My parents separated when I was six years old.
While growing up, I often heard the words, "Your father doesn't love you! If he loved you he would do . . . this, that, or the other thing."
I was a Daddy's Girl, so to hear these words crushed my heart. At the same time, I suspected they were true. After all, I experienced times of terror when I was with my father. Yet, despite all his mistakes, I still loved him and longed to be loved by him.
"Your father doesn't love you! Your father is a manipulator! YOUR FATHER . . . . "
After hearing those words over and over again, and knowing some were true, I couldn't help but ask the question, "What is love, anyway?" How does someone "know" if they are loved? So . . . I went on an exploration to discover the answer because deep down the real question taunted my thoughts, "Does my dad really love me?"
He hugged me a lot, taught me a lot, and said he loved me. Wasn't that love? At the same time, I remember when I was younger being terrified of my father and even wishing he was dead. Talk about a love/hate relationship.
Yep, pretty messed up.
While on this trek of discovery, I asked my school psychologist (I regularly saw the High School shrink because of my lovely, pleasant, wonderful childhood experiences), and I asked her, "What's the meaning of love?" She gave me some great advice during this time (which will be revealed later in this post), and she gave me an answer about love that I didn't quite understand. I also discovered that she was busy seeing a psychologist herself and was having a hard time, revealing to my already confused mind that we in this world were ALL a MESS. So . . . I moved on.
That's when I came upon a school counselor, and he was happy to invite me into his office when I asked him my question in the hall. I sat at the other side of his desk when he leaned over and whispered, "I'm really not allowed to share this with you, but because I can see you believe in God, let's just keep this between the two of us." I was more than willing to keep that promise, after all, God was our shared confidant, we had God in common (and by now, this man is likely retired or in his grave, so it's safe to reveal his secret). He proceeded to draw out a pyramid of sorts and explained how love was all based on "trust." He built this pyramid or graph, and after listening to a message that was as unclear as my psychologist's words, I asked him, "Is this what God really says love is?" Nodding and offering for me to take his drawing, he heartily confirmed that his definition was "God-Approved."
I studied the man closely as he tried to convince me that his definition was directly from our Lord and Savior, and as he continued on, all I could wonder was, "When did this man ever meet God? How can he be so confident that this complicated and confusing definition was really from our Lord? As a matter of fact, how can anyone know the truth or be right when none of them have ever met God in person? Seriously?" I thanked the man, because he did work very hard at helping me, and went home thoroughly, utterly lost and confused.
What did "trust" have to do with whether or not my dad loved me? How did trust work in our situation? I knew one thing was certain, I didn't trust my dad. But that didn't tell me if HE truly loved me.
So . . . I moved on again. This time, I approached a cute guy at church, an excuse to have a conversation with my latest crush. He also just so happened to be a Bible student. I asked him, "What is love? How do I know if my dad loves me? Do you know if there's a verse in the Bible that talks about love?"
That's when he showed me 1 Corinthians 13. I eagerly opened my Bible and started reading. A verse that actually DEFINED love! Who knew something like this was in the Bible?! As a brand-spankin' new Christian, I certainly didn't!
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says,
"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not SEEK IT'S OWN, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (emphasis mine).
Hmm, was my dad any of these things? Well, he was kind of patient because he didn't pester me about not speaking to him. Yeah, I'd cut off communication with my dad for several months, and this was after he baptized me. Was he kind? Well, he did study the Bible with me and that's a nice thing to do.
Suddenly, a thought stuck me like a lightning bolt.
Here I was wondering if Dad was "love" and if he matched up to the definition, and so far he was doing pretty good and fitting the bill. But . . .
Was I "love?" Was I pleasing to God? Was I patient? No, I really had no patience for my dad. Was I kind? Well, not really. I wasn't even speaking to him at the moment. ARG! This meant, I was the one that was NOT loving my dad!
I immediately drove all the way to his place, dreading every mile as I got closer. "God! I don't want to have a relationship with my dad, and I know this apology for not loving him will reopen that door! I don't want it! I DON'T! But I know I have to be "love." I have to live up to the clear and obvious definition you put in your Word. So, I stood on my dad's doorstep for God, not for my dad. But the tears on my dad's face softened my heart a bit, despite the fact that I still didn't want to be near him. Yet, none of that mattered because I knew my heavenly Father above was proud of me. He was the one smiling. Perhaps shedding a few tears? Nah. He wouldn't do that. Or would He?
Not long after this, my mom ranted at me again with the oh-so-common words, "YOUR FATHER this that and the other thing!" I remembered my High School shrink's words, and with angry tears turned and snapped, "Don't you mean YOUR ex-husband?!" Apparently, I took blame upon myself for my dad not being what he should be, all because of the words, "YOUR father."
For the first time, Mom backed down, stepping away several feet from the sharp swing of my words, and gazing at some distant place in the room that no one could see but her. With sorrow and shame clouding her face, she opened her mouth to speak again, but this time . . . she apologized. And what's so amazing about that moment is she truly was sorry because she NEVER said "your father" again.
Thank you, Mom.
But now, here I was stuck in a relationship with MY father, and it was one I really didn't want. It's taken many years, as I'm now 43, but it was just this year that I learned something quite valuable. Am I being the definition of love, or am I trying to GET love? Is it all about me, or about the other person? What am I looking for in my relationships? My father is never going to love me the way I "want" or "need." Does that mean he doesn't love me? No. He loves me. I know that now. Does he mess up and make mistakes in loving me? Yes. Do I do the same? YES on ALL accounts. So, I've finally learned, even if I "have a right" to that love I'm looking for, it should not keep me from being what love is.
I love my dad for God's sake. I love my dad because I love my God. I no longer love my dad for myself and what I can get out of the relationship, or even for what he should give me. Not anymore. And because of that, I'm not "looking for anything" from him and being let down and disappointed and HURT. I have no more expectations. I've released all of my "wants" and even my "rights" to what I should receive or wish to receive from him. Doing that makes it a nice surprise when he does do something I "want" or "need." It's a pleasant surprise when that happens. But I don't then turn back to him, looking for those things. Instead, I lift my eyes to my heavenly Father who does know "how" to love. Who loves me, even when I fail at loving Him. THAT my friends is true love. God knows how to love. He does it even while we're in our sin. "While we were yet sinners, He died for us!"
So . . . for now on, when you're not getting what you want from someone or what you need from someone, or even what you have a "right to," don't worry. God doesn't get from us what He desires either, but . . . He still loves us. He will still satisfy those needs through other people, or He will simply expect you to grow during that time in the desert.
Just be "love," no matter what. Be LOVE.