You can’t make this stuff up. If I had a buck for every time I started a sentence like that when speaking to my friends, particularly during my single years, I would no longer have to work for pay.
Tuesday morning, I uttered those exact words to the group of men at the ministry where I teach early every week. Traffic was horrible, so I was five minutes late instead of five minutes early. As I was walking in, one of the guys, Terry, was walking out of the chapel to look for me.
“There you are!” he said. “We’re all in here waiting for you, anxious to hear what you’re gonna be saying today.”
I immediately felt affirmed and slightly caught off-guard by this excitement level. Not that the guys don’t listen and engage – they do – but now there was a perceived expectation and I don’t do well with those. At all. Me being told what to do, what to say, or, more probably, what not to say has traditionally never gone over well.
It’s not that I don’t welcome input and even constructive criticism – I do. But I like my freedom, my space, and the right to choose the right thing because I got there on my own, not because you told me how to think, feel, or respond. If you confine me or put me in a box, I become highly claustrophobic, less productive, and less loving.
Terry held the door to the chapel open for me and then proclaimed to a larger than usual crowd, “Found her!”
As I’ve mentioned before, these classes are all themed, not only so the residents can hear a cohesive and repetitious message, but so that teachers can stay on topic. We just concluded the themes of Faith and Hope and now we are on the topic of Love. You know, easy-peasy-what-could-go-wrong if I misspeak stuff.
Purposely never preparing and trying to be led by the Spirit with my words, here’s what spewed out of my mouth:
“Hey guys! Good Morning! Sorry I’m late! I’ll talk even faster than usual to get you out of here on time!”
(They laughed in unison since they know I talk a mile a minute – especially about this stuff.)
“So today we begin our new theme on LOVE and since I’ve been married and divorced twice, clearly I can tell you guys all about this subject matter!”
(I’m working on that trying to be led by the Spirit thing.)
But it’s kind of true. I can definitely talk about what not to do. Most likely we all can about one thing or another. That’s life. It’s how we learn, how we grow, how we ultimately transform. I mean, seriously, how would anyone ever know not to date someone who donned a Batman mask when it wasn’t Halloween or who summoned you up to his lap like you were a child and he was Santa Claus unless you actually dated them?
I have no idea. It’s baffling.
Likewise, how would anyone know not to avoid love [from God or humans] unless they actually have averted it at one time or another?
At this point, we had twenty-five minutes to get through the very first teaching on the topic of LOVE. Realizing that was impossible, I backed away from the podium and walked down onto the floor where the guys were all seated at tables.
“We’re not going to hone in on one verse from Scripture about this, because we can’t. The entire Bible is a love story.”
A few of the men made affirmative sounds and were shaking their heads in agreement, but most of them looked at me like I was crazy. I’m pretty sure it’s because they’ve known me long enough to know I am not a super-sappy love story kinda girl. I typically roll my eyes and simulate a convulsing throw-up movement at those kinds of movies and storylines, so it was odd to them that I was talking like this.
“All 66 books, from beginning to end, are about love. Unfathomable, unconditional, undeserved, crazy, all the time, non-stop LOVE.”
I went on to review and remind them that I think you’d be hard pressed to find any of the three themes (Faith, Hope, and Love) in Scripture without the other two in tow. Where there’s faith, there’s hope and love. Where there’s hope, there is love and faith. And where there is love…well, there is everything.
Make no mistake, though: I fully believe it is far easier to love others than to receive love.
We wake up in a decent mood, it’s not snowing, Daylight Saving Time didn’t just happen, and all things are going well – we typically are good to people. Well, at least as good as we know how to be. We try to do better towards mankind than perhaps we did the day before. Maybe we get annoyed a little less, let someone merge in front of us on the highway, make eye contact and smile at people. We are able to show love. And in turn, we have faith and hope (in humanity, in this example) that people as a collective are not as bad as some of the bad things that individual people have done [to us] are.
But what happens if we have been avoiding love, unable to receive it well for one reason or another? What if we truly, truly don’t believe we are worthy of being loved? That we have messed up enough times, or have been told enough times, that we don’t deserve it? Yeah, lemme tell you. It makes it excruciatingly difficult to receive love.
This is something I do know a lot about. You know, having been married and divorced twice before.
I first shared with the group that for many years, I believed I was diagnosed with leukemia as punishment for getting divorced. The timing coincided, and my (former) Catholic theology and immature view of God also supported that notion, so I was quite sure I had it all figured out. Divorce = Cancer.
I paused here and circled back (because now I was down to about 10 minutes!), explaining the key to this entire message. I made sure they were all looking up as I said:
“The whole premise about loving and receiving love well rests on one thing – control.”
It is a control issue.
Fear of the unknown and lack of control = uncertainty that manifests itself in a whole bunch of crazy ways, including how well we love others and how well we allow others to love us.
When I was sick, laying in a hospital for 35 days not knowing the outcome – I was not one bit in control. There was absolutely nothing I could do except try to be the best patient I could be, take the meds and the chemo and endure the nausea and the biopsies and all the rest that came along with it. Oddly, that time – the NOT being in control time – was the most serene and peaceful time I’ve ever had in my life. Even though my body was sick, the rest of me was in a healing and cathartic process (that I’d only realize many years later).
When I was married, any semblance of control he (we’ll just go with a pronoun) thought I was trying to assert – think things like going to the grocery store whereby a 16-year-old bag boy said “hello” to me, or a co-hort at work mentioning that a movie was really good and we should go see it, or my personal favorite, if I used “big” words in conversation – was immediately met with a barrage of verbal teardowns.
Were you flirting with that boy in the store? No one likes you anyway. You’re not that great.
They don’t know what they’re talking about – why would you listen to anyone other than me about anything? You are an idiot.
You just think you’re soooo [BLEEEP’ing] smart, using words like that don’t you. You’re a [BLEEEP’ing] [BLEEP].
And it went on. Mostly because of that Catholic guilt thing (I was DEFINITELY going to hell if I got divorced again! Two strikes in that column and God surely would be done with me), but I also didn’t want to fail again. I didn’t want God to look at me like I was a failure. I didn’t want God to love me less. I didn’t want to not measure up to “good Christian” standards. I mean, I got good grades back in the day, I was a good Mom, I ate vegetables and showered most days of the week – how could this be happening? There is no way I am going to be such a screw up AGAIN. Not gonna happen.
So, I stayed. Like all good Christian girls who were made to feel whorish, worthless, pointless – and, unloved.
When I asked what he needed me to do in order for us not to get divorced – because hell seemed a smidge (but only a smidge) worse, plus a twice-divorced woman before age 40 does not a good resume make – he literally said these exact words:
“If you do not want to get divorced, then you will move out of this house, you will move into MY house, you will not run any longer, you will not have friends, we will pay for everything with only my income and I will tell you what you can do with yours, and since you’re a Bible thumper, you will submit to everything I say like it says.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
Through tears, looking in from the outside at this awful, awful scene, I saw myself in two distinct pictures:
- In “his” secluded house on 13-acres, away from other humans, picking berries or tomatoes or some crap in a field, wearing a bonnet and holding a basket.
- Walking into my church wearing an “A” sweater. Not because I was an adulterer, but because my church (at the time) would treat me as one anyway.
Not great choices. Fashion or otherwise.
Think about how many of our relationships are predicated on an “if then” basis.
If you do as I say…then I will be nice to you.
If you think like I think…then I won’t judge you.
If you do these things…then you won’t get grounded.
If you cure me of cancer…then I’ll believe in you.
If you get me out of this situation…then I’ll start praying and talking to you again.
If you just do this one thing for me…then I will change my ways.
But here’s the thing. Our God is not an “if then” God.
There is literally nothing – NOTHING – we can do or not do to make God love us any more or any less.
Because it’s not about us. It’s about God. And God is wholly other. Not like us. God is beyond us, thus, beyond any kind of restraint or “if then” circumstance we can concoct in our own limited human minds.
I told the guys Tuesday morning, “Think about the person on this earth who, during your lifetime so far, you have loved more than any other person. Think about that person. What could they do to MAKE you love them any less?”
Probably nothing. Because it is you who chooses to feel an inordinate amount of love towards that person.
I told them of the times when I was raising Olivia when I wanted to choke hold her for not listening to me. For disobeying me. For turning from me. The things I cautioned her about in order to protect her and keep her safe and happy were always out of complete and unconditional love. And nothing she did (or, mostly didn’t do, i.e. listen) made me love her any less. I ALWAYS LOVED THAT GIRL and I always will. It’s not up to her.
And so it is with God for us. God chooses to pursue us, to always love us, and to uphold his covenant (“I will be your God and you will be my people”) whether we choose to believe and receive it or not.
There was one man in class who looked up as time was running out and said, “But what if God chooses to love only some people and not others?”
Fair question. Ongoing debate. Religious checklists?…check.
In the interest of knowing what not to do (use big words), I just smiled and said, “Why would any Creator create anything just to dislike it? That makes no sense to me. I mean, why would anyone who is absolutely IN LOVE with something, head over heels passionate about it, create it and then not like it?”
I chose to create Olivia. And I have loved her ever since. That is out of her control and will never be an “if then” relationship to me.
For God so loved the world. THE.WORLD. All the people.
If we believe that…then imagine the possibilities.
(None of which include me in a bonnet on a farm in seclusion.)
Amen to THAT.