Everything changes when we realize God loves us unconditionally! This realization is not easy for many of us to accept. We may have grown up in an environment in which we were rewarded with love when we did what our parents wanted us to do.
I am a second-generation Italian American. Both sets of grandparents emigrated from southern Italy sometime around 1910 and were married soon after arriving in this country. My mother was born in 1917 and my father in 1913.
Both were products of the Depression. You had to earn everything you got. My father taught me “pride of ownership.” If I worked hard and was successful, then I was a good person. When I was successful in life, the family would love me and give me a lot of recognition. Was that truly my reality as a child of God? It certainly felt like reality.
This family creed led me to be driven to success. I graduated cum laude from Loyola of Los Angeles and started a career in the healthcare industry. My parents had very little education and rewarded me with recognition for my success in college. I craved getting more “love” from them and having them proud of me.
I rapidly progressed up the ranks of corporate America and became Senior Vice President of a Fortune 25 company. I worked and worked and worked. I felt compelled to be successful and financially well off to receive love from those closest to me and from the world.
At 28 years of age, I had a spiritual conversion and started the journey of understanding—my reality wasn’t about being successful in the world but to be faithful in the eyes of God.
One of the representatives on my staff—I was a pharmaceutical district manager—showed up at a meeting in Bakersfield, California with a Holy Spirit pin. He was a worldly Catholic, kind of a “hell raiser.” I knew he went to church but didn’t really believe in Christ.
I said to him, “What’s with the pin? Catholics don’t wear Holy Spirit pins!” He told me that he had been “born again” and had given his life to Jesus!
That encounter impacted me greatly. It shook me to the core. I was very involved in our parish life. My wife and I taught religious education. We went to church regularly. But … if you were to follow me around, could I be convicted of being Christian?
I realized God was in my head, not in my heart. I prayed and God showed me that I didn’t truly believe in Him. I saw that my faith was cultural, with little impact on my actions at work or with my family. (This moment of self-awareness led me, later in my life, to establish Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry.)
I drove the 150 miles from Bakersfield to Irvine where I lived. By the time I arrived home, I had made a decision to give Jesus my heart.
I was alone in the house and in my bedroom. I will never forget it. Standing before my reflection in the mirrored closet doors, I looked deeply into my eyes and uttered a short fervent prayer: “Lord, I give you my heart, totally, completely and eternally. Use me in any way You want. I devote my life to You. I love You. Teach me to love You more.”
I learned later that opening my soul to the Lord is called a “fervent prayer,” one from the heart. The “good thief on the cross”-type of prayer. Fervent prayer can’t be faked. It will be tested, and God will honor the prayer if it is truly from the heart. I meant it on that important day in my life.
Suddenly, everything changed. I mean everything. Instantly. Incredible! I walked from the bedroom into the living room. There, sitting on a table, was a huge white book with pictures. It had never been opened. Do you know what that book was? During my talks, I ask audience members that question, and everyone gets it right: the Bible!
I was led to this holy book like a bee to honey. I opened it, and suddenly the Scripture came alive. The verses literally leapt off the page. Why hadn’t I heard this before? I had, but it was only head knowledge then, in one ear and out the other.
The first Scripture I opened to was in the Gospel of John.[John 3:16] “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.”
Wow! God so loved me that all I had to do was believe He was real, and God would be with me forever?
I then went to Paul’s letter to the Romans.[Romans 8:1] “Hence, now there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”
Wow again! I had felt condemned my whole life: not living up to expectations of my parents, wife, friends, boss, etc. I was constantly striving to be perfect, being a “people pleaser.” It was never enough! But, if God didn’t condemn me, why should I condemn myself?
I then read further in Romans:[Romans 8 14-17] “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you do not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, of God and joint heirs with Christ, if we only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
Wow! Wow! Wow! I am a child of God! So intimate with the Father that I can say “Daddy?” That I will be glorified with Him!
I continued to read more:[Romans 8:35, 38] “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
At this point, I was shaking. I began to pray fervently within me. I read further:[Romans 8:26-27] “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groaning. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”
As, I read this passage, my eyes were opened. I started praying in a strange tongue. I did not realize until later that I had received the gift of “tongues.” I was praying in the Spirit! I felt warm throughout my body, soul and spirit.
Next, I turned to the letter to the people of Ephesus:[Ephesians 1:3-5] “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption for himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.”
You must be kidding! I was holy? Without blemish? God’s adopted son? I have every spiritual blessing!
For the first time, in my heart, I understood God loved ME!!!! Unconditionally! I had a purpose: to tell others about Jesus! And that is exactly what I did. I couldn’t put down the Bible. Each day, I read the Bible for 8-10 hours. I shared my new faith, my new reality of understanding God’s love, with everyone I came across. My parents, brothers, family, friends, strangers, co-workers…everyone!
After a few months, my mother called me one day and said she urgently needed to see me. I drove from Irvine to Glendale, California, and sat down on her couch in the living room.
“Steven,” she said loudly and forcefully, “tell me the truth, you joined a cult! No one who is Catholic knows the Bible and talks about it all the time.”
I felt she was going to ask me next what flavor Kool-Aid I had drunk.
She didn’t believe I was living out my Catholic faith—my baptism to be Priest, Prophet and King. She instructed me to see the family priest, my cousin in San Diego.
Dutifully, my wife and I traveled to San Diego and were examined. My cousin the priest affirmed I was okay, but suggested that I read books on the saints as well as the Bible.
My friends, I learned that God loved me. No matter what I did or didn’t do. To this day, this realization gets me through trials and adversity.
I often ask people in my talks, “Does God love you more when you are good and not sinning?” Most people nod their heads and believe that is indeed the case: God loves us more when we don’t sin. Don’t fall into that trap! God loves us the same always and will love us always.
When we sin, we block God’s blessings and reject His love. That is the fundamental issue—not that God loves us less, but rather that we are not open to receive His love.
When experiencing a trial, if we meditate and pray even more to open up our hearts to receive His love, the problems and challenges of life melt away in the bountiful sea of His love. We begin to realize at our core—our heart and our soul—we are not alone. God is here. Protecting us. Loving us. Guiding us.
Rejoice! We are adopted sons and daughters of God and are loved unconditionally for all eternity!
Deacon Steve Greco speaks more about Receiving God’s Love and related topics in his 2018 book, Overcoming Adversity Through Miracles. Visit the Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry’s online store at www.spiritfilledhearts.org