It’s easy to walk around smiling, laughing, holding in-fluctuations in your voice to seem pleasant and excitable, greeting people with hugs that we need more than they do, working to feel valued or validated, working harder than we can perceive because we fear failure and want to hide from dealing with what’s in front of us, or whatever it may be that keeps us separate from the anxiety, depression, loneliness, and/or frustration that is on standby waiting to devour us. But when you recognize who God is in your life, you don’t have to depend on your own strength to love others or to “keep on pushing’ because there’s a Holy One that intercedes for us when we are weak, when we are weary, when we don’t understand, when we don’t have the answers, when we want to give up, and when we find ourselves stuck or lost.
I say all this to say that the power of God is greater than our trials and tribulations, greater than our doubts and worries, greater than our fears, and greater than any and every burden that we carry. Again, I say all of this because God’s love for us, within us, and to us helps us with our love for others.
This year for me has been about addressing heart issues and loving others through my own weaknesses and burdens and that has looked like all sorts of scenarios and levels. For several years now, I have felt the uphill battle in loving others while facing my own insecurities about love. Some of these scenarios and levels are just with people I work with, with those I love deeply, and sometimes just loving myself. Sometimes it looks like repenting of my thoughts that aren’t pleasing to God and other times it’s walking in forgiveness for my wrong or being wronged. Sometimes it’s been turning the other cheek which can be one of the hardest things. Sometimes it’s pushing passed thoughts and feelings that don’t demonstrate loving God just to show that I love God. Other times it’s making myself available, perhaps in serving, or being there for someone I don’t normally gravitate towards. Much of it has been about taking the focus off of myself in conversations and being more focused in getting to know the other person. It’s always being intentional about connecting with others and praying for others. It has only been the beginning but a budding flower.
For a little more than two years now, I found myself having a desire to grow in my relationships with others yet still not fully reconciled with some in my life. Since moving out of Boston, I would pick up where I left off which at the time, was at a new small community church in my neighborhood that started out as Bible studies. In 2012, prior to attending this new small church plant, I had left the church where I grew up and that’s when my prayer was to be apart of a community-oriented/family-oriented church. I felt that for over 10 years, I was disconnected from my teenage church home in a way that I didn’t understand. It didn’t matter how many ministries I was apart of or how often I showed up on a youth Friday, I could never really connect and sure didn’t know how to outside of that. I truly felt on the outside and lonely.
When I left Boston and moved to D.C, a couple of years in, I found myself desiring deeper connections outside of the few back home that I had always knew. At this point, I had made my connections mostly surface because that was the chapter that I was in and honestly, I didn’t know any better since my whole life I had learned to be on my own. It was to the point that if others did try to connect with me deeply, it was such a foreign idea to me that it made me uncomfortable and didn’t make sense to me. I struggled to understand it and even people wired in wanting to connect with me. It caused me to either push others away or move away from them. Many times I didn’t see there desire to connect as being genuine and that was the case for me up until the start of this year. The only time I did connect with others is if I had confided in them, if I chose to cling to them when I did, or if we immediately connected which most times was because we both had faced trauma in our lives.
Sadly, I found myself losing sight of connecting deeper with others because I had given myself over to a relationship that I knew God and those in my life who followed certain standards of Biblical relationships would not have approved. This has been a constant for me because anyone knows that it’s easy to entangle yourself in sexual or intimate relationships with another person than it is to sometimes keep an honest friendship. This was just another way for me to fill my voids because if I could spend all of my time with someone, I didn’t have to feel or worry about such a thing. I now face the consequences of falling into this weakness which was a struggle for me because when others tried to connect with me, love me, and reach me, I was unavailable and wrapped in sin. To feel that relationships passed me by because of it has caused me pain. I know this is an area that has affected me in far deeper ways that is even painful to admit. On the other side, hope has not been lost.
Some reading this may know my story and some may not. I grew up in foster care and my two biggest burdens have been having a sense of belonging and feeling unloved and pretty much invisible. The concept of community reminded me of family. The thing that I had always wanted gave me a sense of fulfillment whenever I was in community with others. Early on when I recognized my desire for deeper connections, realizing that surface connections weren’t hardly enough and thanking the Lord for opening my eyes, I also desired reconciliation. This would go even further as moving outside of Boston would quickly teach me that my forever friendships could not fulfill me and that overall, relationships with others could not fulfill me. Even as I date, I learn that more and more and find myself disconnecting in the unhealthy ways that I had always attached myself. I was aware of this but not caught up on fully understanding to the point of change.
Reconciliation is one of the key things in learning to love God through the way that we love others. We cannot live a faithful lifestyle in Christ if we are attached to unforgiving matters. We can’t truly attest to the freedom in Christ because to love God is to love others, within the depths of our hearts down to our very actions. I want to point out that forgiveness does not mean stay physically or socially connected to a situation that either was painful for you or may still remind you of it.
Not too long ago, I was at a point where it was hard to see reconciliation with some because my heart was still afraid of rejection and at the same time deeply affected and disappointed. There are a couple of past relationships that have not been reconciled and require more prayer but I trust that God will bring me to that place as he did today with the ones that I saw being almost impossible. I mention reconciliation because you can’t successfully move forward in love and building long-lasting and loving connections with others when you are still holding on to the residue of your past relationships. From what I understand and have experienced over and over, you will bring that brokenness and mentality into your newer relationships because you are trying to put new wine inside old wineskins (Mark 2:22) and you will find it almost impossible to make and sustain healthy relationships. But it’s literally been God’s grace in my life for this to not only be something I’ve probably heard many times but also have truly come to understand and begin to learn to live out.
This year alone was one of my most transformative years, in the real sense that it has not been the work of my hands that has caused me to want to love others much better and to walk in forgiveness but it’s been through much prayer, witnessing great modeling of what it looks like to love others, reading and listening to other’s testimonies about God’s grace, openly connecting with others about my struggles, reading and studying Scripture and, in a short time, memorizing and meditating on God’s word. For a long time I have always wanted to know God’s word far better than I ever had. Whether it was through attending a class on new believer’s catechism, studying on my own, Bible study, or Sunday school, I wanted far more. 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This Scripture couldn’t be truer. There’s the hard battle between consistently throwing ourselves into God’s word and prayer and then the struggle with sin and pain. None of us can love others apart from knowing Christ and we can’t begin to experience the hope of Christ apart from salvation that gives us the freedom to live on and love despite the hardships of life. Christ has modeled out what love looks like and how it is to take place. Like many of us, I’ve been learning what not looking to Christ can do for you and to you. For me, I could allow my upbringing to rule me and live as though I’ve been far too victimized or traumatized to love others. I could go on, as I did for many years, trying to fix myself or I could stop and let God do the work that is not humanly possible. In some form, I could isolate myself from others because of hurt I’ve experienced or I could give those things over to Christ and trust him with the brokenness of my heart far beyond any human ability.
To trust Christ is to look to him for your return on your investment rather than another human being. To trust Christ is to decide to get on your knees and pray with tears in your eyes rather than turning yourself over to the use of sex, alcohol, or sometimes to a friend that may mean well but really doesn’t have the answer. To trust God is to turn away from seeking the approval of others and to turn to his word that tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. To trust God is to seek his strength in weariness.
2 CORINTHIANS 4:16-17
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Over the past four years, I have been learning the power of God’s Word and the importance of digesting it. Who am I apart from Christ? “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV). And nothing I have been able to do. Not even love others in the midst of my own pain. I could have many reasons to be sad, depressed, angry, broken down but I know that God’s word is true and he has made me new therefore I have many reasons to be joyful, hopeful, whole, knowing that I have been set free from all of it. He made me new when he truly opened my eyes to his hope and I know he traded my focus on my voids for his love (2 Corinthians 5:17). I know that his spirit is alive inside of me and as I’ve recited too many times to count, not I but Christ lives by faith in me and his word dwells in me richly (Galatians 2:20). I know that while I may not be healed completely, he is indeed healing me on this road of sanctification because I am forever growing, detaching myself from the world, expectations, and empty desires. I am learning to not put my hope in people but in Christ alone. I know that my life is a testimony and that I am made new day in and day out. I know that God has promises and that I will see the hope of his glory. Despite my own burdens, because of God’s grace, I have been able to be fueled by his spirit and continue in love. Romans 8:18-25 reads:
18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.