I once fell head over heels for a girl with a less than perfect past.
While no one’s past is spotless, it was clear that she and I came from completely different worlds. Until we met, it had never occurred to me just how sheltered I had been by my churchy upbringing, alcohol-free private college, and my mostly Christian friends.
My unexpected falling for her resulted in a bit of culture shock, perhaps even a challenge to my own identity.
At first, I felt a strong sense of entitlement; I felt gypped. I had carried myself in a certain way my entire life in hopes of one day meeting my wife. But the girl that had my affection had not done the same for me, and it pissed me off. It was unfair that she had gotten to experience what I perceived to be ‘fun’ while I had chosen to abstain.
This anger (to my surprise) faded rather quickly, as humility set in and reminded me of my own shortcomings. Holding her past against her was selfish, and if nothing else, meeting her was the best thing that could have happened to me in order to learn humility in that aspect of my life. I learned to let go and to experience the joy of not being in control. Very soon, the sense of entitlement melted and gave way to forgiveness, and this opened a deeper affection and a deep longing to win her heart.
This ravenous desire to win her affection put me in full pursuit of her… perhaps too much so. And for the next few months, time stood still, the sky was bluer, the clouds were prettier, and the stars shown brighter every time that I was with her, and she felt the same. I was falling for this girl, and it gave me great joy to love her in a way that she had never been loved.
This courtship gave me insight into the benefits of living a pure life. Prior to this, I always thought that I had been “missing out” by restricting some of my behaviors. This was truly the first time that I began to grasp that my naivety was beneficial to not only myself, but to someone else as well, because I was the sole ‘suitor’ who was after more than just her body.
She confessed that she had broken pieces and that she had deep seeded hurts and wounds. And I wanted nothing more than to pick up the broken pieces, put my arms around her, and to let her know that her brokenness was enough for me.
I can honestly say that I reached a point at which it did not matter what she did or did not do, it did not matter if she considered me her boyfriend or not, and it did not matter what her past was – I loved her regardless.
Loving her helped me to quickly identify and get over my deep seeded need to judge other people. For the first time in my life, I experienced a love inside myself that was nearly free of judgment, free of selfishness, and free of ego. It was not dependent upon who she used to be or would someday be, and it did not change based on her inability to love me in return, I simply loved her for who she was, warts and all.
It wasn’t long, however, that she began to pull away. As feelings began to deepen, she felt unworthy, and she shut me out by putting up walls. She expressed that she had a hard time accepting my love because she did not deserve it.
She admitted her feelings of unworthiness, told me that I deserved better, and thus ended my blissful pursuit of her heart. She was deeply flawed, she said, and she was not prepared for someone like me. She was doing me a favor in letting me go.
She stopped returning my phone calls and started resisting my advances. It was not because she didn’t desire me, it was because she did not want to be reminded of the love that she was unable to accept.
And in that moment, for the first time in my life, I understood God’s love.
It wasn’t that my love was unconditional. That part of God’s love was never a mystery to me. Instead, this was the first time that I ever understood the idea of ‘accepting’ God’s love.
God does not need human interaction – He is complete in and of Himself. Our ability to accept or reject His love has no effect upon Him – it only affects us. It is ever present and unconditional regardless of who we are or what we do. It simply ‘is.’
For the first time, I understood that I too was loved in spite of all of my flaws and regardless of my behavior. Just like my love for this girl, which existed regardless of how she saw me, I understood that there is also a love for me, and it existed regardless of if I recognized it, believed in it, or understood it. It simple ‘was.’ All I had to do was accept it.
The hardest part, however, is indeed accepting it.
Much like my friend, we do not deserve this type of love, which makes it evermore difficult to accept. It is easier to ignore it, to cast it off, and to be apathetic. The thought of being loved in spite of ourselves is often too much to accept.
I also discovered that there is no point in trying to earn this love, because my past is imperfect, and I am prone to wander in the future. Yet in that moment, I chose to accept it, and a warm feeling of intense joy filled my body.
God is not a man in the sky waiting for us to mess up. He is not a bearded dude who threatens to torture you if you do not find him. God is the ever present love that is unconditional, completely perfect, nonjudgmental, all forgiving, and more pure than you could ever deserve.
There is nothing we can do to deserve it or earn it – we can only choose to accept it or to reject it. And it remains, regardless of what we choose to do with it.
Although I wanted to love this girl, she chose to reject it because she felt undeserving of it. It wasn’t long after that she experienced a time of deep pain and regret over her past; she felt unworthy of anyone’s love, and she turned to self destructive behavior. This hurt my feelings, but ultimately she punished herself. Her own pain and sense of worthlessness prevented her from experiencing a love that knew no judgment, a love that needed nothing in return, and a love that overcame any of her past failures. She missed out on so much good.
How much greater is the suffering we experience when rejecting a love more perfect than any human can provide.
I can’t help but wonder if hell is not some place of eternal punishment, but the simple rejection of God’s love here on earth. I wonder if the ultimate punishment for rejecting a perfect love is not the physical flames of hell, but the lifelong torment of never feeling God’s perfect love for us. To live a life without experiencing this love? That sounds like hell. And oh, the self destructive behavior we turn to in order to try to fill that void.
We all know that we are undeserving of perfect love, so we attempt to earn it instead. We frustrate ourselves by trying to make ourselves worthy, as if our good deeds will outdo our shortcomings.
This is an impossible task. But His love is not waiting upon us to be deserving or to earn it, it only waits to be accepted and then experienced.
Here I stood, willing and desiring to love this girl in spite of her flaws, insecurities, and imperfections, and all I wanted was for her to accept it and love me in return. She could not earn it, she needed only to accept it.
She could not do it, and she experienced a little bit of hell as a result.
So it is with a love far more perfect that my own.
By rejecting God’s love, by attempting to earn it, by ignoring it, and by pretending that it is not there, we do not change the nature of God’s love – we only limit our ability to experience it.
Under this microscope, the idea of being “eternally separated from God” brings new meaning and a new reality. It is not a place of flames and hunger and torment and worms, it is the inability to experience a love more perfect than we can understand.
Without it, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
There is no substitute for experiencing a love that knows no judgment. One can try to fill the void with a variety of activities, but they all are artificial and temporary. None can bring the wholeness of a perfect love that comes only from the Source.
It’s a shame that most church people don’t understand this. They instead fill the void with judgment, because they’ve never experienced a love that truly had no judgment.
Most view God as a judgmental dude in the sky, and their actions reflect it. If they had experienced a true love from the Source that knows no judgment, they would have no reason to judge their fellow man, because there is no shortage of love.
I think Jesus came to show us this. He healed people who did not deserve it, and he spent time with people who were cast out or unworthy. The ones that Jesus did condemn were the ones teaching of a God who’s love appeared to be conditional – the religious elite.
Jesus reflected perfect love that was completely selfless and free of judgment. He loved without expecting anything in return, even to the point of laying his life down for those who rejected him.
His love ‘is,’ regardless of one’s ability to see or feel it.
…and that’s the Jesus that I want to follow.