To Be Loved AND Known

In my community I have always had people who would say that they love me. I know that I am so fortunate to have lived around such loving people. There is nothing like it.

Yet… it is difficult for me to accept that I truly am loved as people say.

Having fought relentlessly to hide my pain and turmoil (and any expression of either) for all of my childhood, I ran myself into the ground as a shut-down, voiceless mess. The last several years I have been working to reverse the devastating effects.

I have been on a become-known adventure especially these last few months. It has been wild. In being more open and vulnerable with others about my story, I have had taken both baby steps and uncertain leaps with a fair amount of set backs mixed. It has been both difficult and freeing, exhausting and invigorating,

I want to share with you a quote that has influenced many of these major decisions in the last year by Timothy Keller:

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

Hiding feels safe. But in hiding, we are also confined. 

I could only accept love to the extent that I was known.

Living honestly does make me feel more vulnerable, but because of it, I am beginning to experience acceptance and belonging in a way that I never before deemed possible.

What does it mean to feel loved?

Today I walked to a local park to finish reading Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It was a refreshing and thought provoking book, and I encourage you to read it. 

Toward the end of his book, Don recounts a time when he learned to stop beating himself up mentally and to accept love from others. Don couldn’t let his girlfriend’s love for him sink in no matter how hard he tried to believe her. Finally, someone told him that his problem was that he based his value on what his girlfriend thought rather than God’s infinite love for him. Even though the girlfriend really did love him, she could never satisfy his deepest craving for acceptance. Once Don realized that God Himself loves and values him, he stopped obsessing over the matter. His whole outlook–and ability to relate to others–changed positively. 

On my walk back home from the park, I thought about what Don had said and how it relates to my own life. Like him, I have such a hard time feeling loved by others. I can know it cognitively, but my heart just won’t buy it. And the more I think of what it really means to be loved, the foggier my understanding becomes.

I’m afraid that we English speakers have so exhausted the term love that we have drained much of its weight. We throw the term around in terms of material consumption, of aesthetic or musical preference, of platonic and romantic relationships, in conversations about tolerance; the list goes on and on. “Love” is an overarching umbrella term that we use frequently rather than more specific descriptors. I’m guilting of slapping on the ambiguous term all the time too, probably due to laziness or habit even when more specific words would communicate with greater depth. Maybe we should put a hiatus on the frequency with which we use of the word love until we can recover its meaning and occasionally use more specific synonyms instead. 

So what does it mean to feel love, anyway?

Realizing that it is helpful to unpack different aspects, I started a list on my walk back home of different ways I could feel loved:

  • I feel known: seen, heard, understood
  • I feel cared about
  • I feel provided, sacrificed for
  • I feel honored
  • Someone has shown me compassion
  • Someone has shown me mercy
  • Someone has shown me patience
  • Someone enjoys my presence
  • I feel accepted
  • I feel respected
  • I feel protected
  • I feel like I belong

Putting the “loved” phrases more precisely helps its truth actually reach my heart. Do I feel “loved by God”? Sure. I don’t know,  I guess. But do I feel accepted by God? Do I feel like I’m understood, that I belong

Wow.

What a difference that makes in my heart! When I understand that I am loved, I live totally differently. I will go out of my way to serve others; I quickly extend grace; I forgive with patience (this line of thinking, by the way, is what Donald Miller discovered in the chapter I described). Honestly, though, Too often I selfishly protect myself long before even considering anyone else; I become consumed with my own desires and needs. But friends? God is still faithful, and I’m thankful that He gives me another chance.

So what can we do?

Accept love. Accept the deep riches of God’s love for you–His compassion, mercy, acceptance. Accept the love that your family and friends extend to you. In receiving it, you bless them in return.

Extend love. When we’re accepted, we should respond by recognizing the good we see in others, communicating our care for one another, and serving with actions of sacrifice.

Let’s love. And let’s live like we’re loved.

Moving right through the thick of tragedy

It’s been a couple of weeks since I heard the tragic news.

My dad called me, his voice shaking. His best friend had called him and told “the worst possible news.” My friend Madison, his son, had died.

Madison. Died.

What?!?

My dad relayed vague details, and shared the situation’s increasing complexity: Suicide. Madison took his own life.

Shock, grief, numbness, terror, denial, sorrow. What a confusing few weeks it has been with emotions fluctuating from suffocating to starkly absent. I went home to be with my parents and siblings as they sorted through their grief.

My dad had took on all of the details and responsibilities for Madison’s dad, his best friend, and allowed the rest of their family to spend focused time together in grief until the memorial service.

There are pages and pages I could write about the last several weeks as it relates to the tragedy, but I will try to keep this brief. One of the most striking moments for me was in talking with Madison’s dad.

“Someone asked me how on earth I deal with a tragedy like this. And I said, ‘You have to move right through the thick of it.‘”

When Tragedy presumes its horrifying face at your door and shoves its way in your life, you are forced to make choices: Will you invite others into your pain? Will you suppress the deepest, most painful questions? Will you hide? Will you allow yourself to feel emotion or become numb?

These decisions  have to be made on a moment-by-moment basis. What I admire about Madison’s family is that they allowed others into their pain, allowed friends to grieve with them. They didn’t hide their fears, but expressed them appropriately. They allowed their community to mourn with them, to express love’s final mark: grief*.

My dear, dear friends responded with maturity in their sorrow, facing the situation head on. Let’s press on to maturity, friends. It requires courage, so let’s support one another in our weaknesses. For we. Are not. Alone.

Madison, we miss you dearly. You are loved beyond expression. But we grieve with hope that we will see you again.

*I borrow this thought from my insightful mentor

I once was paralyzed… and now I’m free (well, getting there)

Have you ever felt the weight of a burden so heavy, that the pressure from it leaked out in various expressions? For me, it often takes the form of desperate, unheard cries, or detaching myself from the pain until I becoming totally emotionally numb. Have you ever experienced the unrelenting despair of carrying a hidden burden in shame for extended time? It can be devastating, crushing, unbearable.

I have spent most of my life hiding the shame I felt. Actually, hiding the shame of my shame is more accurate. At first this way of coping was fairly inconsequential, but I eventually did this to the extent of shutting off almost all feeling. My shame was finally hidden, and I was safe from others, but left me with only remnants of life inside. Not even the people closest to me knew the turmoil eating away at my life.

A few days ago I had a very significant day. I had the blessing of spending time with a dear friend catching up on life. And those festering, shame-covered wounds? I led her to them. Yes, it felt risky, but I have known her long enough to be confident of her character. I trust her. I cannot describe the respect with which she responded. Her face showed not the disgust I feared but compassion and a desire to understand.

What has changed that made you be able to talk about this now?” my friend asked me, knowing how difficult that was for me to share.

I’m not really sure. All I know is that layers of shame have slowly loosened from my burdens. My failures, my fears, my past–they are all becoming untethered from the grip of shame that held me so closely.

This snippet of our conversation reminded me of John 9 right after Jesus had healed a man born blind. Jewish leaders questioned the previously-blind man as to whether or not Jesus was a sinner. The man replied:

Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. (ESV, John 9:25)

I don’t know why Jesus has allowed me the healing from shame to be able to be transparent with my closest community. I don’t know why He has allowed me to experience such grace, such acceptance in my dearest friendships.  I don’t know why the LORD has chosen to give me freedom now and not years ago, nor do I understand why He has offered it to me and not yet others. The depth of my God’s mercy I do not understand, but like the blind man I testify to all who will listen: one thing I do know is that I once was paralyzed with shame, and now I’m free.

Let me be clear: I’m still dealing with some consequences of being driven by shame, but they are gradually fading. It is a process which has contributed to my growth in maturity and in sanctification–a fancy word which means becoming more like Jesus Christ. I have found freedom in allowing the chains of shame to be loosened from my burdens. The Holy Spirit really does bring liberty. He has been good to me. Finding freedom has not meant abandoning values or convictions. My morality remains the same, even though it can seem easier to follow whatever my heart desires in the moment.

~

To my surprise, my friend expressed that my example of vulnerability had encouraged her; it gave her courage to continue processing through personal struggles, trusting that God will use it to bring redemption. “I? Inspired you?!?” I thought. God really can use anyone or any circumstance.

Life still hurts–it still can be almost unbearable at times. God doesn’t promise that pain will go away (in this lifetime). I also still have a long ways to go before I would say I’m truly living in freedom. The new path that I’m on promises to be difficult and it could perhaps bring even more pain than the shut-down and shame-protected (how ironic is that pair of adjectives?) version of myself. Nonetheless, the freedom from being fully known and loved is worth the pain of mistakes and failure. 

I pray that your journey will parallel mine in the quest of liberty from shame. I ask my Father that you will experience the depths of freedom which I am beginning to see. Do you have experiences of freedom? What’s your story?

Real Talk for Straight Folk

Real Talk for Straight Folk.

I just found Julie’s blog last night and am blown away at her sensitive, compassionate, and articulate discussion of being a gay Christian (who holds the “side B” viewpoint). This particular blog post gives insight to ways that heterosexual believers may love their brothers and sisters in Christ who have a homosexual orientation.