I Corinthians 13:1-7
The Way of Love
1If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
2If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.
As a writer, I often pride myself in the ability to put together words in such a way that you’ll want to read what I’ve written. Beautifully woven together words into perfect sentences make great stories. Words are powerful to inspire, motivate others to change, and move our emotions in powerful ways. I think of the first time I read my favorite book in high school. It was The Stand by Stephen King, and I was hooked from the very first page. The characters and the plot all flowed together into the perfect climax of the ultimate battle between good and evil. I still remember the power and exhilaration I felt as I read along. There are times I wish I could read it over again for the very first time. His words were full of power and intensity. If a mere man can move me to such powerful emotion with his written words, what in the world would an angel be capable of doing? But God says without love our words alone are nothing more than a useless sound.
The first time I heard him preach God’s word in the pulpit they were full of power. They answered my questions and cleared up so much confusion. I remember going home after church and journaling about what he said. My numb heart that had been too afraid to feel from years of abuse was moved with emotion. But God says even if our words are powerful enough to make changes, without love we are nothing.
I gave this man my heart, my time and so much of my devotion for the next ten years. There were times I believed I would die for for him. But God says without love even our best sacrifices gets us no where.
This weekend is Father’s Day. It’s the weekend that is probably one of the most difficult in the year for me. I probably won’t get on Facebook too much, because the pictures others are posting of their wonderful Dads will only remind me of what I wished that I’d had. It’s getting better. I’m learning to focus on my husband and thank God for the gift that he has been, but my traumatized brain isn’t ready to stop reminding me of what the lack of a healthy relationship with my father brought out in my desperate heart.
It was around Father’s Day 2004, when my pastor held me close and with tears in his eyes looked at me and told me he loved me. It was the day I believed God had made him the father I’d wanted but never had. It was also the day I thought I’d experienced God’s real love. But then only a couple of months later I realized he wanted more than a father daughter relationship, and I foolishly believed what he was offering was love.
I wonder how many more times I’m going to have to write about this in order to be healed. I get so tired of reliving the pain and humiliation, yet I know I need to see what it is God wants me to see every time I come face to face with this pain again so that I can keep healing.
Ten years ago I sat in a chair across from him for the first time. He looked me directly in the eyes and assured me I was going to be delivered from my painful childhood. After that day, I was on a desperate journey to get better quickly. I ravaged the pages of the book he’d given me to read that was supposed to be the first step in my journey toward deliverance. I spent hours on the phone with him seeking for every answer. The emotions intensified and took on a power of their own. I felt like I was on a runaway train that couldn’t be stopped. He was all I could think about. I’d never experienced anything like what I felt with him, and the only thing that made sense was to call it love.
I’ve been reading The Betrayal Bond by Patrick Carnes. In this paragraph, he describes the deception of intense emotions.
When you come from a family in which members showed little emotion or affection, and you meet someone around whom there are lots of feelings, you might perceive this as intimacy. At least there are feelings. But if the feelings are about high drama, betrayal and passionate reconciliations, it is not intimacy. It is intensity. And it is both adsorbing and addictive.
Reading this sentence I could clearly see that my first “counseling” appointment was full of feelings that I misinterpreted as love. When he looked me in the eyes and said, “I don’t understand this, but I love you,” my numb heart felt resuscitated from the dead. It jumped to life with the power of his words, and I don’t ever remember another time of feeling more alive. But the feeling passed and impatience took over. I had to see him again. I lived for the next phone call and meeting. He told me over and over again not to tell anyone about what we had. No one could ever understand our love. The betrayal and secrets only intensified the emotions and were the glue that bonded me to him for the next almost ten years. Carnes says:
Intensity exists in relationships when there are betrayal and victim/ victimizer scenarios. Intensity thrives on fear and arousal— especially sexual arousal or the fear of sexual betrayal. Return to our circle of intimacy analogy where to be intimate, both have to be in the circle at the same time . Intense relationships often have one in and one out of the circle. There is always the prospect of more betrayal and abandonment. High drama becomes a way to manage anxiety. Dramatic exits, for example, act out the anxiety, rather than use the tension for healthy problem solving. Conflict, in fact, is more likely to be resolved through escalation than resolution. Episode follows episode as the cycles repeat.
Yet I believed it was love.
But I see clearly now that my heart was never satisfied, because it wasn’t love. I realize without love all we are capable of producing is intensity. Which might feel like love, but is really nothing but something that takes up space. Carnes quotes in The Betrayal Bond one of his clients who said: “Intensity is like Styrofoam. It takes up space but has no substance.”
True love and intimacy was what I’d been looking for all along. Looking back on things now, I realize I had to understand what love wasn’t in order to see what love was. Like the children of Israel who believed they needed the same bread and quail they had when they were slaves, God allowed me to have what I believed was love. And it was coming out of my nostrils before I understood it wasn’t what at all what I wanted.
“TELL THE PEOPLE, CONSECRATE YOURSELVES. GET READY FOR TOMORROW WHEN YOU’RE GOING TO EAT MEAT. YOU’VE BEEN WHINING TO GOD, ‘WE WANT MEAT; GIVE US MEAT. WE HAD A BETTER LIFE IN EGYPT.’ GOD HAS HEARD YOUR WHINING AND HE’S GOING TO GIVE YOU MEAT. YOU’RE GOING TO EAT MEAT. AND IT’S NOT JUST FOR A DAY THAT YOU’LL EAT MEAT, AND NOT TWO DAYS, OR FIVE OR TEN OR TWENTY, BUT FOR A WHOLE MONTH. YOU’RE GOING TO EAT MEAT UNTIL IT’S COMING OUT YOUR NOSTRILS. YOU’RE GOING TO BE SO SICK OF MEAT THAT YOU’LL THROW UP AT THE MERE MENTION OF IT. AND HERE’S WHY: BECAUSE YOU HAVE REJECTED God who is right here among you, whining to his face, ‘Oh, why did we ever have to leave Egypt?’”
I could easily beat myself up reading these words, but that wouldn’t be helpful, nor would it bring about the freedom God wants in my life.
There is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus Christ. God didn’t allow me to see what love wasn’t to bring about judgment, but rather to show mercy. The evidence of God’s mercy is that He doesn’t let us go our own way. His love is patient and calm like an ever flowing stream, and faithful as the sun that rises and sets every day. It’s power never subsides and never leaves. And I can rest knowing that He has promised to finish the work in me. His plans are for good and not for evil, for a future and a hope. The promised land has come and He is not going to leave me to die in the desert.
In The Betrayal Bond, Carnes goes on to describe true intimacy:
Intimacy, in contrast(to intensity), starts with mutuality and respect. There is neither exploitation by abuse of power, nor betrayal of trust. Passion flows from vulnerability and care —and is a function of the soul. Intimacy relies on safety and patience. Healthy intimacy usually has no secrets. Intensity requires secrecy and develops from it. Intimacy pushes partners to grow.
When I think of God’s love I am amazed at how He has never given up on me. He understood how enslaved I was to my false belief of what love was. He could have used His power to bring about an immediate change, but He didn’t, rather He continued to remind me in kindness of His love until the chains fell off, and I went home to Him. There’s so much I don’t understand about everything I have been through, but I realize today that love is more about consistency and less about intensity. It’s present day in and day out whether I’m on the mountain top or in the valley, throughout the joys and pains of our daily lives. His love is so patient. And it is the only thing that has the power to cast out fear and bring about peace.
Sometimes the normalcy of my day to day life is hard. I was so accustomed to the intensity of the abusive relationship and the heightened emotions it produced that I get impatient when I don’t feel like I am on the mountaintop. Sitting at a ladies book club last week, I struggled to just listen to the normal stories of moms taking care of toddlers and another mom dealing with the struggles of getting her teenagers to all the places they needed to be. And I prayed and asked God to help me to be content and to love with His love. And I realized that though these ladies lives weren’t filled with the drama of overcoming abuse or addictions, they were filled with the same presence of His love that He wants us to reveal to one another. Though our day to day journeys in this world often look very different, His love is at work in all of our lives teaching and growing us ever so patiently. Our stories may be different, but His love is the same.
And I realize there’s a much better way than the intensity I believed was love. And it comes through sacrifice rather than abuse.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. (I Corinthians 13:1-7 MSG)
Downhere A Better Way