When I first taught my young sons Jesus Loves Me, I modified the words. “Jesus loves us,” I sang, “this we know.”
I think some of this was pragmatic: the grammar stickler in me wanted the pronoun to be plural if the singers were, in fact, plural.
But part of it was my theology. I was kind of pleased with my version, as though I was giving the cold shoulder to modern Christianity and its individualistic thinking. It’s not all about me, I probably thought to myself. And I don’t want my kids to think it’s all about them.
It’s like that old evangelism technique that goes: if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would die for you. I don’t know why, but this always used to make my head explode. Maybe it’s because I’m an American, from the country where everything is all about me. Or maybe it was a pendulum swing against the evangelicalism that ignores the corporate identity of the church in favor of my personal Christianity. Or maybe it’s because I swim in constant marketing that tells me I am the only person on Earth.
Or maybe it’s because the directness of Jesus’ love is uncomfortable.
Hiding behind the words Jesus loves us reveals my inability to receive his love. The truth is that Jesus does love me. Me, all by myself. Standing there vulnerable and alone. Me, who knows what I’ve done or thought about doing. Who knows how un-lovable I am. Me, if I was the last person on earth. He really does.
And Jesus does love you. You, all by yourself. Standing there vulnerable and alone. You, who know what you’ve done or thought about doing. You, who know how unlovable you are. You, if you were the last person on earth.
That kind of piercing, knowing love can make us squirm. We are naked and we want to cover up. To joke or push it aside. To jump in a group where we can breathe a sigh of relief and shove aside the compulsion to respond to His love.
It’s a self-awareness my children don’t have. Several months ago, I taught them the original words, and they sing it with gusto. “Jesus Loves Me,” they shout, dancing around the living room. Sometimes we insert their names. “Yes, Jesus loves Elijah,” we’ll sing when it’s his turn, and he beams.
I learn from my children. They don’t have to parse childlike faith. They breathe it. So join us. Dance around your living room if you’ll let yourself. Let’s sing it together: Jesus loves me, this I know.