We often feel that we get what we deserve. The basic law, “the wages of sin is death” is operating. We think that if we are not loved, it must be because we did not earn it. The truth is, we can’t earn love. It is just something that someone decides to feel toward us. We can earn approval, but not love. We don’t deserve it, we don’t not deserve it. Deserving and love are unrelated. –Henry Cloud
It starts when we’re children and we’re cut and bruised until we scar. We’re bullied at school. A parent takes their dissatisfaction with their own life out on us. Someone violates our trust. Some shallow person breaks our heart. So we grow up with a warped self-image, eventually, at least to some degree, succumbing to the abuse so that we believe no one could ever truly love us the way we want to be loved.
We feel unworthy. We’re vulnerable. We associate with people who injure us, but we’re so used to it we make excuses for the abuse and largely overlook it. When we inventory the internal hurts and wrongs along with our own bad or desperate choices, we decide to lower our expectations. We think that no one could ever love us if they truly knew us or if they knew what has been done to us. We settle.
Life goes on. We wash, rinse, repeat. We might be attracted to those who seem exciting and daring only to find that their lows are dangerously low and their highs are exhausting. We might try to turn off our emotions and just go have our fun only to realize that it rots our souls. Perhaps we finally escape. But in that solitude and freedom, those original feelings of rejection and unworthiness have a peculiar way of festering unless we truly begin to understand who our Creator made us to be.
When you’re alone, do the words that abusive people said to you come back? You’re not good enough. You’re too this. You’re too that. No wonder that happened to you. Who could ever love you? And you wonder… if someone ever really knew you, could they truly respect you? Could they understand? Could they overlook past transgressions or see beyond how you were wronged? What if they found out about that time? What if they disapproved of that decision?
Maybe you’re not willing to try again. Perhaps you just want to keep someone at arm’s length and stay at the fringes of a relationship. That’s up to you. You will know when you’re ready to try again and no one should deprive you of your free will. Good things can take time too. But the strong caution I want to issue tonight is this: do not let your past, even what happened yesterday, define your future. To do so could be to miss out on life and even your divine purpose.
As the author of the Boundaries books alludes to above, you should not reject love on the basis that you don’t “deserve” it. Love is a gift. You could try your entire earthly existence to rack up enough brownie points to “deserve” to be loved the way God intends you to be and not succeed. When the real deal comes knocking, open yourself to the possibility that the way you originally envisioned love is still possible. Don’t start counting all the reasons they shouldn’t love you; acknowledge that someone sees you as your Creator intended you.
You’ll know the real deal when it happens. It’s exactly that–real. Not phony, but raw, honest, and deeply desiring to get to know your whole person, strengths and weaknesses alike. There is a mutual give and take as the relationship develops, with truths and fears and hopes and dreams being woven into the developing tapestry. It’s work, yet it yields great rewards and deep intimacy. It can be terrifying to let another person into that part of yourself you’ve had locked off for so long. But once you crack the door, you’ll find that parts of yourself you thought were long dead start to come alive.
The real deal treats you with respect, doesn’t try to control your life, and builds you up instead of tearing you down. It acknowledges that there will be ups and downs, yet deals with them in an inside voice. It stands with you regardless of what life throws at you and stays with you through both tragedies and victories. The real deal wants to do life together as a team and together grow into the people God intends for you to be, realizing that you can accomplish more together than apart.
But, you say, but you don’t know my past. You don’t know what was done to me. You don’t know how I’ve suffered. You don’t know the choices I’ve made. You’re correct. I don’t. But I know that your Heavenly Father, Love Himself, paid for all of that one hellish day in 33 A.D. outside Jerusalem. Everything our race had ever done wrong, everything we would do, was carried on those bleeding shoulders. He gave us a blank slate.
Once we say, “yeah, I believe You are who you say You are, and I’m sorry for the wrongs I have committed” He gives us a fresh start. Why, then, do we keep crucifying ourselves for times gone by when it’s done, finished, over? That is a complex question and we each have our own reasons for playing the tapes of our past over and over in our hearts and heads, often unresolved trauma. We might need professional help working through that. There’s no shame in that and I recommend it.
In order to truly escape our abusers and demons though, we need to cut loose from the identities they assigned to us– the ones that say we’re ugly, stupid, unworthy, ridiculous, damaged, and all the other concepts they projected onto us when their real issues were with themselves. Think about it. Healthy people don’t take such delight in putting others down and trying to manipulate everything they do. Unhealthy people often torment others by blaming them for what’s wrong with themselves.
When you think of yourself as undeserving of love, you are choosing to live by those false identities, those forced masks that bullies made you wear. In a sense, you are even choosing to identify with your abusers. I’m not saying you don’t have issues to work on. Maybe you have some things to clean up before you can reciprocate and be an equal partner in the real deal. I am challenging anyone struggling with the idea of being loved to not allow voices from the past to dictate their future. You are a beloved, purposeful creation of God, unique and specially gifted to fulfill a purpose. You are a child of the King.
There will always be negative voices in life trying to tear you down. Shut them up. Shut them out. Look up. Keep your eyes on the One who made you, who knew every one of your days before you came into being. The enemy of our souls wants to keep us groveling in subservience to our former masters: fear, anger, loneliness, unkind words, hate, violence, jealousy, exploitation, betrayal, heartbreak. When we stay chained to those evils we fail to grow into true relationship with God and others. We feel unworthy. We stay vulnerable. We get hurt again. We lower our expectations. We settle…
Enough is enough. It’s time to say goodbye to the masks, chains, and voices. When they say hello, quote scripture to them because it is in the Manufacturer’s Handbook that we find our true identities: I am more than a conqueror. I am a light-bearer, not one who hides in the darkness. I was created to do good works. He said I will do even greater miracles than He did. I no longer have a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. I am a victor, not a victim. I am empowered by the One who spoke the universe into being and designed to love deeply, fully, selflessly, passionately, with reckless abandon. I am not going to allow my yesterdays to dictate the way I love.
It takes practice. But the more you realize that you are who God says you are, the more able you are to give and receive genuine love. You are free to flex the muscles of your true self, the one you used to have to hide to keep the peace or survive. No more hiding. No more kowtowing, placating, or dumbing yourself down to try to please someone. As author John Eldredge said, let people feel the weight of who you are and let them deal with it.
You get one try here on earth, one chance to determine your station in eternity. Don’t waste it being who other people say you are; be the you that you’ve always known you are. The you that wanted to be an astronaut when you were four years old. The you that felt weak in the knees when she walked by your locker in middle school. The you that could see him kneeling in the drizzle under a golf umbrella as realize what he’s about to do. The you who heads up a team of relentless do-gooders making a difference in the world. Don’t you think these sensations and dreams were put there for a reason?
Deep down, you know that you are called to greatness. Even deeper, somewhere in the infinite depths of your heart, you know that you still desire that forever love, that fusion with an equally flawed human being who just has that undefinable, intangible something… Yes… it’s still there. Despite all your efforts to board up the windows and barricade the doors, there is still a spark, a kernel of hope, a seed waiting for the flood.
It’s your choice. It’s always your choice. No one can take that from you. There are benefits to being single and there are benefits to being part of a team. But that spark, that kernel, that seed was planted for a reason. And when the rains come, will you push it even farther down or will you slowly open up your arms and give it a chance to flourish? Will you acknowledge that this is not about what’s been done to you or what you deserve but that someone loves you for who you are? That it is a gift, not a contest?
My friends, do not let dark forces and selfish, insecure humans rob you of love the way God meant for it to be experienced. Do not live your life in slavery to the past. The debt has been paid.
Tonight, as you sit in your chair and for the millionth time run through all the reasons that you keep your heart in a box on the shelf, consider the possibility that all of those reasons are now irrelevant. You are free. Real love will enhance that freedom and respect and protect you. It will help you become the you God has intended for you to be all along.
Then it hits you. You breathe in sharply. Could it be…?
Other than heaven, the only place where one’s heart is completely safe from the dangers of love is hell. –C.S. Lewis
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