For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV
The title is a false statement but substitute my name for God’s and it would become true. If I’m living in a self-protective manner, am I living in love? God’s kind of loving is giving—giving so much it cost him everything. I would like to say that’s true of me too, but it isn’t. I’ve created so many self-protective devices that I've built thick barriers between my husband and me. Do I even know how to love?
I just finished reading The Shack by William P. Young. What an incredible story! And with so much meat! It’s given me a lot to think about, especially about love, independence, control and self-protection (others may not see this at all in the book and be “hit” by something completely different).
How do we decide whether something is good or evil? For many of us, that which causes pain and discomfort is evil and that which feels nice is good.
“[We] spend most of [our] time and energy trying to acquire what [we] have determined to be good...and [we] spend a huge amount of energy and worry fearing what [we’ve] determined to be evil.... It allows [us] to play God in [our] independence.”(page 135)*
Independence. We seek independence not only from God but from each other. I know I’ve lived most, if not all, of my life trying to be independent of others in so many ways. Relying on others has caused me too much pain and so I’ve built barriers.
“Rights are where survivors go, so that they won’t have to work out relationships.... [Jesus] gave up everything, so that by his dependent life he opened a door that would allow you to live free enough to give up your rights.” (p. 137)*
Free enough to give up my rights? Do I want to give them up? I do want my various relationships to work, especially my marriage. But how hard I’ve fought for my rights! Give them up? I’m not sure I can.
“...do you realize that your imagination of the future, which is almost always dictated by fear of some kind, rarely, if ever, pictures me [God] there with you? ...It is your desperate attempt to get some control over something you can’t.” (p. 142)*
Control. I was writing about that not too long ago. God was showing me that the way to let go of control is by serving, by giving. Here, in The Shack, he’s saying the same thing.
“...your independence with its quest for...fulfillment actually destroys the relationship your heart longs for.” (p. 148)*
It does? Have I been trying to solve a puzzle by throwing all the pieces to the wind? Have I been destroying the very thing I’ve been trying to grasp?
In the story, God asks the protagonist, Mack, “’Which three of your five children will you sentence to hell?’” The question is ludicrous! “How could God ask him to choose among his own children?”
As he argues with God, declaring he cannot do this, he comes up with a solution:
“Could I go instead? If you need someone to torture for eternity, I’ll go in their place.”God replies:
“Now you sound like Jesus. ...You have judged them worthy of love, even if it cost you everything.” (p. 163)
This is love! It costs everything I have, including my attempts at control and self-protection. Can I love like this? I’m not sure I can.
“Lies are one of the easiest places for survivors to run. It gives you a sense of safety, a place where you only have to depend on yourself. But it’s a dark place, isn’t it? ...are you willing to give up the power and safety it promises you?
“Lies are a little fortress; inside them you can feel safe and powerful. Through your little fortress of lies you try to run your life and manipulate [control] others. But the fortress needs walls, so you build some. These are the justifications for your lies. You know, like you are doing this to protect someone you love, to keep them from feeling pain. Whatever works, just so you feel okay about the lies.”
“But, the reason I didn’t tell Nan...was because it would have caused her so much hurt.”
“...the real reason you did not tell Nan...is that you were afraid of having to deal with the emotions you might encounter, both from her and in yourself.... You lied to protect yourself, not her! ...such a lie is unloving. In the name of caring about her, your lie became an inhibitor in your relationship with her, and in her relationship with me [God].” (p. 187, 188)*
What struck me from this interchange is that Mack did not say anything untrue to his wife. He merely withheld information. I do that. I’ve done so many things to inhibit my relationship with Tom. I’ve found justification for doing so, but truly, I’ve put myself in a fortress where I feel safe. I’ve stood at the top window of the tower, looking at Tom down below and faulted him for not connecting with me in the way I want and need. How can he? I’ve shut him out!
“So, what do I do now?”
“You tell her, Mackenzie.... Take the risks of honesty. When you mess up again, ask for forgiveness again. It’s a process....” (p. 188)*
Lord, I want to love the way you love. I want the fruit of love, but I don’t know if I can do this.
“Take the risks.”
Yes, but that’s scary! What if I get hurt? What if others get hurt? And yet I must, mustn’t I? I need to be open and honest with Tom. I need to tear down the thick fortress I’ve built and root out all the control I attempt to exert. I need to learn to give in service, even if it costs me everything, because this is love. I can’t do this without you, God, please help me! So be it.
*All non-biblical quotes are from The Shack by William P. Young.