By Steven Norris

     Why do some people find it so hard to receive compliments? I read about one study which revealed that “nearly 70% of people associated feelings of embarrassment or discomfort with recognition or receiving a compliment.”

     I thought of this when a 1983 rerun of the Tonight Show came across my social media feed this week. In it, Joan Rivers was sitting in for Johnny Carson and interviewed Fred Rogers, the host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Rivers asked Rogers about the fact that he writes most of the songs used on the show. In particular, she brought up the song, “It’s You, I Like,” asking, “Would you sing that for us?”

     Fred Rogers, in his classic, humble, disarmingly genuine self, says, “I’ll sing that to you.” Rogers leaned in, locked eyes with Rivers, and for 90 seconds sang directly to her soul, “It’s you, I like. It’s not the things you wear. It’s not the way you do your hair. But it’s you, I like.” At one point in the song, Rivers takes her green cardigan and pulls it up over her head to hide from the embarrassment that Rogers’ honesty had surfaced.

     Why is it that we run from our belovedness? When Jesus emerged from the waters of the Jordan River, the Spirit of God descended on him in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved. The one on whom my favor rests.” That same declaration is the inheritance available to us through Jesus — to be claimed as God’s “beloved.”

     Not long after that Tonight Show interview, the great spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen was asked by a journalist friend to write something about the spiritual life for those that had no real interest in formal religion. The result was a book entitled, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World.

     In it, Nouwen writes, “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection…Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”

     To see ourselves as the Beloved of God means that we are known fully as we really are — not the curated personas that we project online or the masks we wear in public. It means recognizing that God loves us just as we are, not as we should be (or could, if we would just try harder). It means recognizing that the love of God does not have strings attached or preconditions to meet before it can be experienced.

     Instead, we often listen to the voices saying, “Prove that you are worth something; do something relevant, spectacular, or powerful, and then you will earn the love you so desire.” The scandal of grace is that God’s love can never be earned, only received. Maybe that is what Joan Rivers was subconsciously hiding from and what she needed most to hear. Maybe the same is true of us as well.