I don’t think I’m a big fan of pain.
I know that pain is necessary for learning and an inevitable part of life, but sometimes it just twists my heart in a way I don’t understand. And isn’t understanding what we’re all striving for? We deeply wish to grasp, and so often we forget how to let go.
I met with a dear friend today, and she told me of the abuse and manipulation she had sustained in a previous relationship. I know that she was doing her best to maintain her composure as she told her story, but what she likely didn’t know was that I was doing the same.
As she shared her hurt, her confusion, and her shame, I sat there and wept. Not visibly of course, because I didn’t want to alarm her, but internally. As I listened to her heartache, as I observed her fear, and detected her guilt, all I could think to do was to tell her over and over again how madly in love God was with her. I knew that I couldn’t erase the pain by any means, nor could I even truly relate to her struggle, but I sensed a heart desperately in need of reminding, of who she was and who she belonged to. I looked at her eyes and wanted nothing more than to simply take this burden from her, to put it on my shoulders and allow her to experience freedom from all this misery.But I knew that was not possible.
Amidst this conversation, I felt my propensity grow for the abuser as well. As cheesy as it sounds, I found myself wanting to hug him, to look him right in the face, and tell him that God loves him just as he is, but too much to let him stay that way. I saw a man responding out of the symptoms of a greater malady, a mere summit to the iceberg of abuse and misguidance that I’m sure he himself has also endured.
I once read that Christians must “Look into the eyes of the person who is hard to like and see the One you love.” This is one aspect of the gut-wrenching upside down nature of Christ’s gospel that I find both compelling, and painfully hard to execute. Matthew 5 famously says:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborand hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemiesand pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
And this is what struck me, even as I was talking with this friend. The entire doctrine by which we are called to live is absolutely crazy; legitimately, undoubtedly insane. It doesn’t make sense, and I’m not even convinced that it’s supposed to. Who loves their enemies? Fools and simpletons, at best. This again, is why I find passages like 1 Corinthians 1 so enthralling:
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.(1 Cor 1:27)
I think it’s easier to say that “Christ died even for the murderer and the rapist” than to actually live as though that’s true. Or until we actually find ourselves uncomfortably close to one of those scenarios. It’s far easier to clap our hands for the glory of grace upon the world, than to use those hands to extend mercy to the ones who hurt both us and the ones we love. To passionately oppose the myth of redemptive violence and hatred means moving far past the structures and ideals most of us have spent a lifetime learning, and that gets messy quite quickly.
I realize that I cannot truly grasp the concept of unconditional love because everything I’ve ever known has been conditional, restricted, and finite. Everything. I exist within time and moderation, and yet God calls us to supersede that, not by our might, but by His provision. It always starts and ends with Him. If it doesn’t, than we need to seriously reconsider our motives.
My heart is still hurting so much, for both of the people involved in this story. I want to tell them how much I love them, and I want them to believe me. I want them to see how deeply they are in need of restoration, and how incapable we are of providing that for ourselves. And I want to allow the One who embodies love perfectly, to teach me again how to love and be loved as He does. To fling myself at the mercy of the One who calls me home.