Saturday, March 24, 2012

But the greatest of these is love....

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches.  Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.  For apart from me you can do nothing.
                                                          John 15:5

I have thought a lot about love and what it looks like in my life recently.  My favorite Bible verse conveys love as being the most important thing (1 Corinthians 13:13).  To sum it up, Christ teaches us if we carry love in our core, then everything else in life will fall into place.  We will have joy and happiness in our hearts.  We will be hopeful and faithful.  We will be able to forgive and extend grace to those around us.  In the Bible, Peter reminds us to put love before anything else: Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).  Jesus teaches us loving God wholeheartedly and loving others is the two most important commandments.  If we’re able to live out these two things, the rest will follow.  Jesus also includes those who hurt us into the equation.  Seriously?  Jesus wants us to love our enemies?  You’re kidding, right?  I know, this philosophy doesn’t seem to fit really well in today’s society.  Why is this so challenging to accomplish sometimes?  For me, it’s difficult to show love to those who don’t love me back.  Retaliation sounds more like it, right?  There have been several times I’ve carried vengeance out in my head.  I’ve played over and over the dreadful words I would say to them if I had the chance.  It feels pleasurable for a little while, but then the Spirit reminds me I must love them regardless of what they’ve done.  I remind the Spirit of how much fun I was having and we go back and forth for a bit.  Naturally, the Spirit usually wins: But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness….” Galatians 5:22.  I wonder what this world would look like if we stopped fighting back and started loving more?  I wonder what my world would look like? 
I’ve had a long, hard experience with rejection.  All through my earlier years, I’ve felt abandoned and scarred from past relationships.  Kids can be mean!  In seventh grade, there was this boy who would tease me in between classes.  I was a skinny, pale, awkward and lanky little girl with huge framed glasses.  My teeth were in some desperate need of braces.  I was not the prettiest thing to look at and this boy constantly reminded me of this daily.  He bullied me for a while.  After being in my face, taunting me, I finally had enough.  I swung my book bag around, took it off my shoulder and lunged it right into his stomach.  Boy, it felt good!  Honestly, it still feels exhilarating when I think about it.  Needless to say, he was shocked.  He couldn’t believe that I had fought back.  I couldn’t believe it either.  I’m sure he even felt a little embarrassed.  This is just one of the many times I was picked on.   This baggage of being bullied certainly carried over into my adult life.  Not that I go around punching people in the stomach with my bag.  But, with trust issues and a guarded heart, I fought through this world unable to fully love people the way that I wanted.  Christ is just now helping me heal from the damage.  I’m learning from Him I can be loved even when no one else can.  He’s helping me through my rejection issues. My insecurity issues.  He’s making me feel loved like I’ve never been loved before.  It’s been an incredibly vulnerable and humbling process.  I still have a ways to go though.
I’ve grown a lot in the last few years.  My rejection has taken a back seat and I’m not fearful about getting myself out there.  Hey, I may be rejected, but I’ll get through it.  It’s worth trying.  Face my fears, right?  I’ve never been great at nurturing friendships in the past, but since giving my heart to Christ, He’s given me the ability and confidence to get out there and foster my relationships.  It certainly hasn’t been easy.  God has definitely been pushing me to be relational even when I don’t want to be.  I’m thankful for what He’s done even though it’s been challenging.  I feel like a different person at times.  However, I’ve still experienced sadness from human conditional love. 
I’ve felt betrayed by some friends this year.  I was left trying to put the pieces together wondering what I had done wrong.  The interesting thing is they probably didn’t think much about it, but I fought long and hard through it.  Fighting through tears.  Fighting through confusion.  Fighting through heartache and anger.  I’ve realized I’ll never get this time back.  It’s not such a loss because through the process of my hurt I gained insight and wisdom.  Seeking Him in the midst helped me find peace and clarity reminding me He loves me.  He cares for me.  He’ll protect me.  He will not forsake me.  Who knows what expectations I didn’t meet in these friendships or if I actually did anything at all.   Maybe we didn’t have much in common or maybe we just changed, but an explanation would’ve been nice, huh?  A little communication would have been helpful.  Instead, I’m left wondering what happened.  I’ll probably never know and I’m in the process of getting comfortable with not knowing.  I do know one thing; I felt that I loved these individuals to the best of my ability.  For whatever reason, they just had a hard time loving me back.  There are still moments when I think of these friends.  My heart feels sad that we’re no longer doing life together and I miss them, but there’s an acceptance. There’s a peace.  If they ever needed me, I can honestly say, I would be right there beside them holding their hand.  However, I’m having a really difficult time getting out of my comfort zone to reach out to them.  I’ve tried, but something has stopped me from putting any more effort into them.  God can bring people in my life, but He can also take people out whenever He feels that it’s necessary.  God obviously knows something I don’t.  Maybe He’s teaching me this is what life is all about and these friendships were just a season…. now it’s time to move on.  Maybe He wants me to experience rejection so I can cling to Him realizing He’s the ONLY one who can love me the way I want to be loved.  Who knows, but I’m gaining something valuable from it all.  I love the moments when I open up to Christ’s positivity.   However, at times, I tend to lean towards the negative thoughts.  “Why don’t they want to be my friend?”  What’s so wrong with me that they’ve turned their back on me?”  “What could I have done differently?”  I feel like a young and immature schoolgirl in these moments.  It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but even in my adult life I revert back to those feelings of rejection that so often plagued me before as a child.  It’s uneasy to not feel special, needed or liked.  We all feel it even if we’ve told ourselves we don’t care… we care.  God has created us all to be relational and when you’re not liked, it doesn’t feel good.  It’s crazy with each brick Christ tries to tear down around my heart; I sometimes pick back up and start building the wall up again.
I reached out to a very dear friend of mine about how these particular friends have made me feel.  She gave me some insightful wisdom, which actually came from her mother.  She said, “not everyone is going to like you in this world and it’s okay!”  Wow, this is so true.  It was freeing!  It takes the pressure off that I have to be liked by everyone.  I've heard this so many times before, but for whatever reason something clicked.  Through this statement, something came to the forefront of my mind: Christ wasn’t liked either by this world.  The bricks started to come down.
I’m comforted Christ felt rejection, too.  John 15:18 says, “if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first”.  By these words you can see He felt rejection.  It’s incredibly ironic the hate of the world and His love for humanity is what ultimately saved mankind.  To get more personal, He was betrayed by two of His followers.  As most of you know, He prophesized their betrayal in the Bible, but He loved them anyway.  Each and every person on this earth has betrayed Him, but He loves us anyway.  Christ is the ultimate testimony of love.  However, I know I can’t  possibly begin to know how to love like Him.  I’m human.  But, I do believe if I carry love in my heart, I’ve got complete faith He can give me the ability to love the way He wants me to love.  Maybe not like his "perfect unconditional love", but just love.  Giving Him control of this is a freeing and liberating experience.  He can take my ability to hate and turn it into love.  He can transform my life with love, which in turn can affect others:  My family.  My friends.  My neighbors.  My enemies.  Everyone around me.   
Christ never promised if I carry love in my heart those around me would like me.  He did promise if I carry love in my heart, I would carry joy even when someone hurts me. I will be able to forgive easier if someone betrays me.  I will continue to be faithful even if those around me criticize me, put me down or reject me.  Because of Him, I don’t have to allow those around me to break my spirit. The beautiful spirit that Christ wants to use to illuminate His light will be protected.  I’m going to continue to be hurt in this life, but I’m so grateful I’ve got someone on my side who will always protect me, love me unconditionally and will not forsake me.   I’m so thankful he’s tearing some of these walls down and loving me in the process.  I love how God works. 

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