Friday, February 23, 2018

Unoffended Love

There is a lot that needs done around me, but my heart is burning to write. And so letting the mess stay this morning and sitting down to type is what makes me feel alive on the inside. (there are two really beautiful songs linked at the bottom of this post if you want to scroll down and play them while you read)

"Unoffended Love" are the words that are on my mind. They are the words that are in the forefront of my mind most every day now. They are the words I chose for this year, and what Jesus has been revealing to me, the layers He has been peeling back from my eyes and my heart because of these words are changing me more than anything ever has. I have spent the past year in grief and pain and betrayal and hurts and wounds I will likely never fully wrap my mind around for the rest of my life, even though I will try with all my might. And as most messy things in life do, these circumstances involve relationships at the heart of it all. At times these circumstances that are completely outside my control have paralyzed me. At times I've felt angry. At times it has all felt so overwhelmingly "unfair" I wanted to scream (and sometimes did). At times I've felt like I've been on an unstoppable rollercoaster ride that has whiplashed every emotional fiber of my being and caused me to question the core of what I believe about what love is. Navigating the line between unconditionally loving someone when that person continues to hurt you over and over and over and over is a very fine one, one that can't be walked without feeling like you are on a tight rope. But staying on that tight rope is the only safe place to be. If the emotional pendulum swings to one side where you "unconditionally love" someone who only wants to harm and manipulate you without any thought or concern for your own safety or emotional needs, you will fall to a deep, dark place. But if you swing to the other side, where in order to protect your heart and safety you cut off love altogether and close yourself off from all emotion, you will fall into a different, yet equally deep and dark place.

All of what I'm learning goes so deep in me but is hard to put into words. Especially in an order that makes sense. But I will try my best. I've heard so many times that you can't love others unless you love yourself, and I never really quite connected the dots of the Why behind this principle.

I want to preface this with so many things... But I'll start with this. The principles I am about to share are ones that you can apply to normal relationships. By normal I mean ones that are not emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually or sexually abusive. I am talking about offenses and problems that happen in relationships with non-psychopathic people. Maybe that is a disclaimer that doesn't need to be made, but if you know my story, you understand why I feel I have to make that clear.

Ok, here we go. I have found that the point at which offense takes root is the point at which it becomes difficult for me to continue to love someone. This is what led me to start asking myself questions. Why does offense take root in the first place? What does it usually stem from? What are the things that most easily offend me?

We might have different answers to these questions, but I have a suspicion that for many of us the answer is the same: We get offended when someone does not love us in the way we want or expect them to. We get offended from unment expectations.
You wanted him to get you a card for Valentines Day and he didn't. Offense/Hurt takes root. It becomes difficult to love. You wanted your friend to be on time for your girls day. She was late. It made you feel like you weren't important or your time didn't matter. Offense takes root. It becomes difficult to love. You told them something very vulnerable about yourself and asked them to keep it private. They said they would. They did not. You feel betrayed/offended. It becomes difficult to love. You thought they'd remember your birthday. They forgot. Offense. Difficulty loving. They said they'd always be there for you. You are hurting, and they're nowhere to be found. Offense. Difficulty loving them. You made plans to go out to dinner. They double scheduled and forgot about you. You feel embarrassed and unimportant. Offense. Difficulty loving. You had expectations for a romantic date night. He spent most of the time watching/talking sports. You feel let down, unfulfilled, unconnected with. Offense. Difficulty loving. (These are all based on random, made up but familiar scenarios)

It's the same cycle over and over. We have expectations on people we care about. When they don't meet those expectations and we feel unloved, we become offended and breakdown in the relationship begins. Our offense can eventually turn into cutting off our love and hearts from those who have offended us. Often, people that mean the most to us.

This is the point at which I began to have a major revelation: If I can't keep loving someone through unmet expectations, then my love is conditional. If I can't keep loving an imperfect person in the midst of their imperfections, it means my means my love is limited by their flaws. It means I depend on others loving me well in order to feel ok, and if they don't, my self-worth begins to spiral. It means, in effect, that I have absolutely no control over my love, and that it is entirely determined by the actions of others.

Of course, we all like to feel in control. And so if we feel entirely out of control of whether we feel loved or not, and in turn, whether we feel capable to give love or not, then we search for something we can be in control of. That is the point at which offense becomes our weapon of choice, our way to stay in control. If I get offended by her not showing up to our coffee date on time, and in turn vow not to waste my time offering to meet with her again, I now feel in control. Now I make the rules. I will not be hurt again. I will not be stood up again. But the only way to shut down and hold on to offense that way is to dial down our love. So we feel powerful, but lonely. In control, but unconnected.

This is also the point at which unhealthy "boundaries" develope. There is absolutely such a thing as healthy boundaries, but what determines the difference is the intention or motivation behind creating them. Unhealthy boundaries are rooted in offense, in vowing to take back power. They are not rooted in love. I'll explain healthy boundaries in a minute. (But as you can guess, they are rooted in love.)

This cycle, to be quite honest, sucks. And it is such a familiar one. It is the natural human way of feeling in control in an uncontrollable world. The life changing, heart transforming, mind altering part of this whole journey came when Jesus began to show me how to break this cycle and climb out of this pit. It has brought me freedom like I cannot describe, freedom like I've never tasted before in my life.

But we have to go back to the beginning to enter into a different cycle. If all my offense seems to stem from the fact that someone doesn't love me in the way I want/need them to, then what does that tell me? For me, it tells me that I am deriving my entire sense of self-worth and stability and value from other people's love. Breaking the cycle means backing up all the way to the point of where I find my self-worth, where I get the feeling of being loved from. The whole point is that we find all our love and fulfillement in Jesus. If my sense of self-worth and value are coming from any other source than Jesus, then it will be lacking, because humans are lacking. We are imperfect and flawed and selfish, and we cannot expect other flawed human beings to fill the void of perfect acceptance and faithfulness and belonging and love that we all crave so desperately. As a friend of a friend said so beautifully to me the other day, we have to "Stop living FOR acceptance/approval and start living FROM God's acceptance/approval of us"... To find that deep within our soul our only desire is to live for the approval of One. To know and believe that we are loved, valued, longed for, worthy, treasured, by the one from whom limitless, perfect, beautiful, immeasurable and unstoppable love flows forth forever and ever more. Love that will climb any mountain, swim the seas through the most violent storm, light up the night sky, and come relentlessly and recklessly to chase us down and pursue us, to rescue us over and over. To hold us tenderly and to say "I see you, I know you, I choose you, and I love you. I want all of you." The love that Jesus has for me will never fail to reduce me to tears that come from the deepest part of me. Tears of gratefulness, of  joy, of trust built on a history of His unfailing faithfulness to me. When I was all alone in darkness and everything felt stripped bare, every joyful piece of innocence torn from me, and I could not bare the weight of all that was lost, the only thing left in the windblown gray with me was Jesus with His arms around me. Holding me. Crying with me. Cradling every tear as it fell from my eyes... His heart broken with mine. He said He would be there. And He was. He said He would never leave me. And He didn't. Every wound in my heart from the beginning of my life, the crippling fear and insecurites, the feeling of having to perform to be loved, of being ripped apart privately with words if I wasn't perfect, the hurts of having my flaws paraded in front of my face and hung over my head... they disappear with Him. He tells me He is proud of me. That He wants to be seen with me. That He cares how I feel. That He wants to listen to me. That He has time for me. That His love is not conditional to my performance. That He made my body and it is not a cause for shame. That He has wept over my little girl heart and all that it endured before I ever even understood what it meant. That feeling of relentless pursuit that I have craved all my life is Him. He wants me, loves me, tears down every lie and battles every enemy to find me and stand for me. He is my defender, my vindicator, my every heart beat. He is my all, my everything, He is what consumes me and breathes life into me and makes everything worth it. He endured brokenness, betrayal, rejection, and pain unfathomable to prove Himself to me. To live from the perspective that there is One and One alone whose approval I seek, who I want to make proud, will change everything. When I come from that place, I find I am standing on such solid ground and such an unshakeable foundation that someone forgetting about me, someone betraying my confidence, feeling unloved by someone I care about... it doesn't shake me. My self-worth is no longer a fragile house of cards that can come crashing down at the tiniest puff of hot air and leave me curled in a ball on the inside, crying, feeling broken and alone. My self-worth found in Jesus becomes a rock solid castle that will shelter me from the cruelest storms and fiercest winds that could ever be dealt by human hands.

I pause here... so moved by His love... so deeply experiencing and remembering His goodness to me... I could not go on if it were not for His love.

From here, Jesus led me to more questions about how to keep loving even when unmet expecations are part of the equation. The key word He gave me is ACCEPTANCE. We have to be able to accept who someone is. We have to stop wishing they would be who we want them to be, and accept who they are, flaws and all. History and all. Annoyances and all. Past hurts and all. We take the good, and we accept the bad, knowing we do not have the power to change it. It is in this spirit of honesty that we can begin to analyze the relationships where offense has begun to cut off our ability to love those who are most important to us. What is it about that friend that has hurt you most? Is it that you have told her secrets and she has shared them? Maybe this has happened over and over throughout the years. It's felt like banging your head against a brick wall. Every time you open up and trust again, she hurts you with betrayal. Ok. Lets accept this. She is not a safe vault for you. BUT! You have so much fun with her. You laugh together. You like similar things. You both love to cook and share recipes. (Again, made up scenario) But here you have a complete picture. There are things you love about her and would miss dearly if you never spoke again. But there are places you are not safe and have been wounded. Often there is grief involved in acceptance... grieving what you wish you could have and accepting what you do have. So how do you keep loving her? This is where you construct boundaries in love, to protect a relationship and give it a place to survive and grow. You wouldn't take a shade plant that needs lots of water and stick it in the ground in the desert and expect it to flourish would you? The same is true for people and relationships. We have to create an environment in which relationships can thrive and be nourished. We can't take a person who is immature in keeping confidences and expect them to handle delicate information properly. But that doesn't mean we can't still stand side by side with them laughing and chopping up veggies to make a bunch of freezer meals together. You can construct a boundary, made in love, to protect the relationship. You can say to yourself, we can get together and talk about our meal plans and tell funny stories and have a great time. But I can give myself permission not to pour out the vulnerable details of my heart to her that make me feel unsafe. You protect the relationship by accepting the person, flaws and all, and making adjustments in order to keep yourself in a place where you are not continuously wounded, and where you are able to continue loving them. It's hard to accept, but often, in a relationship that feels impossible, we are the one who needs to change. Getting to a place where we are loving without an agenda, where we are loving not because we need something back, but just because we want to give, is the most pure and beautiful place I've ever been.

 [This might be a rabbit trail for another post, but another piece to this equation is learning to speak truth in love. Maybe you feel like you can't just pretend to be ok again with someone who has hurt you over and over. Maybe a conversation needs to happen to open up that doorway to relationship again. Using "I feel" "I think" and "I want" statements to lead out the conversation (Totally borrowed from a wise friend) helps so much. "I felt hurt and betrayed when you shared xyz that I asked you not to" Instead of "You betrayed me and hurt me and I can't trust you anymore..." You still can't expect them to change even if you do tell them what hurt you and even if they do apologize. Maybe they will, maybe they won't. It's still ok to create a loving boundary that will help your relationship to survive. Sidenote to the sidenote, my personal biggest challenge is learning not to share too much vulnerable information... I love to feel close and connected and have realized that I often try to mend relationships by sharing vulnerable information about myself. As you might guess, this has often backfired and left me feeling even more hurt and wounded then where I started.]

To jump back into the real post... Unoffended love has set me free from carrying wounds with me, walling myself off, shutting down my heart, and feeling out of control or unable to love in relationships. I have realized how fully I lived for the approval of others and how dangerous and unhealthy that has been for me, and in turn have begun to taste the fullness and richness of the pure love of Jesus, my truest, most faithful, and best friend. It is a daily tight rope walk, one that is full of tension, but it is the safest place to be. When I find myself spiraling into old familiar feelings, I start asking myself questions. It always starts with asking myself where I'm finding my worth. Then reminding myself who I am to Jesus, and asking how I can honor Him in that moment. Then accepting who the person before me is, and asking myself if I need to lovingly construct boundaries in that relationship in order to protect us both. Beyond even accepting people is accepting circumstances, and then asking the Lord to reveal the good in it, how to make the best of it, and how to honor Him through it.

When Jesus commanded that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, He wasn't giving two separate commandments that exist apart from each other. We literally are incapable of loving someone else if we do not love ourselves... If we're not accepting and believing Jesus love for us, then we're expecting others to fill that need. And if they don't do it right, then we can't love them well either. At the core of our being is the fundamental need and desire to know that we are loved. Accepting Christ's love for us as the only source we need for fulfillment is what unlocks us to be able to pour out unconditional love for others. Love for others cannot survive without being loved by Him.

 "We love because He first loved us."1 John 4:19. 


Reckless Love

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