Responses · Testimonies

“Jesus Loves You More Than a Man Ever Could” – On Guilt & Falling in Love

I was listening to a love song. A person came to mind (or maybe to heart) when I heard it. And I immediately felt guilty.

back at the pianoI grew up in a culture that told teenagers their romantic feelings and desires were something they needed to get rid of. And if they couldn’t shake those feelings and desires no matter how hard they tried, they had to direct them toward Jesus instead.

“Jesus loves you more than a man ever could,” I was told innumerable times. And when I’d have a crush and it just wouldn’t go away, I would reprimand myself for not letting Jesus be enough for me. I loved Him so deeply. But I didn’t have confidence that He was satisfied with me; I believed He was demanding I love Him more and love Him differently. I didn’t believe my genuine love was enough for Him.

When I was told Jesus loved me more than another person could, the application was always: “So you better give Him credit for that.”

Back in October, when I heard that love song, I felt guilty. Because I wanted to sing it about a person, and what’s left of teenage Tessa immediately pointed an accusing finger and told me I couldn’t. I had to sing it to Jesus, or I shouldn’t be singing it.

But then I heard the whisper:

“What if I sang it to you?”

A bit of all of it happened. And He healed something in me that day.

Jesus loves me. More than anyone else ever could. But instead of the response to that truth being guilt, He wants something different.

When He sang that love song to me, He wasn’t shaming me for any lack on my part (and He certainly wasn’t angry at me for having feelings toward a person). He helped me understand by using a song I could relate to: the way I felt for that person? It resembled how He felt about me. And the response He wanted– the response it naturally elicited from me– was not guilt or forced praise.

It was awe.

I had so much in me for that person; it swept me up just to be in possession of it. They didn’t have to do anything to maintain it. It was something living in me, for them. I loved them because of who they were, not because of anything they felt (or, more accurately, didn’t feel) toward me. It was overwhelming in a beautiful way. And finally it was beginning to connect– God goes through that concerning me?

I am a wildly imperfect person, yet I am able to love in measures like these. Why have I believed that God who is Love… would do less?

It would take more time for me to unpack these things. I’m still in the process; He’s still teaching me how to let Him love me. But I wrote in my journal that night, after the song ended:

“Maybe the whole reason we fall in love is so that we can grasp Him better.”

[Listen]

Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies · The Basics

On The Giving & The Receiving of Love

flower walk, pink and treesGod knows how to love you.

He knows what’s going to reach you. He knows how to show you love in a way that will connect with you and make its truest mark on you.

He doesn’t love like people do.

People have loved you, but not perfectly. Sometimes, their love has manifested as dominance and even control. And it scares you, makes you build your invisible boundaries so that people can see you but can’t know you. You are open and honest and don’t hide your true self from anyone… but never do you give yourself to anyone. You let them see, but don’t let them touch. Because if they can touch, they can hurt. You don’t want that to happen to you anymore. So you hold up your invisible boundaries, so that you are visible but not truly vulnerable.

You know love is giving. That love is always a risk. But the cost… you’re not sure you’re truly willing to pay it.

She tells you that to love is to be willing to be broken for their sake. And that in order to be loved, you must make yourself vulnerable to receive what they give… which makes you vulnerable to the risk of being hurt. You know she’s right. You want to listen to her.

But you realize that in your efforts to keep people from controlling you, you have begun to act controlling toward them. You’ve learned to maneuver conversations and interactions so that you can keep anyone at a subtle distance, to protect against the chance of them hurting you. And when He shows you that you’ve even extended that to how you relate with Him… it terrifies you. Because who is He, truly, if He isn’t the image you’ve crafted of Him for yourself? If you can’t ignore pieces of Him and pretend He’s someone He might not be?

You pray a prayer you can feel the danger pulsating throughout: “Reveal your true self to me. Help me to accept the way you want to love me, even if it’s not a way I’d ask for.”

He starts answering. But not in ways you expected. And you even expected the unexpected.

He shows you a young man. One who is sweet and humble, but not without being strong and bold. The young man leaves soon, but not without searing that image in your mind. Part of you slowly begins to believe those things can coexist, gentleness and strength. Part of you begins to see that strength makes you feel small, but doesn’t have to in the ways it has before. Instead of intimidating and scaring you, this strength can make you feel safe. You don’t have to feel powerless. You can feel wrapped in it, and it can warm the winter in you. Among the wild mess inside you, there’s a moment of clarity, and you realize that is what’s happening.

You realize it is Him doing it.

You see that His love is meeting you in ways that will get through to you. He’s been going at your pace. Instead of demanding you change so that you can be loved, He has been entering what’s there, even your vices, and loving you. Not simply in it, but with it. Anything, He says, to be with you.

Anything to love you.

He knew what would reach you. You hid, but He still saw you and knew you. He became the shape that would fit the hole you’d found yourself in.

He knew the deep desires you barely knew existed in your heart, and He entered them, met them in ways you wouldn’t have thought. You didn’t think to want these things, because you didn’t believe you were the kind of person who would ever have them. But He brought love home to you, in a bouquet of flowers bigger and more elegant than anything you’d ask for. It blew you into wide-open wonder and gratitude. But you weren’t looking at the flowers when you thanked Him– you just looked at Him. You met His eyes with your teary ones, and you just looked at Him. Because He was the gift. He didn’t only give you flowers; He had given you His heart. Himself.

Love is giving. The giving of yourself for their sake. And He knows that more than anyone. He always has.

He’s been doing it right under your nose this whole time.

You thought you had to do the hard work of breaking down all the lies that live in your core before you could let yourself be loved. You tried to take steps to do so, and it was beautiful and brave of you. But He chuckles, and He murmurs into your ear that only one thing has ever been necessary.

All you had to do was lean into Him, and let Him love you.

So that’s what you do. You close your eyes, lean against His chest, feel Him wrap you close.

And you let Him love you.

“Simple trust is your participation.”   –Eve by Wm. Paul Young

Responses · Testimonies · The Basics

On Having Feelings for Someone

I’ve rewritten this post a few times as I processed it, and I think maybe this time I’m finally able to look at things more clearly, without a foggy environment for my thoughts to swim. It always feels kind of strange to be writing about this, but it’s something that’s important to me and I’d like it to be something we talk about more. And I know some people talk about this too much, but I think that, at least in my circles, we don’t talk about it enough. There are things we’re ignoring that are hurting some of us, because almost all of us have refused to deal with them.

I don’t know if this is something I’ve ever been directly told, but it’s something that I’ve always believed, which makes me think it’s either a pretty big philosophy of the culture around me or something human nature struggles with. But: have you ever felt guilty for being attracted to someone? Like you had to tone down the feelings you had for someone? Have you ever believed that God didn’t want you to have feelings for someone? That you were disappointing him by having someone who gave you butterflies? Because I have. This has been my life. And dear friend, if this is your life, too, I want to tell you what He told me.

I have to get a little personal for you to understand the potency of His words, I think, so I hope that’s okay. Last year at this time, I was talking to the Lord pretty frequently about a man in my life. We weren’t together or even considering being together; he was simply a friend I had hidden feelings for. I wondered if maybe someday we would get married, because we just. . . fit. You know those people who carry an atmosphere that just compliments yours so well? He was one of those. Whenever I saw him I felt connected to him; his atmosphere and mine felt warm and natural together. Along with that, he had many qualities and even quirks I’d always pictured my husband having. He looked like my husband inside.

I loved talking to the Lord about him because it always carried a bit of excitement. But I also became a little impatient. I told Him so many times that I didn’t want to invest my heart in someone who wasn’t my husband, and then asked Him to guide my feelings. Some days I’d ask Him to straight-up tell me– “Is he my husband, or do these feelings need to go away?”

About a year ago, the Lord unexpectedly straight-up told me. I honestly didn’t think He would, because in every other instance He’d simply let my feelings fade (which is totally okay). But this time, He was so clear. And even on days when I’ve wanted to doubt if I really heard Him, I know I did. I know the Lord told me that I will not be marrying this man. But that wasn’t the only thing He said: He talked about what my husband will be like. And I am so excited to know this man, because even the small little things I know about him are making me smile as I type. The Lord’s revelation to me was not a sad one, it was a joyous one! Still, there was now a man in my life I knew I wasn’t marrying– that I still definitely had feelings for. To be honest, I still feel for him sometimes, although usually I’m fine.

I didn’t always handle it well; I actually became bitter against myself. “Tessa, why are you still holding on to him?” I’d reprimand. “Why can’t you just let him go? He isn’t your husband, you can’t feel this affection for him! You have to let go of him!” When I was in the midst of reprimanding myself, I’d talk to the Lord, too. I asked Him what I could do about this man I saw frequently and still had a deep affection toward. And He answered that question, too. He said, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again” (1 Pet. 1:22-23).

DSC03978He told me that I am still called to love him, no matter the title he holds in my life.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this answer at the time, so I just journaled about it and tucked it away; it peeked out at me occasionally, and it discouraged me because I didn’t know what loving him looked like without the feelings I had. That was quite a while ago now.

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking about a man I know, and my stomach becomes fluttery and I end up smiling. This is going to sound strange, but I’m honestly not attracted to people easily; I’m aware of when someone is attractive, but I myself am not usually drawn to the person in that way, so when I do feel that warm flutter at the thought of someone, it’s a slightly big deal (in a sense). I talked to the Lord about it, and asked Him what I should do. And do you know what He said?

He told me to love him. Just like He’d told me to love the other man at the beginning of the year. And I don’t know why it took so long, but I finally realized: it is never wrong to love someone.

I’m not at all saying that I’m in love, or that letting yourself be consumed with thoughts for someone you know you won’t marry is okay. I thought He’d said that at first, but I’ve been talking to Him more about it, processing it, and even talking with a friend about it. And I don’t think what I thought at first. At first, I thought He was telling me I could feel recklessly without consequence. But I’m almost positive that wasn’t it. When He told me to love that man last year, He also told me he wasn’t my husband and that I needed to stop investing my hope in him. I didn’t understand how the two could go together at the time, but now I’m beginning to.  Feeling for someone? That can’t be helped. But obsessing over my feelings for someone? Daydreaming, constantly thinking about our interactions, investing hopes that don’t belong to that person? That’s my choice. I can control that, no matter how many times it’s felt like I just fell into it.

The Lord knew I would still have feelings for that man, and He was telling me I didn’t have to ignore them or be ashamed of them. Instead, I could use them as an opportunity to genuinely and truly love someone. My heart for him was already so big, because I’d grown so fond of him. It may not be “let’s get married” love– but it’s love. And it’s love that is pure because I genuinely adore him. I have the opportunity to release wild kindness and heart, because I can still love this man I sometimes feel for.

You see, when we (or at least I) feel for someone, we wonder what to do. “How do I treat him? Do I approach him for normal interactions, or wait for him to approach me? Can I be my sarcastic self with him, or is that flirting? How deep do I let our conversations get? Can we hang out, or would it feel too much like a date?” I could go on and on, but I think you might be able to add to this train of thought yourself. The point is:

We spend our energy wondering how to interact with them, when the rules haven’t changed– we are meant to love them.

Yes, there is the layer of feelings on your part. If those feelings are reciprocated, that’s something to talk and pray about. But if it’s just you? Potential titles do not dictate your behavior, and they don’t have to dictate your thought life, either. You don’t have to be afraid, and you definitely don’t have to be ashamed. Feelings are natural, and sometimes they take a long time to fade. Sometimes, they don’t fade; maybe your feelings will lead to something. And with the mindset of love on that journey, you’ll be able to say, “I loved them deeply before romance was ever a factor for us. I loved them with Christ’s love. Period.”

There’s a gigantic difference between guarding your heart against corruption and hiding from people you feel a real connection to. God made us a body, He wants us to be connected [this article expresses it so well]. You don’t love people because you have hopes for a deeper relationship later on: you love people because love is what we were made to do.

We complicate things, but the Lord has made this so much easier for us. Dear friend, I know these feelings are crazy hard to deal with sometimes. But there’s only one thing you need to focus on here: how well are you loving them as a person, with your actions and behaviors and words? Are you a bright, warm presence in their life, even if you’re not a romantic presence? Don’t love them as someone you hope will belong to you– love them because you love them, because they are deserving of love. If you feel for them because you see things in them you want your future spouse to possess or because you love imaging the two of you together, do you actually feel for them, as the person they are? Or do you mostly feel for what you want them to be for you? I know: ouch. I feel that burn, too. I’ve only recently been realizing that this is the way my heart has worked. But now that I realize it, I can change it. I can choose to love people because of who they are, not because of who I hope they’ll be to me.

I don’t have to be ashamed of affection when I use it to love someone purely.