Tag Archives: God’s love

hands

On Love & Control in Relationships

One thing I have been thinking about a lot this past summer is love, relationships, and control.

I did a series in July on past relationships with guys, and how painful it’s been for me. How manipulated, controlled, and violated I felt many times as I desperately tried to gain a boy’s love. I didn’t know what love was, and so I let guys walk all over me. I’d change everything for a guy if I thought that’d make him stay. I was attracted to abuse, and I mistook it for love. I have never, ever once felt that a guy loved me. He only wanted to control me.

This month, Boze Herrington took over my blog and wrote about being in an oppressive cult environment where everything was becoming increasingly controlled. Where the concept of the love of God became twisted to control a whole group of people. Where God’s love was withdrawn when people did not follow the leader’s every command.

I think it’s really hit me this summer.

Love is not about control.

It’s not about making someone look, act, think, or feel exactly like you do.

It’s not about making someone cater to your every whim or fancy.

It’s not about manipulation or force –even when it’s masked as something “spiritual.”

Love is about seeing the person as a person, about encouraging them to be all they can be, and about helping them face their brokenness with courage.

Love is about walking alongside another and giving them all the resources they need to blossom into who God has made them to be.

An artist.

A scholar.

A writer.

An engineer.

A doctor.

A mother.

A husband.

It can mean so many different things to so many different people.

Yet unlove comes when we force people to conform to our version of what we think they should be. It’s when we say, “Everyone must be a missionary and preach on corners. That is the holiest way to follow God.” Or, “Everyone better be really outgoing. God hates quiet people.” Or, “I don’t like that you drink sometimes, you’re sinning.” Or, “If you really loved me, you’d sleep with me.” Or any other thing someone can say to control your behavior.

This is so unlike God it makes me angry just thinking about it.

God loves each and every person–each and every broken, flawed individual in this world. He calls to each one lovingly, tenderly: “Come back to me. I love you, no matter how messed up you might feel. No matter how broken. No matter how confused. I can handle your darkness, your questions, your pain. Come to me.”

And yet, here’s the tricky part. Because God loves, He does call us out of brokenness. He calls us to wholeness, to holiness. He does tell us thing we should and shouldn’t do. And this can be a hard, hard battle. But God loves us too much to let us stay in the mire of our darkness. He calls us higher, He calls us to freedom. And He walks alongside us no matter how many times we stumble.

It’s a choice. The choice to embrace love, the choice to heal, the choice to find freedom in God…

The beautiful thing about God is that He never, ever forced us to love Him. He gave us a choice. That’s the beauty of true Christianity. A God who gave humans the chance to choose to love. To have free will. To respond to His love.

And yes, God’s love can draw us toward Him. God’s Spirit can speak and direct us. But God never forces us. He brings circumstances into our lives that direct us. Yet we can choose to follow Him or not.

How hard is this for God? The all-powerful God of the universe lets us have free will. He lets us choose to love Him. He lets us choose to reject Him. He beckons to us all, He died to save us, but He will never make us love Him.

Love is not love if it’s forced.

I’ve been in love. I’ve loved deeply. And my love has been rejected. I know what it’s like to reel from the pain of rejection. But let’s be honest–if the person I loved had been forced to love me back, wouldn’t it have been empty? If I could’ve made him love me, wouldn’t it have been cheap love? False love?

Real love is a choice.

And God wants us to choose. To choose Him.

It’s a dance. He asks, and we must respond. His Spirit leads, but we must follow. It’s give-and-take. And it’s the most beautiful dance we could could ever embark on.

But it’s not about control.

flower

Sunday Refreshment – God is Here (Romans 8:1)

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

[Romans 8:1]

flower

Sometimes, I wonder.

Sometimes, I wrestle.

Sometimes, I’m sad.

Sometimes, I’m angry.

And then, I’m ashamed.

Because good Christians aren’t supposed to be angry or sad or confused.

“God, where are You?” I ask.

And He says, “Right here. I’m right here even in this.

When you wrestle,

when you cry,

when you scream…

I don’t condemn.

I am here.”

No condemnation. Some Christians are afraid to approach God. I mean, to really approach Him. To tell Him exactly what they’re feeling and thinking. They are afraid He’ll leave, or afraid He’ll condemn. They are ashamed that they aren’t perfect, that they struggle. So they run. They run from God when they most need Him. In pain and grief and sin and mistakes…they hide, just as Adam and Eve hid, covering their shame.

They won’t be real with God, and so they never will accept His love in their life. They won’t let Him into the darkness of their hidden pains and issues, and so they never, ever experience His grace and love.

It’s better to scream at God than to shut Him out.

It’s better to wrestle than to ignore.

It’s better to be a mess in front of Him than a Pharisee who pretends.

Because in order to heal, in order to know God, you have to engage. It’s a relationship. A relationship that will define your entire existence.

Be real. Cast all you burdens on Him. Show Him the dark, broken sides of your heart.

God doesn’t condemn. He knows the depths of depravity that is mankind. Nothing surprises Him. He won’t run. He will walk alongside you and bring you healing. If only you will let Him in!

“Come here,” He says. “And let Me love you.”

You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be put together. You can be broken and messy and scared.

But all you have to do is come. To be willing to come and let God near. He will heal and cleanse and grow you. He will change and deepen and refine you. Yes, He will even discipline and train and instruct you. But He will NOT condemn you.

He is not far off.

He is here.

birchlandscape

A Memorial To My Dear Kindred Spirit

Today at 1:00pm was the funeral of my dear kindred spirit. Her family asked me to speak at the funeral about her. I was so honored they asked, and although it was really hard, I did it. But this is what I said (it’s slightly edited for a little more clarity). I’m sharing it with you because she was a person who greatly impacted people (and because I know people read this blog who knew her). The circumstances were tragic, but her life was worthy of celebration. This is my moment of thanksgiving in this hard time.

A Memorial To My Dear Kindred Spirit

Rebecca* was—and still is—scintillating.
(A large word, a word only for her, since she enjoyed the English language so much.)
She radiated the fullness of life and love.
Her ocean blue eyes shone with wit and intelligence.
She communicated with concise beauty
(oh, to be half the writer she was someday)!

We became kindred spirits slowly, as kindred spirits often do. Shyly, we figured out we had a lot in common.  I really got to know her at her house, when all of us friends who were the same age came over for homeschool chemistry classes.

I thought she was amazing.
(We all thought she was amazing.)
She was older than us. A senior.
(In high school, older people don’t associate
with younger people.
It’s not cool.)
Rebecca didn’t care about being cool.
She just cared.
She loved all us younger girls.
She challenged us to think and be true to ourselves and to love God with imagination and intelligence.

With Rebecca, we had pillow fights. Yes, dignified Rebecca could throw a pillow!  She was a fierce warrior, her eyes alight with battle as she giggled like a small child.

We stayed up all night for the first time in our lives. We were so proud of ourselves, and yet so delirious. Rebecca got to the point where she was having black-and-white visions of being in a classroom with a teacher.

We enjoyed the numerous campouts our homeschool group went on. Strolling along wooded paths, laughing in our cabins or around campfires.

We also laughed over young love. Can everyone remember the countless hours she patiently listened to the various lovebirds pouring their hearts out to her about their loved ones?

We talked about theology and philosophy and life. I still remember sitting and talking for hours! Hours about deep things, things that sharpened my faith and my perception of the world.

Rebecca also had an imagination. She loved Lord of the Rings, fairy tales, good stories, and nature. She had a bit of the mystic in her—something which drove her to travel to Scotland and roam the moors like a sprite.

She and I even danced in a fairy ring once. Joined hands and spun around in a ring of mushrooms under the moonlight.

She was made of different stuff than many. A unique and lovely creature. She was true to herself and to God. And it shone in everything she did. There were times I walked into her home and was blown away with the light of her countenance. It was that inner beauty. It reminds me of Psalm 34:5: “They looked to Him and were radiant, and they will never be ashamed.” She was the first person who showed me that verse. It became one of the theme verses for my life. And it so aptly describes her.

I never thought I had to pretend around her (or that group),
as I felt I had to most of the time with others.
I could be my wild, winsome self,
and she didn’t care.
I could be my thoughtful, strange self
and she didn’t judge.

Rebecca accepted me,
and in that acceptance,
she showed me God’s love.

That is the only reason I am a Christian today.
Because Becca (and our group) showed me Love.
God’s Love.
It changed my life.
It helped me begin to heal.
It gave me hope.

That was Rebecca. Someone who loved. Someone who healed through love.

Becca saw people and loved them through things. Let us remember who she was, despite the times that came after.

Rebecca reflected God’s eyes of love.

And that is how God sees us all as Christians.

He sees us for who we really are—sanctified and purified by the blood of Christ—despite our mistakes, our pains, and our failures. God sees us and loves us. All He wants is for us to embrace that love, to not walk in hiddenness and shame. Although Rebecca lost herself in the last years, the essence of who she was could never be lost in the eyes of God. God loved her and called to her through everything. She was surrounded by Love. We are surrounded by a Love that will never let us go, even in death.

Rebecca is gone, but she is held. Rebecca is gone, but not separated from that Love. She is alive in Christ. She is sitting at the feet of Jesus, and whatever turmoil she thought she couldn’t face is gone. Whatever pains she felt are gone. The love of God fills her to all the fullness of Christ.

We miss you so much, Rebecca. But we rejoice now that you are in the Love that you so beautifully demonstrated to us in your life.

*Names changed for privacy. The picture is a birch because that was her favorite tree.

swing

Sunday Refreshment – A Simple Childhood Song

Sometimes, you just need to be reminded of a very important truth by the simplest of ways.

For example…This week, I was reminded of a song. A very simple song.

“Jesus Loves Me.”

I sang it a lot as a child in my falsetto voice (I had such a high voice when I was younger! It’s hilarious to listen to recordings of me). In Sunday School we heard it countless times. My mom sang it to me when I was afraid at night. I sang it to myself. It was such a part of my childhood. And then…I promptly forgot about it because I got too cool for children’s songs.

Only to have it come up today. I researched this song today. I found out that it was originally written in a novel called Say and Seal. I found out that there are more stanzas than I knew existed (written by different people). And yet, in this simple song is so much pure truth.

As an adult, I tend to forget. Life becomes so complicated and twisted. I get caught up in the cycle of rejection, of failed relationships, of confusion, of legalism, of perfectionism–of trying so hard to do life “right.” Only to forget that the most important One in the entire universe has never left. He has never abandoned me. Nothing, nothing, nothing can separate me from the love of Christ. Not death, not life, not angels or demons, not anything happening in the present, not anything that is going to happen in the future (Romans 8:37-39). Jesus loves me. It’s that simple.

How I struggle with this! Why is it the hardest thing to believe and apply to my life? Sometimes, I think I need to be like a child again–to lean on God with none of my adult distrust and cynicism, to sing a song to myself and simply believe that truth without over analyzing everything.

Read through this song. Sing it out loud if you need to. Let this simple childhood song remind you of the undeniable fact: Jesus loves you.

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.

Chorus:
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! This I know,
As He loved so long ago,
Taking children on His knee,
Saying, “Let them come to Me.”
Chorus

Jesus loves me when I’m good,
When I do the things I should,
Jesus loves me when I’m bad,
Though it makes Him very sad.
Chorus

Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way,
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live.
Chorus

Jesus loves me! He who died
Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let His little child come in.
Chorus

Jesus loves me! Loves me still
Tho’ I’m very weak and ill;
That I might from sin be free
Bled and died upon the tree.
Chorus

Jesus loves me! He will stay
Close beside me all the way;
Thou hast bled and died for me,
I will henceforth live for Thee.
Chorus

Jesus loves me! Loves me still
Though I’m very weak and ill;
From his shining throne on high
Comes to watch me where I lie.
Chorus

Jesus loves me! He will stay
Close beside me all the way;
If I love him, when I die
He will take me home on high.
Chorus

Jesus loves me! See His grace!
On the cross He took my place.
There He suffered and He died,
That I might be glorified.
Chorus

Jesus loves me! God’s own Son
Over sin the vict’ry won.
When I die, saved by His grace,

I shall see Him face to face.
Chorus

Jesus loves me! He is near.
He is with His Church so dear.
And the Spirit He has sent
By His Word and Sacrament.
Chorus

Loved (2)

Loved

My senior year at college is rough. Really rough.

I’m confronting  a lot of pain on deeper levels than I’ve had to before. I’m a wreck inside. I feel so broken. And I feel very, very alone in it. There is only one friend at college who truly knows what’s going on. One friend who prays with me and cries with me. No one else knows. I hide a lot of my pain that year because I feel so, so broken.

It gets worse. So the last half of my senior year at college, I try to shut off all feeling. If I don’t feel, I can’t hurt. I can’t care. I can’t be wounded again. That is my mentality. So my emotions are in this deadened, zombie-like state. I seriously feel dead inside. My smiles, my laughs aren’t genuine (not that anyone knows).  Still, the numbness is better than crying. It’s better than hurting. It’s better than being rejected by friends and people who think you are just too much to handle.

Feeling nothing is better.

Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceptive above all things. The heart will do anything it can to protect itself. Once it’s wounded, there are so many things the heart will do to try and not be wounded again. Such as shut down.

My heart puts up huge walls. The blood of the soul stops pumping.

This is the year I can’t love. I seriously can’t have that deep, genuine care for people I had once possessed. I can’t trust anyone anymore. I can’t let people in. My heart is terrified because of the wounds. It’s awful. It’s like fighting every minute of every day to beat down walls of stone with my weak, bleeding fists.

It’s too exhausting, and I finally give up.

* * *

Yet God doesn’t give up on me. He can’t leave me there, wallowing in isolation and despair. He can’t leave me deadened and frozen, trapped inside suffocating walls.

So He does what any God would do. He puts me in a Drama In Ministry class. I have to take it for credit. It’s the only class that fits in my schedule. It’s pass the class, or not graduate.

This class isn’t your normal drama class. The professor is teaching us a certain type of acting technique called “repetition.” This was where you practice feeling. You have to sit down, imagine a scenario, and make yourself feel joy, sadness, fear, pain.

Sounds weird, I know. But it is terrifying to me. I literally walk into class every day with my heart pounding. The whole class is about vulnerability and honesty. Acting with true emotions (in an imaginative environment). We have to perform these exercises in front of the classroom where we walk into the room feeling things.

I don’t want to feel. And I certainly don’t want to feel things in front of people. To show them me feeling joy, sadness, pain.

But every week, God keeps making me go to this class. My heart shuts down and doesn’t want to feel. I have to go to a class where in order to get a good grade, I have to feel. And being my good-grade-obsessed self, I can’t NOT try to get a good grade. Oh, the irony of the situation makes me laugh. God is so funny like that. He always gets us right where we need it, if only we’ll see it.

* * *

                Fast forward to Spring Break. Our drama professor informs us that our final consists of two projects. Project One: we must act a portion of a play using the techniques she’s taught. Project Two:  we must confront something we struggle with in our lives onstage. Be vulnerable with everyone watching, and deal with something artistically on stage.

I start freaking out. What does this mean? I can’t feel onstage. It was bad enough in class, but I’d started to get used to it. But now, I have to confront something in my life onstage? God is so mean. I don’t understand what He wants from me.

But I’m type A. I like good grades. I love my professor, I want to please her. So I must do what she says. I start praying, God what should I do? What should I do? I pray all during Spring Break.

One morning while praying, God gives me a visual in my head. And I know I have the idea. You see, my main problem is identity. It’s been a huge struggle my entire life. I let people tell me who I am, I let people push me around and label me certain ways. And I’m messed up because of it. I have to confront those lies people have told me onstage. Confront my own identity issues. It’s terrifying to me. But I know it’s what I must do.

So the rest of the semester, I work on my project. The project of confronting something about myself on stage. The project of confronting my messed up Identity.

* * *

                I’m sitting backstage, my head between my knees on the floor. Three months of agonizing have passed. I broke down just last week in chapel and cried because I so terrified of coming to this moment. The moment I must be vulnerable. I’m pleading with God, Why, why are You making me do this? Oh Lord, please be with me. I’m shaking.

As I stand, I have unspeakable and unshakeable peace like a wave of water. A calm settles in my spirit. God is with me, and I sense His presence in a more tangible way than I ever have. I walk onto stage.

Lights are dimmed. I take my place on stage.

Lights go up.

I’m standing in the middle of the stage with six pieces of large white paper on the floor in a circle around me. They are blank.

Behind me on a raised portion of the stage, a man is painting with an easel. The audience can’t see what the Painter is doing on the easel. He silently works.

I am below him. I pay no heed to him.

Standing in the middle of the circle of papers,I begin to speak:

We begin this life as children

in more ways than one.

Blank sheets of white paper–

not pure, but innocent.

Our pages are our own.

We are naïve, detached from the consequences.

But all of us need an identity.

We must know who we are.

For to be human is to long for Words.

Words for us.

That define us.

And so we freely offer ourselves to the world,

in hopes that this will make our existence meaningful.

With this, I beckon to the audience. Six people come forward and surround me and write one word on each piece of paper in big, sprawling letters.

Forgotten,

Worthless,

Boring,

Ugly,

Broken

Unloveable.

I look at them painfully. They leave the stage. I cry out:

I am what they say I am.

This is who I am!

This is me!

Frantically, I begin to scrawl these words onto my arms with black chalk. I start repeating the words out loud over and over, more and more frantically.

Forgotten, Worthless, Boring, Ugly, Broken, Unloveable

Forgotten, Worthless, Boring, Ugly, Broken, Unloveable

Forgotten, Worthless, Boring, Ugly, Broken, Unloveable

I start to try and wipe the chalk that is now staining me all up and down my arms. But all it does is smear all over my skin, making a mess. I can’t get the words off. I continue to repeat the words over and over. Memories of the past wash over me. I crumple to the ground, sobbing.

Then I notice the Painter. He’s been quietly painting this whole time above me. I run up to him.

You! I scream.

Don’t you see what’s happening?

Don’t you even care?

Tell me what’s wrong with me!

This is who I am.

Why am I this way?

And the Painter just looks at me. And he silently turns around his painting so that I and the audience can see it. A backdrop of swirling gold and purple paint reveals the striking cursive of one milky-white word.

Loved.

“Loved?” I repeat as I stare at the white letters. “I am loved?”

He gets up, takes my arms, and washes the black chalk from my arms with a rag. He takes a red piece of chalk and writes “Loved” on both my arms to replace the other words.

I am still speechless.

He draws me back to the words on the ground, although I resist him. And he turns each word over so that it cannot be seen anymore. There, on the back of each piece of paper, a letter is revealed: L…O…V…E…D.

Loved.

He walks off stage. And I sit down, lingering in the moment. Peace and happiness wash over my face.

The lights dim. I walk off stage in a daze. I don’t even know what happened or how I got through it. Yet somehow, I know God was there, working. All semester, He took over my shattered heart and created something beautiful through it.

That evening, I experience God’s great and awesome love for me. That evening, I am vulnerable. I face the fear of feeling. I face the fear of being vulnerable in tears, in memories. In showing the world I am not strong, but weak.

Yet God loves me.

* * *

           I am loved.

My entire senior year, God proves His faithfulness to me, even when I want to shut off feeling and even when I feel so alone and broken. He proves His undying love to me by making me take a stupid drama course that shows me beauty can come from pain, strength can rise out of weakness. That He uses art and drama and emotions and heartache and laughter in this great, beautiful mess of life. And over it all, painted in white, is the word: Loved.

The man who graciously plays the Painter in my project actually painted the “Loved” painting*. He’s very talented, and it’s a beautiful work. He gives it to me after the end of that finals night. “It’s for you,” he says. I’m speechless. Yes, it might mean little to him, but to me it’s the most beautiful thing in the world because of what it means to me.

I take that painting, and I cherish it. I hang it up in my apartment in Chicago after I graduate. Every morning as I do my quiet times, I sit underneath it. When I cry in confusion and pain (and I do several times), I look up at that painting. When I feel sick with health problems, I look up at the painting. When I write the majority of the Identity Renewed posts on this blog, I see the painting.

As I struggle to pay bills and wonder what God is doing as I apply for job after job and get no response, I see the painting. When my roommates and I laugh and watch silly 80s re-runs of horrifically written shows, we sit under the painting. When we have people over and play games and make pizza, we talk over the painting. When I move and get a job in Colorado, when everything changes…the painting makes its way across the country to meet me in a new place. A new place,  a new life, but the truth can never leave. It’s as old as time itself.

There it hangs.

Loved.

I am loved.

We are loved.

Let’s shout it again. Loved! Do you understand it? Do you believe it?

He loves. And His love covers all other identity I might have, other words people have used for me. I am His, and he is Mine. And His banner over me is “Loved.”

*painting credits: Paul Crouse, 2011

heartinsand

Heartbroken: Identity in Messed Up Relationships

heartinsand

And they lived happily ever after.

 If you were like me, your childhood was filled with stories that ended with this happy refrain. Whether you watched lots of Disney movies or read fairy tales, and epitome of happiness seemed to be…in a relationship. In falling in love with that special guy or girl, depending on your gender.

Oftentimes, though…once you grow up, thing seem to get messier. We begin to find that friendships and relationships with the opposite sex are complicated, confusing. With the passion of youth, and the lies of the media, ringing in our ears, we put our identity, our worth, in him or her. Because by doing so, life truly can be an Ever After.

But what is love? And what if you love someone who doesn’t love you? And where does God fit into all of this? These are the questions I will wrestle with in this post.

Note: This story I am about to tell you has defined so much of who I am today. I’ve struggled with how much I should divulge, and have tried to keep it as short as possible. Yet this might be one of the longer posts you read.

***

            My junior year was a year of relatively peaceful “spiritual weather” in which God spoke gently. My friends and I did Bible studies, reading books like 1 John and Philemon. I remember these books talked a lot about loving one another. Feeling tired of such messages, I began to get exasperated. “I know how to love,” I thought with annoyance. “Love is not that difficult.” Most things God said in His word were easy, I believed. Why didn’t Christians just follow Him? Hardships would probably be a lot easier to handle, people wouldn’t be depressed or in pain, families and friends would show each other love and forgiveness.

Then I met *Peter. It was senior year in high school. There was a senior meeting at my house. Another friend said she was bringing a boy named Peter who she wanted to set me up with. So on the day of our meeting, I opened the door to let him in—and there he was. Dark hair that was just a bit tousled, light grey eyes, a slow but friendly smile.

I knew. I knew I would like him, and I felt a small voice inside me say that day, “This is going to be very hard.”

We began talking a lot and hanging out, and before I knew it I had given my heart away completely.  He was funny, we could talk easily, he was kind, we had fun together. He read his Bible and went to church. He was perfect. Not to mention cute. There was hope that he liked me, I believed. He definitely didn’t mind hanging out with me, and I could tell he enjoyed himself. Yet at the very end of November, a good friend had these words to say: “Teryn, I just thought I should let you know that Peter doesn’t like you in that way. He said there just wasn’t any chemistry.”

There wasn’t any chemistry? I felt sick inside, but I laughed it off. It was no big deal, I assured her. I hadn’t liked him that much. But I went into the bathroom that night, turned on the faucet in the sink, and cried—the rushing water of the sink drowning out the quiet trickling of confused sobs. These were the first of many, many tears shed.

I couldn’t show Peter how I felt, though. So I washed my face, took a deep breath, and practiced my cheerful smile. I decided I’d be his friend and that I’d be okay with it.

* **

So we were friends, and he trusted me with many things he didn’t trust with anyone else. The closer we got as friends, the more I began to realize how much hurt he had—a lot of deep issues, a lot if self-hatred. He didn’t understand God’s love or forgiveness. It broke my heart, because I wanted to help him.

Yet I cared for him much more deeply than he did for me, and the closer we got the worse it felt. “You are the only one I can trust with this stuff,” he’d say.  Why didn’t he like me then? I was trying so hard to be a good friend, and he didn’t notice me. There wasn’t any chemistry, he said. Why not? What was wrong with me?

Finally, the inward feelings of pain and confusion I was trying so hard to hide from everyone began to surface in external ways. In early December, I toppled headlong into the first true depression I’d ever experienced. One particular night, I felt swallowed in a sea of darkness, utterly alone and lost, with only self-deprecating thoughts to keep me company.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked myself again and again. “Why doesn’t he like you?”  I remember getting up at 1:00am and reading Psalms to take my mind off things. Where was God in all of this? I cried and cried that night. And from then on, tears were always close to the surface.

Depression was followed quickly by illness. I lost twenty pounds in three weeks, and I had pain that ran up and down the left side of my body. My mother and I went to countless doctors trying to figure out what was wrong, but no one could figure out anything. During the spring of my senior year, my life consisted of mental haziness and physical pain, of sterile-smelling rooms and doctors who shook their heads in bewilderment. A strange, lingering sickness that would not be resolved for another 5 years.

I’ve already mentioned that during this time of illness and depression, I began to dabble in anorexia. Partly because I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and why Peter didn’t like me. Partly because I desperately needed to control something in my life. Partly because I felt as if I’d failed God because of the darkness I found myself in, and I needed to be punished.

* * *

            Unrequited love is a strange and painful thing. And I did love him. It took me months to wrap my mind around the feelings that were so confusing to me. These feelings were not, “I like him. I want to date him. I want to go to movies with him and have dinner with him.” It was more than that—it was a deep and acute longing to support and be there for him. Nothing else mattered but to care for him, to help him, to cherish him. I wanted to show him God’s love because he didn’t understand it.

However, my love was far from pure. In early March of my senior year, God showed me how much I’d loved Peter in a selfish way. Having never thought of God’s glory, I’d wanted him to see me as the girl who’d saved his life. I’d replaced God with Peter, and nothing but darkness could be the outcome. I had to love God more than Peter. I had to learn what Real Love really was.

No matter what I thought I had known my junior year in high school, I didn’t know anything about how to walk the life of a Christian. Life was extremely difficult without leaning on Him. I couldn’t guard my heart, or love, or forgive without Him. I couldn’t be faithful to Him without His help. I realized I would be a selfish, prideful girl with horrible ulterior motives in all my relationships if God didn’t refine my stubborn heart. Aghast at myself, I repented and begged God to help me learn how to truly love.

* * *

            Yet the journey was far from over.

The summer after senior year, I had decided to take a year off between high school and college, hoping to go to college the following fall. Peter was still around, and we were “just friends.” However, that summer he began to fall away from God. I watched as he began pushing friends away, not returning phone calls, being rude and aloof. Angry with him, I wanted to abandon him and let him figure out life on his own.

“No,” God told me gently. “Stand by him. Love him.”  Those two simple requests—stand by him and love him—were to shape the next twelve months of my life. As I struggled to obey God in these simple requests for a friend, I realized anew how selfish I was. You see, I interpreted the command to love him as a sign that it was romantic love. That I should love him, and that he would love me back. But God didn’t say that. He meant agape love—selfless love that thought of nothing in return. So throughout this entire year, I was struggling with what I wanted and what God was really saying.

Peter didn’t make it easy to learn to love. One time, he didn’t return my calls for three weeks. This frightened me because I had legitimate reasons to be concerned about him. Yet he didn’t ignore other people. I knew for a fact that he’d called other friends and had them hang out. Why was it just me he treated with special disdain? Finally, he answered the phone. “I just didn’t feel like it,” was all he said to justify his actions.  He began to lie to me about everything, making false promises about phone calls and hang outs. I was so angry with him, I told God I wasn’t going to love him or be his friend anymore.

“Would you love him if you knew he’d never love you back equally?” God asked me one morning in my devotions. Struggling for many minutes, I finally prayed, “No. I can’t. Not on my own strength. But if You want me to love, then take over from here. I cannot love him on my own.” Peter would never love me romantically. I wanted him to, but there would never be anything between us. Yet I still had to love him with agape love, and not cave into bitterness and anger about everything that had happened between us.

It was from that moment on that the refining fires of God’s love began overtaking my cold human heart. These fires were intense and painful as I learned to serve Peter with no thought of love in return. I called him and wrote him encouraging emails. He never responded. I prayed for him every day. And he didn’t care. In fact, he never acknowledged any of these acts of friendship. There were many times I sobbed from the pit of my stomach because I felt so much pain, and I didn’t understand why God would put me through this. Yet I had to learn to lean on God’s love, His agape love that loved the entire world who rejected Him. To a very remote degree, I began to understand God’s heart for the world, and God’s heart for Peter.

Because Real Love loves no matter what. Real Love is the kind of love that is there for people. Real love sees a person’s pain and prays for them, listens to them, interacts on deep levels with them. And even when that person may lash out or reject you, Real Love never succumbs to bitterness or unforgiveness. It still loves. Real Love doesn’t seek its own interests, but that of others. Real Love is God’s Love for us at the cross, when Christ emptied Himself to the point of death—even for us, horrible sinners who spat in His face.

***

            Finally, one day before summer, I met with him in Starbucks. I felt God wanted me to speak to him about His love. I sat there holding my Bible nervously. “Peter,” I said, “God loves you. You don’t have to do anything to make Him love you. You don’t have to do anything to make Him forgive you.”

He just stared at me with tears in his eyes. “Teryn, you’ve always been there for me, and I don’t know what I would’ve done without you,” he said quietly. “I don’t think I would’ve survived this last year without you. So thank you.”

Peter walked away from me that day with a huge smile on his face. Yet I only saw him two times that summer. One time I drove to his house to give him a book by Philip Yancey I was reading that I thought would really encourage him. To my knowledge, he never read it. Another time I gave him a picture I’d drawn. The act of drawing this picture was my way of visibly forgiving him for all the pain he’d caused me.

Yet ultimately none of it mattered. Peter went his own way, he fell away from God. He began to lie to me more and more frequently, and the false promises continued. That summer, I found out he was dating someone. He had tried to keep it a secret from me, but a friend told me about it. Again, this wound opened up in my heart as I realized that the person I loved did not love me and never would.

In August, right before I went off to Chicago for college, I threw a going away party. I invited everyone weeks in advance because it was so important to me that people come. But Peter didn’t come. He actually scheduled work the night of the party. I remember crying very deeply and brokenly as I realized he had walked out of my life. The tears were not because I was angry; I was overwhelmed with the amount of pain someone could inflict and yet the amount of love I still felt in my heart for this boy.

In reality, I still loved him. I still wanted him to love me. I was hurting very deeply, yet loving very deeply, and I didn’t understand why God had decided love could be so painful. Why had God said, “No” to a relationship? Why had He taught me love, only to take away the one I loved?

Over and over, I sang a Sara Groves song in broken whispers: All I have need of His hand will provide. He’s always been faithful to me.

            Peter did not ever say goodbye.

* **

It is painful to look back on that time in my life, because there are still so many confusing elements. Yes, God humbled me through this experience. My self-righteousness and self sufficiency was shattered as I realized just how hard Real Love truly was. God broke into my heart during this time. My relationship became real and raw with Him. I began to see into His heart—to see the way the world rejected Him as Peter rejected me. Yet He was a God with a never-ending love that could not be quenched, who called His followers to share that kind of love with the world.

However, as the years have passed—I have processed this period much more. Looking back with a maturity in Christ I lacked as a senior in high school, I can see that I put my identity in Peter. If he didn’t like me, if he wasn’t there, then my whole world was shattered. He could treat me how he liked—manipulate me, lie to me, ignore me. I didn’t care. He was an idol, and I justified many of his passively-abusive actions towards me without acknowledging the wounds he was causing me.

You see, because of this friendship, I have struggled with abusive tendencies ever sense. He treated me like I was nothing most of the time—just someone to dump his garbage on when the time was right. He did not care whatsoever about my pains, my struggles. He liked almost every one of my girl friends except me—even when he knew I cared for him deeply. It was a one-way friendship where he took, took, took.

By the time I left for college, I was completely drained of self-worth. I didn’t know where I ended and Peter began—which were his problems or my problems, his pains or my own pains. His issues rubbed off on me in deep, complicated ways.

His treatment of me was also damaging. I began to believe somehow that I deserved to be treated in such a fashion. I believed I was simply a tool to be used for the gain of others. And I believed I should be punished, ignored, or manipulated when I wasn’t perfect—by others and by myself. My own emotions couldn’t be shared, because that is not what a relationship is supposed to be. A relationship is about the guy, who simply takes.

These are the lies I had to fight all four years of my college career. I only dated once during that time, and I attracted someone vaguely similar to Peter simply because that is what I expect. This relationship only confirmed what I felt about guys and myself. It is a terrible truth that once a woman is treated in a self-deprecating way, it is very hard for her to ever value herself as she should again. Many do not understand this unless they’ve gone through a damaging friendship or relationship.

To my knowledge, Peter never came back to God. When Peter began to slowly leave my life, I struggled with intense anger with God. Why are You taking him away? I’d ask. Why don’t You let everything end happily, like it’s supposed to? What was the point of all this pain unless something good actually happens? What is the point of Love if people still walk away from it? This are questions I still struggle with to this day.

            Something a professor said to me my senior year in college is true: This professor spoke of “vicarious suffering.” Vicarious suffering is when you walk alongside someone bearing a great pain, and you ache for them. You help them bear their pain. Just as Christ suffered on our behalf, carrying the burden of our sins on His back. “If you avoid suffering, you sometimes avoid helping people,” this professor said. Sometime, we don’t get anything for helping others. Sometimes, we get a stab in the heart. Pain. Yet is it worth it to show love? Christ did.I suffered to help Peter. I truly loved him, and I tried to help him. And I did help him through a very difficult year. Love is sometimes pain. But Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13).

Yet God took him away because my story with him ended. God took him away because He knew that my friendship with him was damaging me in ways I couldn’t see at the time. Even if I was supposed to love him with agape love, I was not supposed to be in a romantic relationship with him. If I had had my identity in Christ at the time, I could’ve been a friend to him, yet still retained my own sense of worth in God’s eyes. If I had truly submitted to God’s commands to agape love, I wouldn’t have longed for him to love me romantically. That never should’ve happened, and God protected me from the dangerous thing I craved at the time. God always knows what’s best for us, even when it seems as if He is so cruel sometimes.

* * *

        A year at college passed. My story with Peter had ended, and a new one had begun.

Or so I thought. But the last part of the story took place the summer after my freshman year of college. A mutual friend was leaving for Mexico to be a missionary, and she had a going away party. As I drove up, I saw Peter’s car parked in front of the house. At first, I was overwhelmed with sorrow and went into a bedroom before he could see me. A friend prayed with me, and I was able to go out and sit down in the living room with composure. It was there he came up to me after a few minutes. He said hello, and I responded back. “It’s been a long time,” he said. I agreed.

We did not talk much besides that first initial acknowledgment. I didn’t think we needed to. Yet as we all laughed, played games, and reminisced about our friend, I realized that I still loved him. It was not romantic love anymore, but agape love. I looked at him and didn’t see the pain, the hurt, the confusion, the tears. I did not see what I had so desperately wanted—love in return. I just saw Peter. He was forgiven and loved by God, and I felt God’s love inside me well up for this prodigal son. It felt like my heart was bursting with joy, burning with Real Love.

“Don’t you understand now?” God whispered to my heart that night. “That’s how I see you. I love you because I love you. This is My love.”

***

Some wounds run deep.  It is usually the wounds of the opposite gender that cut the deepest. Yet I have seen God faithfully walk me through the process of healing. I am no longer the girl desperately longing for love, who let an unhealthy boy define her worth. God has grown me up, stood me on the solid ground of His Love, and is leading me onward and upward.

I have long ago forgiven and healed from Peter. God used it in His plans to change me and humble me and learn a deeper meaning of love. Still, sometimes there is still a little girl crying in me, yearning to be loved rightly. Yearning to be honored and treated with true respect by a man. To be loved back in the same deep fashion that I have learned to love others, and which so many in the world have no understanding. This has yet to happen.

But in the end, I know this: That God is ultimately the Love that can heal the deepest wounds. God is the One who loves us when all others fail. He alone must be my identity. A person’s love will always fall short of the Love we have in Christ Jesus, who poured out His life to the point of death, even death on a cross.

*Names and slight details are changed for privacy sake.

shipalone

Alone: The Aching Abyss of Loneliness

shipaloneI can remember the first time I really felt alone. It was right after we had moved from New Mexico to Texas. My family was staying in a hotel. I was eleven at the time, and I missed my friends a lot. I felt this emptiness that couldn’t be explained settle into the pit of my stomach. My family was playing in the hotel pool, splashing in the aquamarine water. My eyes were blinded by the sunlight reflecting off of the water. I wanted to go back to the hotel room. So I did. I lay on the bed, missing my friends.  I felt so alone. There was no one to turn to. So I buried my face in the clean-smelling, tan-colored covers of the hotel bed and cried.

* * *

This loneliness persisted. All throughout junior high and early highschool, there was this emptiness inside. The only way I can describe it is a cavern, a fissure that went deeper than anything I could imagine, wedged into my heart. Nothing could fill it. Nothing could satisfy the emptiness, the loneliness I felt.

For some reason, I’m intensely relational. I care so much about people that I get this passionate pleasure from loving, helping, and being there for others. I ached to have a deep connection with people. To share our inmost joys and sorrows with each other. I longed to pour out to others and have them pour into me.

However, being so intensely relational can have its dark side. I was desperate to please people, to fill the deep wells in my heart. Because no one seems to give back quite the way I do. People kept rejecting me: My junior high peers, my high school youth group. Most often than not, people didn’t pour into me. They took. They rejected me. Or they used me. Nowhere I turned could I find satisfaction and acceptance.

Even when I surrendered my life to Christ, and when I made some good friends, the aching didn’t really go away. Sometimes, I’d walk into a crowded room and feel so alone. Of course, no one would’ve ever known. In my case, I fought against the aching need for people by pretending I didn’t need anyone. I think most people were intimidated by me, because I seemed rather independent and strong.

* * *

When I came to Bible college, I still struggled with loneliness. Because of all the pain from friendships and relationships in the past, I purposely kept myself at a distance from most people. I’ve already mentioned that I had a strange aversion to groups. So I always tried to seem capable, strong, independent. Yet deep down, I desired strongly to be in a group. To be part of something. To not be alone.

I’m an intense person who craves deeply intimate relationships. And although I made some friends like that, I still felt lonely. Although I loved God, I still felt these holes in my heart that were as big as the sky. So I tried to fill the holes with friends, who always failed me. I tried to fill the holes with grades and achievements. Ultimately, these failed. And I tried to fill the hole by finding a guy, which didn’t end up doing anything, either. Even when I dated in college, I remember thinking, “This is it? This is supposed to be the most amazing thing. Yet I still feel empty. Lonely. Alone.”

* * *

It wasn’t until my junior year in college that something truly began to change in me. I went to a Christian conference in December. At that conference, I began to realize how my identity was completely caught up in people. I literally worshiped people. My deepest desires were about relationships, about being accepted, about not feeling alone and depressed anymore.

I had this intense abyss in my heart that nothing could satisfy. No human relationship could fill the gap in me. Not even hundreds of human relationships could feed the need I had. But there was One who could. There was One who was so big, who loved so deeply, that He could satisfy the last inch of space in the wide cavern that was me and my heart.

Oswald Chambers puts it so beautifully:

“There is only one Being Who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.”

And I realized something: That deep longing I had to be connected with others, was at the core a longing for God Himself. Because God Himself is intensely relational. All you have to do is read Isaiah or Hosea and see how deeply passionate our God is about people. In Hosea, He compares his relationship to Israel to a husband and wife. In the New Testament, Christ’s relationship with the church is again described as a husband/wife relationship. God loves us with this love that is crazy, beyond control, beyond comprehension.

Think about these verses:

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-21).

There are no dimensions to His love. Nothing can fill those deep fissures in our hearts except the Love of God. God cares for us. He deeply desires an intimate relationship with each of us. He is the only One who can know us inside and out, who can see all our joys, fears, sorrows. He knows us. We don’t have to worry He will misread us, or reject us, or think we’re weird, or run from us. We don’t even have to explain the strange emotions or thoughts we sometimes experience. He knows. Have you ever really thought about how beautiful that is?

So every time I feel intense loneliness creeping into my soul, I began to let myself feel it and then give it to God. I’m not afraid of it, and I’m not controlled by it. I just ask God to see it and to fill those areas in me. Yes, I still have my days where I feel lonely. But I find that that’s usually because I’m starting to put my identity, my worth, in people once more. Then I must get on my knees and cry, “Fill this aching abyss, Lord Jesus, with Your incredible love.”

And God answers. He always does when we are committed to putting Him as the center of our hearts. There is such joy when we let Him be all that He wants to be in our lives. It’s a choice every day. A choice to go to God before we go to anyone else and abide in His Love (John 15). This is the fullness of God in our lives.

***

Do you ever feel alone? Am I the only one who has felt this deep, gaping hole in my heart that never seems to leave? I don’t think so. There are so many lonely people in this world. Lonely Christians and non-Christians alike.

You are never alone. This is not your identity. Alone is a deep lie of the Enemy in our lives. So fight it. Let God into the loneliness. Let Him be the answer. Don’t turn to other things, people, or sins to quench it. God must be the first One to fill you, for all other earthly things will fall short. Then you will be free. Free to live in a Love that can fill the deepest longings and achings of your heart. Free to pour into the lives of a lonely world that so desperately needs to know this all-consuming Love for themselves.