Four-year-old Emily invited me to make the biggest castle in the world with her. Although skeptical of the stability of a building made of mulch, I undertook the construction project. Then, I played tag with her; it was basically a game of let’s-run-super-fast-until-we’re-laughing-too-hard. That was such a fun recess.

As the week progressed, I would smile at Emily as she came into breakfast, but never had the chance to talk to her again.

During the final hour of our time at the academy, the kids were in the cafeteria preparing to be dismissed. At one end of the 4-year-old table, a large group of children were laughing and playing. At the other end, Emily sat sobbing while watching them, making no effort to wipe the tears from her face.

I ran over and sat next to Emily. I rubbed her arm, asked her about her troubles and assured her that everything would be okay.

Before the trip, a prayer of mine had been to tangibly feel God’s love through me for another person. In that moment, I did. It is hard to describe what it felt like, but I had real compassion and an intense desire for Emily to know that she was loved.

I just continued to rub Emily’s back as her sobs slowed. A couple of minutes later, Emily was called by her teacher to go outside. Her parents had arrived to bring her home. She was still sniffling and shuffled to the door.

As she left, I began to cry. I felt such grief. She was leaving and she did not know that I loved her because God loved her. I barely knew her and may never see her again, and yet I want her to know her value so badly; I want to see her understand the love of Christ. I was overwhelmed with a surprising wave of emotion, a bittersweet pang of love.

I think that in that moment, God was teaching me about His love. Often, when I try to show people my love for them, it is partially selfishly motivated. I want them to appreciate ME appreciating them rather than just wanting them to feel appreciated. In that moment with Emily, my focus was not on myself; I was overcome with a longing for her to know her value. I know that this did not originate in me. The only way that this happened was God giving me His love for Emily.

I believe that this experience was just a taste of God’s love and the way that He feels for us. He was so pained by our separation from Him that Jesus came to die for us. He desires a relationship with us in which we can love and be loved. I know this deeper now.

I am being taught that to truly love someone else, I must share in Christ’s suffering. Wow, actually caring about people means that you hurt for their brokenness?! It is risky business. However, the infinite, beautiful Christ is the strength and love flowing through us. And there will always be recess.

-Julia Noonan

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