Love: An Exposé

I know why you stay…

I didn’t used to understand, but I do now…

Do you feel like no one gets it?

Do you wish someone would force you out?

Some days, maybe it’s a little of both…

Well, I suppose there are thousands of nuanced reasons to stay – as there are just as many reasons to leave. You stay because you love deeply. You cling to hope. And you desire his wellness more than anything in the whole world – even unto your own pain. You’ve seen something in him that won’t let you go, won’t leave you alone, won’t permit your defeat…

Yes, you’ve seen what he could be… should be… what you saw in him at the first. And the only thing more dangerous and devastating than Hope is Hope Lost…

After all this time, if there is anything that you fear, it is that: Wasted Hope riding wasted hopeful years.

But I understand that no one else will see it that way, dear woman. I understand that they will look at you and find only weakness where, rather, they might marvel at your strength upon closer examination. I understand that they will judge you for putting so many things at risk…

For…

One…

Man…

Permit me some parallels…?

So, what is a life worth anyway?

It began with a simple conversation, steeped in doubt but riddled with desirous hope. My husband and I sat across the table from a convicted felon who, since serving his time, was now a spiritual leader seeking to make significant ripples across the landscape of our town.

There was so much to love in that conversation and fellowship; there was much to hope. We already sat under his leadership and understood the following. And, still, always this nagging doubt and unbelief ebbed and flowed. Could he be trusted? – And, even more than that, Was that even the right question?

Rather than a sure answer or certain discernment, this question shot through my soul with all of the momentum and predestined chaos of a boomerang:

What is a man’s life worth?

I am not one to entertain haunts, but, some time later, I found myself compelled to watch the Netflix documentary called I Am A Killer. Alone in my dark living room, I absorbed the first three episodes. (This is highly abnormal behavior for me.)

I watched the story of James, a killer, who had never had a family and never known love, but I saw my James — one of the young men who lived with us in the group home my husband and I had worked in a few years prior. Their stories were not so different, and I wept as the episode closed, thinking:

What is a man’s life worth?

A short time after this, I watched the Netflix release of Nothing To Lose, a documentary about Brazilian mega-pastor Edir Macedo. However sympathetically, it told of his childhood struggles with bullying and his youthful grasping for intellectual and spiritual fidelity when faced with what looked like nominal faith amongst churchgoers.

Unknowingly, it also retold the same basic story of every kingdom-seizing pastor I had ever known in the Faith here in the States as well – in which the desire to overcome hypocrisy becomes the ignoble god that finally turns men into the very thing they hate. Mr. Macedo deserved compassion no less than the beloved ones I had known, even if wrong.

And, again, the question lingered like a hair in a biscuit… gum on your shoe… grit within an oyster… beach sand in your nether regions… leftover in your fridge… this ridiculous sentence:

What is a man’s life worth?

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.

Psalm 145:8-9

The going rate of a soul, in any arena, is not too good these days…

Potentials

It’s no secret that women see potential and swoon. Without a doubt, that gift comes from our Creator who said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We have a radar on that, don’t we, ladies? We can spot it a thousand miles away:

Man, alone.

Not good.

I’ll help.

Ha. Oy vey. And so it begins… every time. (This applies whether one is Christian or Crazy. All women universally pick up this vibe and choose from a variety of responses. Matchmaking being a popular one.)

Over the last year, the Lord has been taking me on a spiritual un-backpacking trek through my life. S-L-O-W-L-Y, I might add. Beginning with childhood and on from there… I think we’ve finally reached my mid-twenties…

Well, it’s been like watching a dream I had several years ago on repeat in slow-motion. In the dream, I was walking through a bedroom that was very outdated and, yet, precious to me for various, personal reasons, and I understood that it was my past.

In real, waking life, the Holy Spirit has been gently leading me through that room and showing me things – events, people, mistakes, tragedies, hopes – from His perspective. That is to say, He’s been slowly replacing every painful thing with sweetness… showing me how indeed “all things work together for the good of them that love God” and walk accordingly (or die trying anyway)…

EVERY. PAINFUL. THING.

I mean down to the minutest detail.

The things that have come back to my mind and been returned to me with peace by His hands have been… well… breathtaking. Some of the memories have brought great pain too, but not in the same way as when I lived in that room… Even pain, when held within His perspective, can be transformed into something beautiful.

I too was just a bit of potential back then… unclear, uncut, and unfinished.

Foundations

Within the same dream, I kept anxiously returning to the foundations of the house. I was deeply concerned about its structural soundness. But, in the dream, the foundation of this particular house was made from GIANT cedar logs split in half. GIANT. The house sat off of the ground and the logs were immense. More than enough to hold it all up…

But, when speaking of love, that’s not where I began.

I entered my first marriage with a list of ultimatums: Do this, this, or this, and I’m out. Period. And yes, I literally said so aloud.

I did not believe in unconditional love… and, if I’m honest, I’m not even certain that’s a Biblical concept (the idea of unconditional love) because God’s love isn’t exactly unconditional… imho. But feel free to argue theological points with me later. (You better have more than one verse to back it up though! I see in macro not micro… If there’s an IF statement, then it’s conditional.)

Even so, “love covers a multitude of sins”, and I definitely wasn’t anywhere close to that either. Well, Leigh Nash said it best:

If you say you love me, I’ll say ‘Sure if you say so’…”

(Blue on Blue, Along the Wall)

Because, really, my ultimatums said more about my makeshift foundations than anyone else. If I could argue with God about whether I could be loved (and I certainly did), you better believe I could project that argument toward those closest to me too (in unspoken or spoken ways)…

Again, the way we see others says far more about ourselves. We can’t blame the devil or others for that; it’s more often our own foundations showing.

So, dear girl, when you believe the best of someone and get ripped to shreds by a harsh world, when you extend hands of mercy only to receive the chill of a biting wind, when you reach to embrace but find yourself mocked instead – I don’t believe what they say about you. Our world calls bad good and good bad. Our world persists in calling the innocent, the naive, the broken, the hopeful, and the victims words like ‘gullible’, labels like ‘asking for it’, ‘co-dependent’, ‘uninformed’, ‘insecure’, or a ‘glutton for punishment’…

I hang my head with heartache and wonder when desiring to believe the best about someone fell so far below society’s expectations that such hope must now be called wrong. When did that happen? And why are we okay with it?

The love of many has grown cold. If we dare to hope, we might be labeled an insecure glutton; if we dare to leave, we might be shunned for doing something ‘God hates’… There are many such loveless loopholes in Christian society today.

Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.

Matthew 24:12

My potential radar was keen; my foundations, however, existed yet in flesh and blood – in all of the cold hardness of this fallen world.

Reasons

Even so…

What is a man’s life worth?

What is a woman’s life worth?

What is a child’s life worth?

There are reasons to leave after cleaving… Sometimes, to spare the soul, one must divide the body. It’s a hard reality, but because of the sin, the wickedness, the “hardness” of our hearts, it’s the truth.

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”

Matthew 19:8

I appreciate that Jesus was a realist, personally. He didn’t rug-sweep or break bruised reeds; that’s an ethereal line to walk. (Try it sometime.)

I think about Abigail in the Bible (I’m going to let you look it up if you don’t know the tale). She married a fool. Well, because of customs then, she probably had little say about his potential in that marriage. Nonetheless, that was the situation. If I recall correctly, the Bible calls Abigail wise and beautiful by contrast. If she had any brains at all, it was likely a troubled marriage…

Anyway. Her husband (being a fool) neglects to provide for David (the future king) and this sets the shepherd-king off. He’s coming with his men to kill Abigail’s husband and (if I recall correctly) his entire household!

Abigail, being wiser and alerted by her servants, rushes to make things right with David, falls on her face, and intercedes with him to spare them – admitting the nature of her husband and asking David to “remember” her when he is crowned king.

God himself deals with her husband; he dies that very night, I believe…

Later, David returns to claim Abigail as his own wife. (Woah. Soon-to-be wife of the king!… Though, if memory serves me well again, I think they had some years yet of hiding out.)

Well, for any woman in a rotten-to-mediocre marriage, not well-matched, it’s the first modern fairytale, isn’t it? [Ahhhhhh. I just got my next book idea… lol]

Consider:

What was Abigail’s husband’s life worth?

What was Abigail’s life worth?

What was David’s life and provisions worth in this tale?

Oh souls… I think we terribly underestimate God sometimes. His ways are not our ways. And we terribly abuse people when we try to fashion them by the letter of the law rather than by the Spirit of Grace…

Was that not also the Pharisees’ mistake?

Some also grossly miscalculate their own worth. (We’ve all been guilty of this at some point.) Biblically speaking… love is God’s idea… justice is God’s idea… and He doesn’t slap the same label of worth across every soul. Think about that…

*Note that God took care of Abigail’s situation, not man… We tend to break all of God’s laws AND His heart when we take matters into our own hands. While divorce, in some situations, is the only way out, let’s not go around killing anyone’s husband or wife, ok?

I know I shouldn’t have to say that but… if we need this kind of warning label in society then I better make myself clear, right? Or die trying… (You can fine me later.)

What About Love?

Sometimes the effect of my poker-pen-face astounds me. Do I sound like I have it all figured out? Let me assure you: I don’t. And that’s not the message I mean to convey. Even so, like you, I have lived a little, heard a few tales, and sought wisdom from God; sometimes, I have something to say about it all.

For instance, I know what it is to love after the flesh…

I know what it is to love by pure emotional need…

And what it is to love someone after the spirit…

And wow. The first two can be misidentified and mingled, but that last one… loving after the spirit… that one is unmistakable. Nothing else comes close…

The only relationships that have stood the test of time and distance and even of falling out in my life have been those that fell into that latter category. And it’s not always romantic (in fact, the best Biblical examples of it are not); it’s just markedly different and superior to the other forms of love. Because it is fashioned and bound by the Spirit, it is also unshakeable…

One of the dearest examples of this in my life past was a former father-in-law. We were complete opposites and, yet, like white on rice: We took to each other and endeared one another. And it was a bond of the Spirit…

When I divorced his son, however, the sky fell down. He told me off and gave me the cold shoulder for years. You know what’s funny about that though? When it’s a bond of the Spirit, it’s hard to even be mad. I was deeply sad and deeply disappointed by his reaction, but I did not stop loving him in my heart. How I felt about him did not change… even if it became a depression rather than a source of delight for a time.

Anyway. Some many years later, we made amends, and the joy that brought me was no less than what I had known before the injurious incident. It’s as if it never even happened…

And, I’m telling you, only a bond of the Spirit, love after the spirit, can do that.

*We can foster that kind of Christ-love in every relationship (to some degree), though I do speak here of the sort that seems to naturally and suddenly befall souls – like a Jonathan and David sort of beloved loyalty, a Naomi and Ruth kind of devotion, a Daniel and King ‘Chad’ kind of hope-beyond-sin, a Mary Magdalene and Jesus sort of tenderness…

So, what of love?

Without Christ, it is nothing.

Without the Spirit, it is shakeable.

Without grace (free from fear), it is not perfected.

If you are married, set your Maker up on high as your ‘Husband’ – as, in a spiritual sense, Abigail did (displayed by her actions). This you can do regardless of the state of your marriage.

(And men, you can set Him up as your Helper. That is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit, right?)

If you are seeking, do the same… and pay attention to those who enter your life suddenly like the spirit… whom you love without reason and without ultimatums attached… striving-ever, like Jonathan with David, to submit and surrender to God’s will even before your own rights. (Because that’s the real stuff, friend.)

That kind of love… it doesn’t come around every day.

*Note, I did not say without expectations. Even God has those – call it whatever you like! I’m not saying let anything fly; I’m just saying… love freely, when it is given… as the Father has loved you.

“We love because He first loved us.”

1 John 4:19

Without receiving and understanding His love for you, it is darn hard to love rascally and fallen people – even the most saintly of them! And it will always be an inferior love if not forged (shaped) by His Spirit.

Loved,

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