Love. Trust. Love.
Everything starts with Love.
I just finished a 3 month sabbatical! I went into it on a journey towards emotional health. It started about five years ago, when I was introduced to the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. It’s been a slow journey. I’ve re-read EHS a few times and referred back to chapters another half dozen. It’s been useful in helping me navigate relationships, but also propelled me on a journey of inner healing.
I was already on this journey for quite a while when the opportunity came up to take a sabbatical. I’ve heard it said that, “God doesn’t waste anything,” and I have certainly found that to be true. I didn’t know how many pains, frustrations, disappointments, and misconceived ideas about God had been shaping my heart. I also didn’t know that the many devotionals, podcasts, therapy sessions, and Enneagram work I had been doing would play such a huge role. (I’m very thankful for my family, friends, and mentor during my sabbatical.)
I say all that for you to understand this hasn’t been just three months . . . it has been the culmination of five years of work (although I don’t really think I’m done).
I guess I gave you the punchline already—everything starts with love.
The first thing I worked on was re-engaging, within my heart, God’s love for me. I sat with this idea for weeks. His love for me despite sin and inadequacies. His unconditional, never-ending, relentless love for me. I was the “one” for whom he left the ninety-nine.
God’s love for us is the most important thing to understand. No, understand is not the right word. You have to contemplate it. Sit with it. Know it on an emotional level. It’s first-button, first-hole (i.e., buttoning a shirt)—if you “understand” this well, it sets you up for everything else that follows. If you don’t get it, you’re stuck! And it’s subtle too. I thought I had a good handle on it—in a lot of ways I did. But once I reengaged my heart with His deep love for me, it set me free to be able to love Him deeper as well. Not merely in my head. Not contractually. But in relationship.
This call from the Lord reminds me of John 21 when Jesus is reengaging Peter after his three denials. Peter (or Kevin), do you love (brotherly love) me? Or, are you even my friend?
David Benner in his book Surrendered to Love says it this way: “What a different relationship begins to develop when you realize that God is head-over-heels in love with you.”
Once you understand Jesus’ love for you, individually—not just that God loves the world but that He sees and knows you as you are and takes pleasure in you as His creation, child, and friend—then you are able to truly love Him in relationship.
It’s hard to trust someone as deeply as God is asking us to trust Him without a love relationship. If it’s merely contractual, it turns into legalism or quid pro quo.
After you understand God’s love for you and reciprocate that love, you are able to trust Him with your life and truly surrender control (or the illusion of control).
You are able to understand God’s goodness in all things—not just when things are turning up roses, but trusting God’s goodness in all seasons. Then, when situations arise that are challenging, frustrating, disappointing, or just make you angry, you can bring them to God and say, “I trust you with this. Even if things are painful or don’t go my way, I trust that you can get me where you want me.”
“Surrender to the ‘will of God’s good pleasure’ is, according to St. Francis de Sales, trust in God’s love.”David Benner, Surrender to Love
There is a bit of mystery to God that is difficult to understand and, frankly, hard to swallow at times. However, when you are confident in God’s absolute love for you and you can love Him back, trusting in God’s love helps you through the mystery of God. I have found, at times, the mystery turning into wonder—I can be in amazement of God. It may go without saying that there is no straight, linear line to this point of being. I would even say there is an ebb and flow, much like the ocean. Some days it’s higher and more confident than others. That is the nature of being human in a relationship.
This is not a typo — for me, this process began with love and it ends with love too. As I began to trust in God, there came challenges to that trust. If you know anything about the Enneagram, I display Enneagram one characteristics, which means I often think I’m right about things. You might be able to see right away how that can present relational problems.🙂 I can also be quick to judge. Trusting in God means that I have to believe in His ability to work in others’ lives and give them the grace to be on their own journey, on their own time frame. Jesus invites me to love others the way I have been loved. And maybe I should clarify: The new, deeper way I have received and engaged with God’s love is what He is asking me to give away. The unconditional love, grace, mercy, and compassion I receive, Jesus now asks me to give away—with equal measure.
It’s easy to get frustrated at myself, trying to love people better but finding it hard to actually do. However, In Surrender to Love David Bender gave me a new understanding and freedom. He said, “The reason nothing changes is that the focus is still on me—my failures, my remorse, my discouragement, my effort. Love requires leaving all of this behind—all my self-preoccupation and all my willful striving. Love cannot be simply a result of discipline and resolve. It must flow from the heart. Regardless of the amount of love I naturally tend to have in my heart, it is not enough. The love I need is the love of God as His love becomes mine.”
And further, “If God’s heart is to become mine, I must know His heart. Meditation on God’s love has done more to increase my love than decades of effort to try to be more loving. Allowing myself to deeply experience His love—taking time to soak in it and allow it to infuse me—has begun to affect changes that I had given up hope of ever experiencing. Coming back to God in my failures at love, throwing myself into His arms and asking Him to remind me of how much He loves me as I am—here I begin to experience new levels of love to give to others.”
So we should expect that there will be setbacks to loving people (or any area of maturity), as stated before, but it’s worth saying again. We aren’t merely on a forward-moving (only) journey. It ebbs and flows. We receive God’s grace for our shortcomings and sins, and then, as we receive God’s grace more and more, we “get to” give it away.
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