I actually wrote about this topic recently but am feeling COMPELLED to write more. God has really been showing me truth in this area and I feel like, just maybe, I’m not the only one who needs to hear it.
The boys and I are doing an Ephesians Bible study together this summer. It has been SO good. One of my favorite parts was studying what it means to “Bear with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2b)
My life was void of my father’s love during my elementary school years. I knew I was a burden and inconvenience to him (because he felt compelled to tell me and my brother this), but I didn’t realize at the time how much it affected me: my behavior, my lack of openness in relationships and my inability to connect properly with people are a few examples. I remember specific times in elementary school where I was asked by my friends’ parents to leave their homes because I was being mean and exhibiting bully-like behavior. I remember embarrassing friends and classmates and then laughing when they were exposed. I recall doing things that would draw negative attention to myself so people would not seek out my friendship.
All of these things were an attempt to push people away so they wouldn’t get close enough to reject me. I had a huge void in my life and I didn’t know how to fill it so I acted out and created a bubble around myself in an effort to avoid pain. I hurt other people before they could hurt me and figured if they stayed away, I was safe. If no one was close to me, I couldn’t be hurt by them.
Everything changed when my dad came to us (my brother and I) and said he was sorry. My heart started melting and I made a 180 degree turn; I realized I was worthy of being loved and I really started making an effort to love people, especially those who were hurting or on the fringes. I sought out the broken, the damaged, the wounded and those who needed a champion.
I was fortunate to experience years of healthy love from my father before I left for college. And during those years I also grew immensely in my relationship with God. But do you know what happened when I got married? I think I transferred the lion’s share of the burden of loving me to my husband. So when my marriage disintegrated, I had to rediscover the love of my heavenly father to fill that void. Now I try to live out my days behaving like someone who is deeply loved by my creator.
I had my first boyfriend, Ryan, in 9th grade and he and I are still very close friends to this day. I remember when he asked me to go with him…he was so popular and handsome and I felt so lucky to be his girl. I cried and cried on the last day of school because my family was moving away that summer and I realized that I was losing an incredible gift. We had a sweet, very pure relationship and he treated me like a princess every day we were together. He showed me what it was like to be loved and respected and that really impacted my life in a positive way. I have thanked him many times for loving me so well (as well as you can love in junior high) and showing me what a gentleman looked like. He is someone who invested in my life and really helped me grow in confidence and joy; he is one who helped shape my life and taught me lessons of kindness and love for others.
I was also fortunate to meet my lifelong besties when I was twelve…we got to be friends while attending a week-long conference with our parents. We’d see each other every summer and write and call in between. We grew so close over the years and ended up going to college together. I talked with both of them this week and let me tell you, I do not take for granted the gift that we have of nearly 40 years of AMAZING friendship with these two. Wendy, Cara and I have truly done life together. It doesn’t get any richer than that.
I bring up these relationships as examples of how God shows us His love even when we have been hurt and have put up defenses to keep people away. As I always say, God often shows us His love through other humans. I realize that my dad could have made the choice to leave our family and I would have been left with a broken heart. It would have been hard but I know my mom would have gotten me the counseling I needed and God would have brought me the incredible friendships that I enjoy today.
Those who go after God’s love and experience it first-hand—either by investing in a relationship with Him (by praying, reading the Bible, seeking Him out), or by crying out to Him in complete desperation—those are the people who get to know His heart. God says if we seek Him, we will find Him. He withholds NONE of who He is from us, we must merely pursue Him.
I know that I know that the key to loving others well is understanding God’s love for us first. And I am convinced that we must experience God’s love in a personal way before we can fully love ourselves AND allow ourselves to be fully loved by others. When we understand God’s love, we grasp the gravity of what He must have felt when He sent His only son to die for us. We feel the weight of what he must feel when countries go to war. We digest the depth of His empathy and compassion toward us as His children.
Voids can also come when someone we loved dearly passes away. We no longer feel their love in a real and tangible way so that can also cause us to retreat and shut down, often pulling away from others. This can be just as harmful as feeling a void of the absence of someone’s love. Both can cause long-term damage if we don’t get some good help/counsel.
If you have a void of love in your life (in your heart), I want to encourage you today that our source of love must come from God. The Bible says, “God is love,” therefore to truly know love we need to allow ourselves to experience God’s love. As we open our hearts to being loved fully by Him, we open ourselves to give and receive love to/from other people. And that’s the goal, isn’t it? To love others well…to love them as God loves us. And to be loved and experience the fullness of love in our relationships with each other.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.