Saturday, February 14, 2015

Loving is difficult

I know this will sound shocking to most Christians, even those who know that I've been committed to following Jesus since childhood, but, um, er, cough-cough, you see it's this way--

I've always found loving Jesus hard to do. 

Yes. Pretty strange comment for a person who makes moral choices and lives according to the spirit of the law and not the letter of it. Pretty weird for the person who has been a church musician since childhood and led worship music countless times, and served in many other ways, including as an elder and teacher. And kind of crazy for a person who committed her life to the Lord and regularly confesses sins and claims forgiveness and grace, and expects to spend eternity in heaven.

My religion isn't a matter of weekly church attendance and doing the Church Lady thing, although I rarely miss a week at church. I don't use church membership as hellfire insurance. My religion is deeply ingrained. It's my fabric and it won't be torn from me.

But do I really love Jesus, the way I observe that others do? Maybe my obedience, service, and life choices are a faithfulness to my vows that will go on for a lifetime even if the emotional, tear-filled, joyful experience doesn't come naturally.

I won't go into details, but I was molested by a relative from the time I was a toddler until I told my mother when I was 10 years old. Really, what kind of person commits sexual assault on a toddler? I was one of those statistics that one out of five girls are molested.

My parents dealt with the situation in the best way any of us knew--for the late 1960s, anyway. At one point in my college years, a relative pushed me into a confrontation with the molester, but though I chose not to speak with him, in a detached moment I realized I'd forgiven him and recognized his twisted disease even if he didn't acknowledge it.

Another oddity of my childhood was that because I was one of the primary caregivers for my chronically ill mother, I grew up fast, and was a very mature child with responsibilities of a young woman. My recreation was playing the piano or reading books, but I was never silly, and didn't learn to play games.

Memories are unreliable, and an adult, intellectual understanding doesn't cover the wounds to my heart and soul. We know now that without counseling, all kinds of things happen to the victim's psyche and body, that fester until they're healed with therapy. Our church distrusted psychologists and therapists because they could manipulate your mind or implant false memories.

I was raised in a denomination and a church school that stressed the "rightness" of its theology. Being right about our creed or denominational standard beliefs was everything. It was wrong to talk about loving God, or to lift your hands in worship, or to sing or play an instrument with emotion--that was fleeting, sweet syrup, not pure obedience and dogged carrying of the cross. Being right was of primary importance. Love was showing off.  

My parents loved me. My brother and I were good friends. Speaking of friends, I was the single adults ministry leader for my state for 11 years, and we were very close. But I've never been in a mutual love relationship with a man. I've wanted it, but it frightens me a bit. I know that deep love means risking heartbreak, and indeed, I've been broken several times.

When I was a teen and young adult, there were boys and men I had a crush on, but they didn't return my interest, and the men who were interested in me, I was suspicious of. (Like the Yugoslavian man who, on an hour's acquaintance, wanted to marry me because we were of the same denomination, and he needed American immigration status. Or the Jordanian man who wanted to give my father 500 camels so I'd marry him.) I rarely dated and never married.

I got on with my life, doing what I had to do as a single woman to survive. I worked my way through university and got my degree, started my own business when I couldn't find a job (because I wasn't married to someone in the network), fought my own battles with injustice, bought my own homes and stuff to fill them. 

Over the years, I did love one or two men who didn't want me, but I decided that one-way crushes are only tragic and I don't need to manufacture tragic drama. Requited, mutual love never came up, though I prayed for love and Mr. Right (not Mr. Perfect). I wanted children, but without a husband, I wouldn't go down that road. I've had fur-children over the years that satisfied the need for nurture and hugs. Meanwhile, I wrote articles and a book (and this blog, by the way) about God's love for us.

There was a lot of rejection in my life when it came to love in its various guises, from the men who said they loved me like a sister, but not like a girlfriend.  From my father, when he let his wife cut me out of his life. From the ministers who were the president and CEO of the religious company I worked for. From a boss who "resigned" me so he could hire his relative. From a religious system that taught me that God didn't really forgive and forget my sins because he reserved some to nail me with when I recommitted them. From my brother, who criticized me publicly on Facebook, and when I asked him why, he sneered an insincere "sorry." And even from God, who declined to bring me the husband and family I longed for and prayed for, and everyone said that if I delighted myself in the Lord, he'd give me the desires of my heart.

I probably haven't learned how to love.

But once in a while, when I was praying out under the stars, I wondered if it was wrong to not love God. Respect and honor, yes, but love? That was a worry that I couldn't shake. God commanded us to love him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. How do we love God as we ought to? How much love is he looking for, because I don't feel like I'm all in. Does he recognize my childhood molestation and (perhaps) fear of a relationship? Does he accept that I love him with all my mind, but there's something wrong with my heart?

So when I prayed about love, I echoed the man who came to ask Jesus for long-distance healing for his son: "Lord, I believe (love), help my unbelief (honoring you in the only way I know)."

One of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is love. God gives us love as a spiritual gift. And from 2 Timothy 1:7 NIV, we know that God gives us power, love, and self-discipline. So that's been one of the prayers I make.

He's answering it, too. Recently, I was speaking with a friend, and out popped, "One of the reasons I love the Lord is..."  And I meant it, from the heart. I'm also more able to recognize and receive the love he showers upon me.

It's a small start, but we're moving in the right direction. 

In his book, A Love Worth Giving, Max Lucado wrote:
"Be grateful for those who’ve encouraged you to do what is right and applauded when you did. And isn’t it good to know that even when we don’t love with a perfect love, he does? God always nourishes what is right. He has never done wrong, led one person to do wrong, or rejoiced when anyone did wrong. For he IS love!"


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