This week I had lunch with an awesome young woman. She probably has no idea (unless she reads this blog!) that something she said, along with 2 other occurrences this week, helped a major spiritual light bulb go off for me.
During our lunch, I was talking about trusting God’s guidelines for my life romantically, even when they don’t make sense. (Which has included not having sex yet --- which by the way is really really hard. Not sure why the Church doesn’t acknowledge that more often! And also letting go of a guy who I actually loved and loved me because he didn’t share my faith --- and some other hard choices) Trusting that if He says “don’t have sex with someone who isn’t your spouse” then he means it, even when I’m getting older and society makes fun of me for this choice. Trusting that I shouldn’t be unequally yoked even when there are some “good guys” out there who want me and it seems all Christian men are married already.
As I was telling her some of this she looked at me and said: “That’s an amazing testimony…that you have chosen to trust God even when it hurts to do so.”
When she said those words something that felt a lot like relief came over me.
I’ve spent the last three days trying to figure out why.
For a long time, I’ve been bitter about my obedience, because at times it really does hurt. I’m like a little kid who crosses her arms and looks defiantly in her dad's face and says “fine, I’ll do what you’re asking me to do, but I’m not happy about it.”
Occurrence number 2 that led to my spiritual epiphany was when my mom was telling me about giving something up to make my dad happy. In my bitterness, I personalized her situation: God, you have asked me to give up things I LOVE for you, too. That can’t be love?! That’s abuse. That’s control. That’s mean. Obedience is one thing, doing something that hurts me, is another! (Can't you just see my red-faced little-girl tantrum. Ha.)
Enter occurrence number 3. Last night while still contemplating if love should ever really hurt or not, I randomly opened the book “The Reason for God” (By Timothy Keller) and I read these paragraphs:
“For a love relationship to be healthy there must be a mutual loss of independence. Both sides must say to each other, ‘I will adjust to you. I will serve you even though it means sacrifice for me.’ If only one party does all the sacrificing and giving and the other does all the ordering and taking the relationship with be exploitative and will oppress and distort the lives of both people.
At first sight, then a relationship with God seems inherently dehumanizing. Surely it will have to be one way, God’s way, the Divine being has all the power. I might adjust to God – there is no way God is going to adjust to or serve me.
While this may be true in other forms of religion and belief in God, it is not true in Christianity. In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us – in his incarnation and atonement. In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross, he submitted to our condition – as sinners – and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I will serve you though it means a sacrifice for me.’”
So. Many. Lightbulbs.
1. BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD DOES RESTRAIN ME. I do not like feeling restrained. I like freedom. No, I love freedom, but I was created to be in love. I think we can only be our truest selves when we are in love – but how interesting that we also give up a lot of personal freedoms and independence to get love. In both a romantic relationship and a relationship with God this is true. Being in a relationship with God does restrain me but It also sets me free because freedom “isn’t the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.” (Keller, pg. 49)
Like a fish who can only be free in the water, it is also restrained to the water. It was created to be in the water. I was created to have intimacy with God, that is where we I am free and yet, restrained.
2. I AM BLESSED TO BE ABLE TO PROVE MY LOVE TO GOD. Wow. I really hope I can still say that in a year. It’s taken me 33 years to say it, I sure hope it doesn’t wear off anytime soon=) I was bitter about “sacrificing for God” because I was feeling like the “relationship” was one-sided and that he was somehow demanding this obedience of me. I had lost sight of the great adjustment and sacrifice the God really has already made for me. He proved his love to me….through a willing, though PAINFUL sacrifice. I don’t want to compare my level of sacrifice to Christ’s, but in my own way, in the way Christ has given me the opportunity in this life, I too get to willingly prove my love to Him by trusting when it HURTS, believing when its HARD and obeying when it DOESN'T MAKE SENSE. I’m not sure how or why I had forgotten this but my relationship with God is NOT a dehumanizing, one-way dictatorship.
God has willingly sacrificed for me. I will get to willingly sacrifice for Him.
He doesn't demand it of me. He will love me even if I go out and have a one-night stand right now, but he allows me this opportunity to prove my love and that is a pretty amazing opportunity. I'm happy to prove my love.
3. MARRIAGE MUST BE HARDER THAN I THOUGHT. It’s such a random thing, my mom giving up something she loved for my dad, but that, combined with the spiritual truth that real love does require sacrafice, made me have more respect and compassion for all my married friends. I’ve always know good marriages involved hard compromise. Who’s family will we spend Christmas day with? How much money do I have (or not have) to go shopping? You hate country music? Ok, I won’t blast it on long drives. (Side note, that might actually be the hardest compromise for me;) Suddenly I realize, it must be harder than even that! I bet I know a lot of men and women (including both my mom and dad) who have given up things they loved and even sacrificed to the point of real hurt for the other person. Go you. All of you. Your love is divine, transcendent and I should really pray for you more! ;)
Love. I believe we were made for it. I believe it brings us fulfillment, security and a sense of worth. But I am also reminded that in order to enjoy those freedoms we sometimes have to willingly make sacrifices that can hurt. Sacrifice: (noun) An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.
I was bitter not because I didn't love God or believe that He loved me. I was bitter because I had not really wrapped my mind around what true love requires at times and I forgotten to what great degree true love had already been shown to me. As the old chorus says...He gave his life, what more could He give?
I can honestly say that sitting here today I see and feel God’s love for me, my love for Him and all true love in general as harder, deeper, and better than I had known it to be, just one week ago.
(PLEASE NOTE: INCASE THIS BLOG DOESN’T MAKE IT CLEAR, LOVE SHOULD NEVER HURT PHYSICALLY OR BECAUSE SOMETHING IS BEING TAKEN FROM YOU AGAINST YOUR WILL. IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING “LOVE” FROM SOMEONE THAT HURTS YOUR PHYSICALLY OR REQUIRES YOU TO SACRIFICE THINGS AGAINST YOUR WILL, THAT IS NOT LOVE, THAT IS ABUSE. ABUSE INVOLVES MANIPULATION AND DEMANDS. GOD’S LOVE DOES NOT EVER INVOLVE MANIPULATION OR DEMANDS NOR DO HEALTHY HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS.)