On vacation over the summer, I was powerfully struck by my last night on our cruise ship. My friend and I had spent the week with the handful of other single people our age on the boat, and two of them had very incredible stories of their past. Joe and Matt (not their real names) were recovering addicts, from some heavy drugs, drinking, sex. They were incredibly crude, and crass. While they had recovered from one addiction, they simply replaced it with another. They were still fascinating people to talk to - eventually I'll try to explain why my friend and I hung out with them all week.
As a recovering alcoholic, Matt had made a habit of buying all the underage teens on the boat drinks, while he indulged in TONS of coffee and cigarettes. The last night, the teens had circled around us, rowdy because most of them were at least tipsy. One 17-year-old was bragging to us and the gathering crowd how he had slept with 3 girls on that ship already, and his mission at college the next year was to sleep with every single girl on campus. He even demanded that my friend and I sleep with him. Obviously we refused, and this sparked an indignant outrage. He eventually left after trying very hard to pick a fight, and Joe made a comment that I don't think I'll ever forget. Joe asked me what kids like this made me feel.
"Frustrated, annoyed. I really wanted to smack some sense into the kid," I said.
Joe quietly responded, "Kids like this used to make me angry, or I'd pity them. But now, I can only feel compassion. You've got to think, if they're acting out in such dramatic ways as this, they've been hurt in deep, serious ways." And this came from Joe, who the entire rest of the trip had been heavily drinking and trying to sleep with various women himself.
With that perspective, I find it difficult to be angry at kids who lash out. They lash out because there is something deep, hurting desperately inside them. And the louder and more dramatically they cry out or abuse others, it only illuminates the depth of their own pain. We cry out, and try to fill this hole that exists in place of the loving relationships we are missing, even as we fervently deny that anything is missing. We are in control. We don't need anyone else, they'll just hurt us.
We have different ways we reject or accept love, essentially. For our different reasons, we have difficulty loving one another. Maybe we were abused, emotionally or physically. Maybe we lost someone important whom we loved and they loved us, and we've never recovered. We are all hurt people.
Each of us knows loneliness in our hearts. We've all felt that sense of abandonment, that we were missing the fellowship that made us whole. Even God knows this sense of loneliness - and remember we were created in His image. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1:1-2) God was lonely, and He created us to have someone to love. He craved a relationship with us.
What about that sense of betrayal each of us have felt? When we are forsaken by those who should love us, especially people who should love us unconditionally? God knows how even this feels. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Jesus died alone on the cross, without his Father, and completely innocent and undeserving of any of his abuse or unlove. Maybe part of Jesus' death on the cross was so that he would intimately know the depths of sorrow and hurt of a father who turned his back on him. Jesus was perfect in that he had no sin, but he was also perfect in that he didn't allow this forsaken-ness to stop him from being our Savior. In fact, it makes him a more compassionate and perfect savior because this hurt brings him even closer to us. Despite this brokenness he experienced, he is still capable of love. He IS love.
"Whoever does not love does no know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8)
Like us, Jesus experienced what it was like to be unloved, left behind, and abused by a loved one. Jesus is perfect, there's no way he deserved any of it. And yet his Father left him forsaken. If the most innocent of us was forsaken by God Himself, then why do we still think if we are forsaken we must deserve it?
The truth is, we fail to realize that when we are hurt or forsaken by those that we love, it is not because we are unworthy of their love. Was Jesus unworthy of God's love?
If we are ever going to begin to heal, we must accept that we are worthy of love, even and especially with, our flaws. We don't have to be perfect to receive love. Jesus was perfect, and yet plenty of people hated him, had him crucified, and even his Father left him alone on the cross. Being perfect does not mean you are loved more.
If you can't accept that there is a God, friends, family, out there that love you unconditionally, you will never be able to give that love to anyone else, including God. You must accept a relationship with God.
This has been very hard for me. I constantly think I am unworthy and shouldn't receive His love. I close His love for me off because I think I don't really deserve it. "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) The only way me or anyone else will ever heal and stop trying to earn love that is impossible to earn is to let love in. God is love.