I love deeply. I want to fix things. I have learned, however, through my journey of life so far—including authentic friendships, mentoring college women, and doing foster care—that I have very little power to “fix” anything. Yet love and sacrifice continue to be powerful, most clearly shown in the example of Jesus himself (the ultimate of both love and sacrifice—leading to life out of death, and hope for so many). Love and sacrifice are possible for us normal humans too, however, and enable transformation. But life is messy, and tiring.
I have been reflecting lately about just how common abuse and suffering are, even just in the sample set of people that I have personally known and interacted with. I know so many women who have suffered and experienced things I wish I could just pluck out of their life story. Yet there it is—part of their story—a glaring wound. It can feel like cracks in a mirror that they keep looking into, preventing them from seeing their beauty and preciousness.
When I keep hearing about stories of physical and emotional trauma, mistreatment, manipulation, loneliness, racism and intimidation, I get troubled and weary to my core. I have a deep trust in God’s sovereignty and compassion, and that gives me hope that will not be extinguished, but I can’t help but get overwhelmed at times. It is like a blanket of numbness and uncertainty, causing me to feel inadequate to help the people I love to process the consequences of traumatic events in their lives.
I firmly believe that to most effectively serve and care for someone, it is crucial to understand his or her story; I must listen and hear. Doing so humbles me, helps me to grow, and gives me tremendous compassion as well as love and friendship as I enter into both ups and downs with my friends. Over the years, I have often felt over my head in terms of how to give advice as a friend or mentor in a variety of scenarios. My eyes have been opened to a greater level of brokenness in our world than I ever knew of growing up in my sheltered environment.
I desperately want to help the people I love to find healing from wounds that have been inflicted on them by others or that come out of deep internal struggles they have. I believe that God’s Word has wisdom that will help, and I love to share the wisdom that I find there. Yet even as I share, I try to always do so with love, respect, and a willingness to learn. I am constantly a learner and always have more to learn, about life, culture, trauma, etc. So I want to walk with my friends, and encourage and remind them (and myself) to pursue a path of hope.
The only long term hope I really see and have is grounded in the fact that we have a God who cares. Jesus in fact experienced pain relationally and physically; he knew rejection and sorrow. Jesus’ love led him to the cross, to take on the judgment for all our wrongdoing, so that we could be forgiven and have new life in Him. It doesn’t erase hardship, but gives us life, strength and hope. He gives us an identity in Him and in our future with Him, not in our circumstances. The Bible presents a unique picture of health that is grounded, not in “overcoming” out of one’s own strength, but in receiving the gift of forgiveness, healing, hope and strength from God.
2 Corinthians 4:16 says “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
What does all this really mean for my day to day, however, since the concept of hope can feel very elusive? I think resting our identity in the Lord can help us embrace and pursue “adulthood.” So what does it look like to be an adult? Well, the end goal (which I pray and hope for both my children and the students I work with) is to be a person who is confident in who he or she is (I will use she here). Her identity (for a follower of Jesus) is grounded in how God sees her; she knows she is made in His image and sees herself as equally valuable to other humans, despite broken aspects of culture communicating otherwise. Because she knows God’s love, she is sensitive and caring towards others, even when they don’t deserve it. She is willing to go out of her comfort zone to seek to understand and love others different from her. She is able to submit to authorities in her life (such as a boss, or even a peer in a position of authority) because she knows that a role or position doesn’t change her value. She doesn’t hide from pain and sorrow, but walks through those things with others and with the Lord, knowing that strength is found in trusting God in the midst of struggle, not in ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t matter. She takes responsibility for her growth and for how she reacts to what people do to her, even if they are mean-spirited and trying to demean her (this is not taking responsibility for them, just for her reaction); she forgives freely and loves sacrificially.
This picture is not a life of ease, but it does involve peace, growth, and love. I freely admit that I do not live it this out perfectly in my own life, because of my struggles and failings; yet knowing God’s steadfast love and grace in my life enable me to believe that following Christ’s example in these ways is what will lead to joy and life. I am thankful that I don’t have to be perfect, because God’s love is not based on my performance, but on His work and His goodness.
Psalm 145:8 “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
And so we love, and will not grow weary in doing good.