In the Princess Diaries, Mia (Anne Hathaway) is a socially awkward high school girl who is kind of a major dork. Her hair is so frizzy that comb handles literally snap off in the snarls, she runs into trash cans on her scooter, and she routinely gets sat on at school. People find her so invisible that as they begin to sit down on a chair, they don’t even notice that she is already in it! Then Mia’s life changes one afternoon when she is invited to have tea with her mysterious grandmother from Europe. It turns out that Mia is the long-lost princess of Genovia and her country needs her to return home and rule. The high school dork must transform herself into a stately princess. Instead of just letting it go or building a snowman, she forces herself to learn all the appropriate princess behaviors: sitting up straight, combing her hair, wearing a crown with heels, and dancing like royalty. Everyone notices her. She goes from being invisible to being the star in everyone’s eye.
Soon however, Mia begins to realize that most of the love and affection she begins receiving is shallow. Now, people love her because she is a princess, not for who she is. But there was one person who has loved Mia from the very beginning: Michael. He’s a boy from Mia’s old high school and he’s had a crush on her from the very beginning – while she was still invisible, while she was still a total dork. At the end of the movie, Mia invites Michael to be her date at the royal ball and the two share a romantic, heartfelt, Disney choreographed kiss. Then Michael asks Mia, “Why me?” Afterall, he’s just a high school nerd and she is a princess. Why did she pick him when she could have had anyone she wanted? She is certainly not short of admirers now. And Mia replies, “Because you saw me when I was truly invisible.”
Mia understood something – true, deep, authentic, real love comes from seeing someone while they are “invisible”; in their least impressive state, and loving them still. Michael had loved Mia while she was still getting sat on in the school cafeteria, while comb handles were breaking off in her frizzy hair, while her only mode of transportation was an awkward scooter instead of a princess motorcade. That’s how she knew Michael’s love was real. Michael loved her regardless of whether she was an invisible dork or a princess.
Paul tells us in Romans 5 that “when we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” Many of us feel we must earn God’s love, or at least maintain a certain moral or spiritual level to keep from losing it. But Paul tells us that God loved us while we were helpless. Paul doesn’t say that God loved us when we came to our senses, or stopped making so many mistakes, or got our act together, or once we could actually bring something to the table. He doesn’t even say that God loved us once we started loving Him. In fact, he says just the opposite – our friendship with God was restored by the death of His Son while we were still his enemies (Rom. 5:10). Michael loved Mia when she was truly invisible. God loved us when we were His helpless enemies.
This is good news for all of us! It reassures those of us who have anxiety or fear of losing God’s love after we’ve made a mistake that we can’t lose it. God loved us way before that mistake, and He’ll love us way after it, too. Fortunately, that mistake was not a condition of God’s love and care for us.
Those of us who struggle with perfectionism can also find rest here. If God loved us as His helpless enemies, then no amount of perfection or spiritual discipline (or lack thereof) will change the overwhelming love God has for us. It can’t. Our pursuit of perfection had no bearing on God’s love for us before, and it never will.
I know that doesn’t sound right, but that’s who God is and that’s how God loves. John reinforces this idea when he tells us, “this is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:1). When we start to believe that God will only love us when are good enough, or when we pray enough, or are spiritual enough, or have overcome our character defects enough, we are actually cheapening God’s love. We see God’s love more like the paparazzi’s love for Mia – only interested in us when we are presentable and stately. We make His love out to be superficial and shallow when it isn’t. Love that loves only when it’s easy to love, isn’t really love, its superficial, just like Mia discovered. Michael had affection for her at all times, even when she was invisible to most people around her. Love that loves when we are invisible, when we are helpless, when we are objectionable, when we don’t have it all together, is real love – it is who God is and the kind of love He has for us.