I’m the father of a son and daughter, and a step-father to a son and daughter. Each one is a gift of God.

I love all my children, but I don't love them all the same.

I don't mean that I love my son more than my daughter, or my step-daughter more than my step-son. I'm not speaking of a quantitative difference, as if love, like cups of sugar, can be weighed and measured. Rather, I love them all uniquely.

Each one is precisely that—unique, an individual. I love each child in a way befitting who they are, and the special relationship we share.

What one needs is not always what another needs. Just as there is a time for a compassionate love, so there is a time for tough love, as well as every manifestation of love in between. Imperfect as my love is, I strive to love fully, as well as uniquely, the children whom God has given to me.

Not Patriotism

We do not call God ''Father'' because he is like we are. We call men ''fathers'' because they are like God is. We are imitators, he the real thing. In imitation of our Father, we love our children, each uniquely, for that is how God loves us.

The love of the Father is not an impersonal disposition of goodness toward humanity, like patriotic men love their country. The breadth of divine love (''for God so loved the world'') must be paired with the particularity of his love (''the disciple whom Jesus loved'').

The father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, for example, loved both his sons. He loved the one who stayed and the one who strayed. But he loved each one differently, uniquely, in the way they needed to be loved.

The older brother thought erroneously that he and his younger brother were competing for their father's affections. He assumed that he deserved more of it. It seemed to him that his dad was playing favorites and giving away all his love to his brother. But the father reminded him that each child, while fully beloved, is loved differently. And even in that mild rebuke, the father was loving his oldest son toward a greater clarity of what love is and does.

Called by Name

For several years, I was convinced that God no longer loved me, because he was not doing for me what I thought a Father should do. Of course, what is that but an attitude common to selfish, immature children, who always think they know best? Had God loved me the way I thought he should have loved me, that would not have been true love. It would have been the projection of my own warped and confused ideas onto the perfect heart of God.

But the Father held me close through that time, too, though I refused to see it. He ever so gently and patiently loved me all the way to repentance. He knew me far better than I knew myself. Thus he opened his heart to me in the best possible way.

It was no generic announcement of divine generosity that called me out of the shadows. It was the voice of a Father who called me by name, and loved me as Chad, not David or John or Tom.

Whoever you are, your Father loves you differently than he loves other people. You are more than a grain of sand in the vast desert called humanity. You are a person in the truest kind of personal relationship, for you are in a relationship with your Father. He formed you in the womb, has plumbed the depths of your being, and is intimately acquainted with every minutiae of who you are.

You, as an individual, are what Jesus was thinking of on the cross.

Just as you are, he loves you. Fully and yet uniquely, he loves you as his child.

There will be times when you will doubt it. There will be days when you misunderstand his love. But one thing is certain: you will never escape it, for love is who God is, and therefore loving is what God does.

He is a one-of-a-kind God who loves the one-of-a-kind you.