I sat on the far side of the room looking at the two people I loved most in the world, him in the chair to my left, her on the couch to my right. The pain and sorrow was palpable in the room. I was 25 — a free loving hippie, flower child who sang songs I wrote about the hope found in Jesus, and I believed Love was the answer to everything. Her face was drawn and tired, his expression, unreadable as usual. From the place of my endless optimism and faith I said, “Why can’t you just love each other?” She rolled her eyes and made a sound of exasperation, dismissing fully what I said. I was naive. I was young. I clearly had no way of understanding what had brought them to this place of impasse. I could not help them reach one another again, the divide an unbridgeable gulf between them.
We were created to love and be loved. I’ve said this all my life, yet have been confounded as to why it didn’t work the way I thought it should. Love heals. Love is the answer, yet we suffer and yearn for something we just can’t seem to attain. We feel alone, betrayed by those closest to us, and we fail one another time and time again even when we try with everything in us to give the love we have.
One of my ongoing prayers over my life has been Teach me to Love, Lord. I have been a student of Love, yet have mostly felt unloved and unloveable, cast out, unworthy, and alone. Why is that? If God is Love, and we belong to Him, why the hell is it so hard?
Sitting in my therapist’s garden during a group session autumn of 2020, I was contemplating this very thing. What is it that I believe that keeps me held away from what it is I need most? And the whisper that came to my heart was that I believed the very worst thing that could happen to me was to be alone. I feared being alone more than anything, having consistently felt abandoned and betrayed by those I loved most in my life. This word — Alone — was the pentacle of all my deepest fears. I won’t make it alone. I wouldn’t survive it. I believed this through and through. But as I sat among the falling October leaves, I began to understand that the core motivation of all my actions in relationships had been to avoid this certain treachery. Alone. But the problem was that nothing I did caused me to feel connected, none of the things I did to avoid being alone worked, because the truth was I felt alone anyway. In a room full of people, with my friends, with my family, surrounded and hemmed in by others, I still felt this black hole in me that couldn’t be filled.
Despite my best efforts to avoid being alone, I still was. I was compelled to reach out and make the connections I believed we were created to have. I pulled and grasped for what I so desperately needed, which (spoiler alert) never accomplished quite what I was after. The harder I tried to avoid Alone, the more others would pull away feeling pressured and suffocated by my need, creating the very thing I feared. And it occurred to me that if I, indeed, was alone, then it wouldn’t be the end of me – it was already happening. And like a light coming on, I understood that my deepest fear was not Alone. My deepest fear was called “Unloved”. And just like that the driving force in my life had a new name, and the puzzle pieces began to fit together.
All my life I have believed that Love looked like two things – being needed and desired. As long as someone needed me in their life; needed my help, needed my insight, needed my presence, then that meant they loved me. If a man desired me, wanted me, was aroused and reached for me, then I was Loved. But as I looked at the patterns of relationships in my life I knew I had those things. I was needed. I was desired. Yet, I did not feel loved. And in this dawning light, I knew I had misunderstood all along. Being needed and desired are aspects of love, but it is not the fullness of it, and I had accepted these things as love in my life, all of my life — and I was left feeling alone, confused, and certainly not loved.
This moment of clarity led me to begin asking myself, “Ok then, if these things are not Love, then what IS love? What do I need to feel loved? What does that look like?” And I began to put language to the longing inside me.
Empathy, vulnerability, connection, safety, kindness, emotional reciprocity, spiritual connection, being heard and validated in my struggles, laughter, and companionship – these things speak to me of what Love is.
Could I have these things in my life? And that’s when I knew the only way to have what we need is something the Spirit had been saying to me since 2017. Sallie – the path out of hiding is to tell the truth (about what you really think and feel), and say it out loud (to those you want intimate connection with). To have genuine connection with others, vulnerability is required. It just is. It sucks so bad because vulnerability opens the door to rejection. The fear of being rejected kept me silent about what I really needed, so much so that I didn’t even know what that was. I was so afraid of reaching out — yet again — and being dismissed, that I hadn’t even asked myself what my needs were. I just blindly grasped for Love in anyone who happened to be around at the time, not knowing what it even looked like. No wonder I was frustrated. No wonder I was hurt. No wonder I was alone even when surrounded by people who cared for me.
We have been told that Love is the answer — that Love heals us — that Love is what makes the world go round, but how often are we directed to finding out what that actually looks like? I’ve heard sermons all my life on the love of God, yet I came to understand I didn’t know how to practically apply the 10,000 foot view concept into my life. I have prayed and prayed for God to teach me to Love because I felt like such a burden, such a pariah, so unlovable. Love has been the most sought after, yet most elusive thing in my life until I began asking myself the questions, and telling the truth about what I really desired. What if I say it out loud and I still don’t get it? What then? Well, then you’re asking the wrong person.
Learning what Love really looked like, brought me to understand that I had been asking people for things they could not give me. I had only required to be needed and desired, but if there’s more to it than that, then inevitably the people I had surrounded myself with that fulfilled those parts but nothing more, were not going to be the ones to love me how I needed to be loved. And if that’s the case, then there truly must be a season of Alone, while the tides turn and I let go of those that are not loving me, and wait for the ones that will. (There is more to say about this another time.)
Alone is not the worst thing. Unloved is.
So my friends, until next time – be brave, feel the feels, and grace to you as you wait for the tides to turn.