Love in the Time of Anxiety

Valentine’s Day is upon us, which means cloyingly sweet treats and cards with even more cloyingly sweet messages of undying love have lined the registers since the Christmas decorations departed. For weeks now, every time you bought groceries, you were assaulted by visions of cheery pink and red tins of candy, bright flowers, balloons and cards practically shouting at you: “Buy me, you dutiful slave to consumerism, or incur the wrath of your significant other for not validating this Hallmark holiday wrapped in glitter. Buy me!!!! Buy meeeeeeeeeeee.” *The final “Buy me” in a low, gravely, menacing tone*

And that is romantic love in a nutshell. At least the way it is packaged. Glittery on the outside, but full of empty calories and hot air on the inside! Do I sound like a cynic? Maybe. But I know that when love settles, it looks different. I know that when love says “I do,” it means “I will” endure all things. And that is a different animal altogether.

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Real love has grit. Photo courtesy of Photo Pin

If you are married, you’ve probably walked some messy roads with your spouse. And you, too, are aware that while that brand of love doesn’t sell so well in stores…it IS the real thing.

It’s easy to love when everything is shiny and new. What effort does that really take? But to love when it hurts or requires sacrifice…now that is much harder.

A friend recently shared with me her sadness over hearing several stories of infidelity among married couples she knew. “I think it’s our age,” I responded. “Our season of life…we’re not fresh off the boat anymore. Most of us are no longer newlyweds. Many of us have kids. It’s hard work. And some people look for ways to escape when things get tough.”

What happens when the landscape of your lives shifts? One income looks different from two. Your thirties looks different from your twenties. Life with children is different from life without children.

But if love is to last, it must survive through all seasons, not just the easy ones.

Real love, the kind that survives the years and decades of life’s changes and challenges, feels like work sometimes. It’s laundry and dishes, caring for kids, working long hours on little sleep, discovering and rediscovering your spouse’s weaknesses, feeling shock or betrayal or, at times, loneliness. But it is loving regardless.

The other day, I had an anxiety attack. If you struggle with anxiety, you know these are paralyzing. It had been a while since I had been so consumed, but like a sudden terrible and oppressive wave, it covered me in darkness. My mind raced, my fears burst open like a sky full of storm clouds. My fight or flight response lit up. I lost hours to panic. Hours. The day ended, and my body ached. My heart ached. I felt ashamed and empty.

A few days later, sitting on the couch across from my husband, I looked into my lap and told him…”I’m scared. I have so much doubt about so many things. Being a good mom. Taking care of my house and my family…” The list went on. And then Sam did something we don’t always do…because like so many people, we want to reason our way through the difficult times. This time, he offered to pray. His prayer was a powerful prayer. Truly. And his words, along with God’s Spirit, thawed away the sadness and shame I was feeling. I recognized this as one of the greatest acts of love my husband could have offered me.

He could have easily said, “Woman, you are being unreasonable. You are wrong. You’re making my life difficult. Get over yourself.” But he didn’t. He came alongside me and prayed for me.

Sometimes I hate that love is so messy. I would rather be a princess from a childhood fairy tale after the prince has rescued her and taken her for his bride. I don’t want to tend to the wounded. Or be wounded myself. It is humiliating.

I don’t want to wait for miracles. Or give more of myself when I feel exhausted. Or make dinner…again. I want love that is effortless. I want things my way. I want perfection.

One of my favorite photos from any wedding is the one where the couple, declared husband and wife for the first time, nearly dance down the aisle arm and arm on a cloud of happiness. It is an image, beautiful and full of joy. But it is also a fragile veneer. Because while they turn to face the world as two people newly united and shining with promise, they aren’t yet aware of the adversity, temptation and disappointment they will face over the years. Sometimes they will feel like a shell of what they once were. And that is when they will discover they are only as good as their unwavering commitment to God and one another in the best AND the worst of times.

Whatever you do for Valentine’s Day, remember that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) It is our real sacrificial love for one another that bears the image of God’s infinite love for humanity. That happens when we stay…despite the desire to flee. It’s when we give…despite the overwhelming urge to take what feels rightfully ours. It’s when we love at a time love feels like the last thing we want to do.

Real love doesn’t always sparkle. But it can shine. It can produce brilliant, beautiful things from the pit of our deepest, darkest failures. Real love stoops down to dress our wounds and comfort our bleeding hearts. Real love gets messy. Real love has grit.

Put that inside your Valentine’s Day card, Hallmark.

Thank you, Jesus, for your real love.

And to my Valentine, Sam, thank you for weathering the storms of life with me. May we always know and value real love.

Photo credits: href=httpswww.flickr.comphotosepsos6180907719epSos.dea via a href=httpphotopin.comphotopina a href=httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby2.0cca

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Part 2: On the Outside Looking In…The Blessing of Rejection

Soooooooo about that rejection you’re feeling…how could it possibly result in blessing?

I love the passage in Matthew 10, where Jesus commissioned His disciples for ministry and warned them about rejection. His advice to them is a bit shocking coming from the guy who also commanded us to “turn the other cheek.”

Barefoot

“Shake off the dust…” Photo Courtesy of Free Images

Jesus told them, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. (v. 14)” Jesus was urging them NOT to waste time where they weren’t wanted. Perhaps because he knew the disciples would struggle for acceptance the same way we do.

Have you ever tried to foster a relationship with someone who was not ready to receive your love or friendship? Or who was too busy being critical of you?

It might be easy for us to look at one biblical example like this one to justify always walking away when we feel rejected. But Jesus provided other responses to rejection as well–all quite different. For example, and I am skimming the surface, when the Pharisees questioned him and his ministry, Jesus used everything from silence to strong words as his response. Then there was his ultimate act here on earth when he allowed rejection to take Him to the cross.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem…But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3, 5)

Jesus’ offered responses to rejection on a case by case basis. And because he was Jesus, they were always perfect for the occasion. As deeply flawed human beings, on the other hand, our responses are also often deeply flawed. But I think we can take away at least two things from his example. First, there are many (right) ways to respond to rejection. And second, that it is only through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit that we can know how to navigate each rejection scenario as it presents itself in our lives. (Because we know that it will…See Part I of this series)

I love what Jesus also said in that same passage in Matthew as he prepared his followers for ministry: “As you enter a home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. (12-13)”

So many times, when I feel rejected, I don’t let peace return to me. After wrestling and pondering and trying to fix the relationship(s) or prove myself worthy, I am still not at peace….especially if it seems my efforts have been wasted or, worse, misunderstood. At some point, we have a choice about how to accept the limitations of a relationship or situation. We can allow it to disturb us deeply, or we can do as Jesus instructed and take back our peace…no matter what the outcome.

As it did for the disciples, rejection can redirect us, re-chart our course…in a positive way. If we believe God can redeem any situation, then we must believe this…that rejection can be a blessing in disguise:

Rejection can protect us. Looking back, there are several situations where I wish I would have taken Jesus’ advice to shake off my sandals and leave. I wish I hadn’t wasted valuable time where I wasn’t wanted or appreciated. But, thankfully, I eventually got the hint. And later I realized that rejection was God’s way of closing a door I couldn’t quite close on my own.

For example, there was a woman I started a friendship with at a time I was struggling to find close friends. I was so excited for this friendship until, suddenly, it fizzled out. I never knew why. It bothered me for months. A few years later, I discovered some things that would have made our friendship very complicated and could have affected my family negatively. I truly believe rejection was God’s way of closing that door at a vulnerable time in my life.

Rejection can expand our world. In a very practical way, one home’s rejection would lead Jesus’ disciples to other homes and towns. Rejection can do the same for us. It can not only change our course, but broaden our perspective and our world.

My mother gave me great advice once when she told me…find the girl who feels like you. When you feel rejected, seek out others who also feel rejected. And really that is what we should be doing as believers, seeking out the rejected among us, not making well-worn paths with all the people who agree with us and give us that familiar sense of comfort.

Comfort feeds apathy. Imagine if the disciples had stayed at the same home forever because they felt loved and accepted. Their ministry would have ceased to exist. They would have stopped following Jesus’ command to preach the Gospel!

By the way, it is completely counterproductive to find those other “rejected” people and sit and wallow and lick our wounds together. Though it is tempting to say, “Can you believe how rejected we are? Can you believe what those other people did to us?” Yes, I have responded to life’s rejection this way. But isn’t it much better to find those people and, together, model the kind of love and inclusion you wish to see in others?! What a beautiful way to redeem a disappointing situation!

Rejection reminds us we walk among the wounded. We’ve heard it many times: Hurt people hurt people. Wounded people look to strike before they fall victim again. Do you know someone like this? They become hollow and angry. While it is easy to become defensive and distrusting, it doesn’t help.

If we step back from a situation that has wounded us and recognize the other person was bleeding first, the situation becomes a lot less personal. In this way, God can teach us too look beyond the offense and straight to the need, which is where real ministry can happen. I still haven’t consistently figured this out for myself. I would much rather pull away and resent someone for their abusive behavior than love them as God calls me to love them. But when we can do the latter, it is a true miracle that brings about powerful change…if only in us.

Rejection can teach us REAL love. Contrary to the popularly accepted notion that inclusion and tolerance equal love, they aren’t the same thing. There are plenty of situations where we refuse to accept something about someone…but we don’t stop loving them. This is probably the hardest kind of love, but it is still necessary. And we are called to do it. Jesus loved those who betrayed him, persecuted him, beat him and nailed him to the cross. Real love, the kind without strings, doesn’t just happen. It takes work. And discipline. And the power of God in you. But it IS possible.

For every abandoned child, every lonely man or woman and every bullied and battered soul, God offers a refuge. He offers something better if we allow our rejection to lead us to Him. His perfect plan didn’t include these bitter rejections. But sin collapsed the beautiful harmony of Eden and sent us spiraling into darkness. The whole world aches with longing for love and acceptance. God allowed His son to walk through the worst possible rejection…all the way to death on the cross…to provide the only true way to freedom and acceptance in the arms of our Creator.

There are rejected among us…everywhere we go. If we pray for deeper understanding and greater generosity toward others, loving them without the expectation that we will get something in return, then we do what Jesus did–we take rejection and turn it on its head. We give love the chance to win, and we allow our pain to become a blessing to us and to others.

If you enjoyed this post, but missed Part I: Here it is!

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