathomless.

Jim Williams is pastor of the Gloucester Assembly of God. The Midweek Musings column rotates among Cape Ann clergy.