To Know Love and Pain

WordPress tells me it’s been about two months since I’ve posted anything. I was trying to blog once per week, but I realized I don’t consistently feel like I have enough well-organized and creative thoughts to write every single week. There are several partially composed posts sitting in my Drafts folder, which never reached completion because every time I sat down to write it would turn into word vomit. This happens periodically when I fall too deep into the rabbit hole of introspection. Hopefully these words contain some sense of coherence and usefulness.

One of the posts in my Drafts folder was an attempt to reflect on a question I’ve been sitting with for several months during this prolonged season of thought-gazing. The question is “who are you?”. It’s a question I’ve been internally posing toward others, myself, and God. I quickly realized I can barely grasp that question in regards to who I am, let alone others and God. But in the midst of repeatedly asking myself this question things have started to emerge. Perhaps we could call these “things” ideas or life mottos, or maybe they’re the budding signs of an answer to the question.

One thought that has grown out of this season is about pain. Who am I in relation to my pain and the pain of others? A couple months ago I jotted down a passing thought on a blue sticky note and put it in my desk drawer, and since then I’ve seen it every time I open that drawer. The note says, “To be able to bear the pain of others with them we must see and know our own pain”. I don’t remember what spurred on this note, but I still believe it to be true. If I am ignorant of my own pain—my own psychological, emotional and spiritual baggage—then when others start throwing punches and hitting my weak points I  will react from a place of pain and anger instead of acting in accordance with who God has made me to be. However, if I allow my pain fresh air to breath,  if I am able to look into the mirror and stare deeply and unwaveringly into my own eyes, and if I sit face to face with God and acknowledge my brokenness, then I can begin to be whole again. In his book In the Name of Jesus Henri Nouwen says,

Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begin to invade the human soul this is not something that comes from God. This sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without any conditions or limits.”

I’ve come to realize that there are three aspects to the two great commandments, but they are each variations on one thing, namely love. In the words, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” we are told to love God, love neighbor, and love self. To love our neighbor as ourselves there must first be a self in which love abides. I think appropriate self-love only comes when we know that we are loved without any conditions or limits, and the only consistent source of such love is God. The one way to take that love into ourselves is to respond in love. 

In light of this love I no longer have to be dominated by fear, isolation, or despair, and when I see these start to bubble up in others I know that I can respond in love, not pain and anger.

So, while I continue exploring the deeper complexities of this “who are you?” question I will do so in light of the response, “you are loved”.