What Is Love Anyway?

In yesterday’s blog, The Fallen Father, we were exploring trust issues caused by broken family relationships.  Towards the end of the article, it was discussing the difficulty of trusting God, the Father, when our earthly father couldn’t be trusted.  And if you can’t trust God, how can you get to know Him.

If you want to learn who God is, the best place to go is His scripture, the Holy Bible. After all, this is His book. God-breathed text to tell all the history between Him and His people. It is also a book of instructions for better living filled with His promises. Some people would call the Bible His love letter to the world.

The verse I think succinctly describes God is 1 John 4:8 (ESV) which states “God is love.” Still how can this help you understand God if you don’t truly understand love? This may seem like an odd question especially for people who were raised in loving homes. But think about it for a moment. Do you really know what love is? In our broken world, sometimes the love we experience is much more like hate.

To explore love from God’s perspective, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (ESV):

Love is patient and kind
Love does not envy or boast
It is not arrogant or rude
It does not insist on its own way
It is not irritable or resentful
It does not rejoice at wrong doing but rejoices with truth
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never ends.

Consider your life and relationships for a moment. Have you ever experienced this kind of love? Have you ever extended this kind of love to another? I imagine that it would be far easier to think of times and situations where you received or extended exactly the opposite. And I think that based on my own experiences especially before I met Jesus.

Let’s push on this a little further. If God is love, then the list above describes who God is. As you grow closer to Him, the more you will be able to see His love in your life, and the more you will see yourself loving others. And over time as you reflect back on your life, you will be able to see when He was there even though you did not know Him yet. He has been there all along waiting for you to accept His love and grace.

All people have a deep need for love within us. God understands this need, because He made us that way. And He is the only one who can truly fill our need for love.

The Fallen Father

Each of us learn lessons from our parents. Some lessons are intentional from parents who understand to some degree their influence over their children’s lives. Other lessons are taught silently through example frequently unknown to the parent. As with all things in life, parents can only teach from what they know. Many parents carry forward what they learned from their own parents whether good or bad. My childhood lessons were obedience, distrust, and hatred.

Early on, I learned that the role of the child was to be obedient. If you didn’t listen, there would be at the very least disapproval – frowning or angry faces. Enough disapproval and anger would lead to pain. You would eat what you were given whether you liked it or not because you were to do what you were told. You could be present but not heard. Some of my childhood is difficult to remember clearly. Time makes memories clouded. I must have been a noisy child as I remember being told to be quiet a lot even to the point of having my mouth taped shut in school. But my stronger memory and ultimate lesson was that I had nothing of value to say. There was no value to my thoughts and silence was best.

My lessons of distrust stemmed from my father’s complete failure to be my protector. There is an unspoken expectation that the father’s primary role is to protect his family. Parents are supposed to love their children unconditionally and out of that love blossoms the drive to nourish and protect their children. Unfortunately, we live in a broken world. And even though each child is programmed with the need for love and protection, not every parent can live up to these basic needs. The child injured emotionally and/or physically by a parent is left to face the shattering blow of betrayal. Instead of knowing love, the child learns that they are in fact unloved. The child may even begin to think that they are unlovable. “If your own parents don’t love you, who would?” Then the reality sets in that no one can be trusted. Again, “if you can’t trust your parents, who can you trust?” If the only people on earth tasked with your well being are untrustworthy, you are on your own. This is the beginning of the emotional wall. Since you can only trust yourself, you must keep everyone else at a distance.

For me, this distrust of everyone lead to a hatred of people. I found friendship and acceptance in our pets. Even here, I discovered cruelty. And looking back, there is no surprise in this. If you cannot properly care for children, your pets are in trouble; after all, they are only animals. But no so for me. They were all I had. In my world, people were uncaring, rude, selfish and down right mean. My response was greater distrust, growing hate, and retreating deeper into my walls. Truth is, I was learning to be just like them. It was all about me, and who cares about anyone else.

Looking back on my life, it is clear that this destruction of my ability to trust was my greatest hurtle on the path to healing. The betrayal of emotional and physical abuse by someone who was meant to love you is destructive to the very core of your being. Time does not heal all pains. In fact, if left unhealed, time will only allow those pains to fester into a monster of disease and rot. After decades of searching for healing, I am convinced that only God can heal such wounds. And here is the rub. Here is where the devil laughs in delight at his win. Where the devil relishes in the power of his lies. God is our heavenly Father. Depending on your past, you either understand this point or you are lost right now. For me, father was the most vile thing in my world. Hearing the words father or daddy made me want to gag. If I couldn’t trust my earthly father, how in the world could a possibly trust a heavenly father I didn’t even know. Wouldn’t God the father be just like an earthly father just with more power?

We are left to compare God the father to our own father because that is all we know. As children, our years are so short and our perspectives so limited by our experiences – experiences possibly even manipulated and crafted by broken parents. My father isolated my mother and I hundreds of miles from our family. He moved us to a remote no where land with limited contact to anyone. It was a place where he could have complete control over us. He owned my experiences.

Trust issues can only be overcome through relationship and understanding that the other truly cares about you. This can be an almost impossible feat when you are buried so deep within your own walls and filled with hatred. Relationships are hard to build if you are in hiding and loathing other people.

So how do you get to know God and understand who He is especially as a Father? You won’t truly start to understand who is He until you reach out to Him and start a relationship with Him. And yes, you will need to start it. He is patient and gracious; but please remember, time is our enemy. He also honors our free will and will not force Himself on us. (Though some people have had powerful encounters with God – you can read about Saul/Paul meeting God in Acts 9:1-19.) For me, He was patient and allowed me to open up to Him slowly. He understood my trust issues and gave me space to determine when I was ready. I imagine many people have this experience. We go through life under the pretense that we will take care of ourselves and only when we have no where else to turn do we ask for help.

Raising Awareness

In the business world when leaders are struggling with how to motivate or guide their staff, one of the major hurtles that comes up over and over again is trust. Without trust, people will never follow you. You need to develop trust, which can take years, and one false step can destroy everything you have worked towards.

Trust issues start in our homes, in our families. We are broken people, and we mess each other up with our brokenness. Whether it is living with a bipolar mom who is as changeable as the wind, a drunken father who takes his failures out on his wife and kids, the father who has never been loved so he doesn’t know how to love, the resentful sibling that strives to destroy everyone else’s joy, or the parent who betrays their spouse and/or their children, we start learning at a young age that life is not all roses and sunshine and not to trust. Seriously, if your family is supposed to love you and you can’t trust them, who can you trust?

To show some statistics about families and abuse, following are some statistics from a report, Child Maltreatment, 2014 – 25 Years of Reporting, from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau (1).

“The majority (78.1%) of perpetrators were a parent of their victim, 6.3 percent of perpetrators were a relative other than a parent, and 4.1 percent had a multiple relationship to either multiple victims in the same report or multiple victims across reports.

  • Nearly 4 percent (3.7%) of perpetrators were an unmarried partner to the victim’s parent.
  • The national estimates of children who received an investigation or alternative response increased 7.4 percent from 2010 (3,023,000) to 2014 (3,248,000).
  • The number and rate of victims of maltreatment have fluctuated during the past 5 years. Comparing the national estimate of victims from 2010 (698,000) to 2014 (702,000) show an increase of less than 1 percent.
  • Three-quarters (75.0%) of victims were neglected, 17.0 percent were physically abused, and 8.3 percent were sexually abused.
  • For 2014, a nationally estimated 1,580 children died of abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.13 per 100,000 is children in the national population.”

These numbers are based on submitted reports. I know many women who suffered in silence and were never counted. Broken arms and death are hard to hide, but emotional and sexual abuse are a different story.

Let’s look at the long list of issues within a family from another angle. All of the issues cause pain and shame. So, what do we do? We hide them! “No one can know or they may discover that my life is really messed up.” But remember, we are not alone. It isn’t just us. There is help out there; but if we are always hiding, we cannot get help. We have lived too long in a world that tells us to just suck it up and keep going. Instead, we should say this is messed up, let’s fix it so our kids don’t have to live like this.

My family yelled, “don’t tell anyone!” Nothing was discussed. I was left alone in my nightmare, and no one knows the extent of the damage. They don’t want to know. It is painful. It is stressful. It is ugly and nasty. True. But ignoring it won’t make it go away. It will only keep growing. I hope that thought makes you want to vomit. I understand that this is uncomfortable. My stomach is churning just writing this. But we can not keep ignoring that there is a serious problem. There is a hard truth that must be acknowledged. Consider, for a moment, a six year old child who is raped. The perpetrator experiences several moments of pleasure. The child will be scarred for the rest of their life. If we hide the negative consequences to the child, the perpetrator can easily convince themselves that the child enjoyed it too. We have to kill this lie. In my instance, I was told that “Everyone is doing it; they just don’t talk about. It is fine.” It is not fine. The effects are devastating for the child and impact all future life relationships and experiences.

References
1. Child Maltreatment, 2014, https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/cm2014.pdf

It’s Not Just Me?

Have you ever been surprised when someone shares a struggle that you also have? A moment when you find yourself thinking, “I thought it was just me.” This thought is usually followed by a feeling of relief. The realization that your response could be normal. Sometimes you even have the opportunity to connect with the other person and share feelings and possibly even help each other.

Feeling like you are the only one is a dark and lonely place to be. It is usually a place of no hope – a place of shame. I do not know why we tend to believe we are the only ones. Maybe it is a condition of being young? As I get older, the more I realize there is nothing new under the sun. Not sure about that? Try thinking of something crazy, off- the-wall, then search for it on the internet. Anyway, I do not know why, but I definitely thought I was the only one. Maybe this is because people are so good at hiding their dark places. Sure, people can be temperamental, moody and dark, but that could just be their personality, right? Or is there something else there. When we always put on our happy faces, other people tend to think that we really are happy all of the time – that we somehow have better lives with no challenges or adversities. Social media is chocked full with pictures of our friends at parties, with family, at the beach – lovely, beautiful places and many smiling faces. Of course their life must be better than mine! They get to go to Bermuda or Saint Thomas! Who gets to do that?!? Vacations on the beach? Not me! But this is just an illusion. Most people are not going to post about the argument they had with their spouse. They are not going to share how that trip to Bermuda led to a second mortgage on their home and the unending financial stress.

So what causes us to hide behind our fake smiles? Pride. We are afraid of anyone knowing that we have weaknesses. Shame. We are afraid of how people would judge us and find us wanting if they really knew us or our prior life experiences. Rejection. People are so quick to reject others that remind them of their own struggles and failures.

When I was a freshman in high school, I was verbally attacked by another student during lunch one day. We did not know each other. We had no classes together. We never spoke to one another. She just started yelling at me about how my life was so perfect. She made this assumption based on my nice clothes and the group of students with me at the table. The reality was that my aunt had bought me knew clothes because when I came to live with her, just months before, all I had were basically rags. This girl didn’t know that earlier that year I lost everything, and I was completely broken inside. And what about the other students? They were an amazingly nice group of kids who took in the new girl even though she was dreadfully shy. They were great friends, and I was blessed to have them. The angry girl made an assumption about me, and she was completely wrong. Though, her out-lashing at me led to a conversation where she learned the truth about me. She also discovered that she was not alone. As it would turn out, our struggles were very similar. My hope since that day is that she found the help she needed.

When we read the book by the cover, we miss the entire story. We also miss the opportunity to grow through the experiences of the characters.

When I was first working through the idea of writing down my own experiences, to share my challenge and my path to healing and wholeness, one person recommended that I include a section on healthy sharing. I struggled with their recommendation for years. What did they mean by healthy sharing? The suggestion alone seems like good advice. This person was meeting with me as a mentor. Their recommendation was directly related to how uncomfortable they were with my level of sharing. There have been experiences in my life that have left deep marks on who I am and how I interact with others. I have a strong belief that if you want to have a deep relation with me, you will need to understand some of those marks in order to understand me and my reactions to certain circumstances. How can you mentor someone if you do not know them? To some, healthy sharing is keeping the dark challenges of your life between you and your counselor. Unfortunately, this helps no one else.

Once I knew a young lady who was obviously being wrecked inwardly by some stress in her life. Yet, each day she pasted a fake smile on her face and pretended that she was fine. One day, I gained the courage to gently challenge her smile. At first she resisted being honest with me. Then she said, “you wouldn’t understand.” This led to further discussion where she discovered that I did understand. She had that moment of discovering she was not alone. She also now had a resource – someone who could relate to her struggles. She also had hope knowing my smile was real. What if I hadn’t worked up the courage to approach her? What if I kept hidden my shared experiences?

When we are open about our experiences, it affords others facing the same struggles the opportunity to reach out to someone who would understand. We were never meant to do life alone. We grow through relationships. This is where I believe “healthy” plays a very important role. We will only have healthy growth in healthy relationships. A person filled with hate or lost in their own despair, who was not found healing, will never be able to help you talk through your struggles. They may be able to understand; but they cannot help you walk a road they have never traveled. Another element of “healthy” sharing is trust. If you are searching for someone that may be able to help you with your struggles, they must be someone you can trust.

Grateful Heart

Another reason to share my story and journey to healing is to give glory to my Rescuer who not only rescued me once but many times and stayed with me even in my anger.

I first met Him late in the evening and my spirit was tormented. There was no safe place, and there seemed to be no hope. I longed for death to rescue me – thinking that was my only hope. I was fourteen. All I knew was living with my parents. They were in complete control of me. I lived in the middle of no where – quite literally. I watched other girls at school drop out due to pregnancy and get married. Next time you see them, they have a kid on their hip and a black eye from their husband. If this is all life is, to trade one tormentor for another, then I don’t want any part of it. But death is scary too. My heart cried out and then my mind (so not to be heard), “Jesus please help me!” It was a cry of desperation to someone I didn’t even know. He was just that guy my parents fought about. Mom believed. Dad hated him. But almost as soon as the thought passed, I felt someone wrap their arms around me. There was no fear at being touched – only peace. Then I realized there wasn’t anyone there and sleep took me. The next morning on the school bus, the years of bottled tears started to flow. I tried desperately to stop and hide them. I needed to hide them – my life and my mom’s life depended on me keeping everything secret. But to no avail. The tears simply would not stop. My only friend cornered me and would not leave me alone. I finally gave in. “You must tell your mom.”

The story goes on from there and not with a “and they lived happily ever after.” More on that later. So why was my prayer answered? Was it because I was just a child? Was it because I called out to Jesus with every fiber of my being? Was it to save my life? I will never know this side of heaven. Maybe He saved me so He could heal me so I could help rescue others. Whatever the answer, I will forever be grateful. And I fought with Him over the next two decades, but He never let go of me. And for that, I love Him.

Breaking the Silence

My fear in sharing comes from past experiences.  Unfortunately, it can feel like the negative consequences outweigh the positive ones.  The biggest fear is rejection.  On the very first day of being rescued, the first question was, “Is she lying?”  That evening with a friend who took me and my mom in, “Did she ask for it?”  From relatives who came to support my mom, “Can we touch her?  Would she think we are trying to molest her if we gave her a hug?”  My earliest positive experience with sharing was with another girl at school.  For me, it was the day I first realized that good could come from evil.  Such elation!  Running back to my relative’s home bursting with excitement.  Angry eyes, “You can never tell anyone about this!”  My joy was shattered and my voice silenced.

Since then, my voice is slowly returning.  Evil wins if the silence is kept.  No lives are saved from despair.  No courage or hope is given to those living in a hell on earth.  No glory is given.  No one learns the devastation rampant in our families while our silence holds.  This is why I will share.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  2 Timothy 1:7

Sharing

I am part of the cruel statistic of 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men who have been sexually abused.  My life has been filled with many struggles and pain.  However, I have also found hope and healing and would like to share them with a world filled with hurting people.  If this blog can save even just one person from continued hurting, it is worth it.

There are actually many reasons to share how I have come to find peace.  Most of us are excited to share with our friends when we find a good thing – like a great sale, a fantastic cup of coffee, or a book you just couldn’t put down.  There are many reasons to share: to give thanks to my Rescuer, help others, and raise awareness of a hushed evil.  Still, there is fear in sharing.  Much of this fear is a direct result of our culture’s and our family’s unwillingness to admit to our hidden evils.  If we don’t admit to, it isn’t really happening.  If we don’t acknowledge it, it will just go away.  But in reality, it doesn’t go away.  It is just a wound that festers and spreads until there is nothing but decay.

I hope you will join me in walking this path and that you will find peace on the way.