Self-preservation. This is how I have lived most of life. I believed that I had to take care of myself, protect myself, because no one else was going to. During my teens, I decided, based on events in my life, that letting people get close to me wasn’t worth the pain it caused when they left. And they always left. So, I closed myself off from people, and hid who I really was. I became good at acting like I thought people wanted me to act, saying what I thought they wanted to hear. I could just put on a smile and convince everyone that everything was fine.
I was also convinced that it wasn’t only people who had left….God had left as well. My thought was that because I couldn’t feel God close to me, He must not be. I was certain that each time I had been hurt by someone God left me alone to pick up the pieces. (It was many years before I learned just how wrong I was). I spent over a decade hiding from people, running away when they got too close, to the point I even tried joining the Army just because certain people were getting too close and I feared getting hurt. Only in the past few years has God brought people into my life who have called me out on this issue. And only in the last 2-3 years have I been responsive, rather than hostile, to what they have to say.
God created us for community. We were meant to exist within the context of relationships. And relationships with sinful, fallen people (which we all are) are going to come with times of pain and hurt. But they also come with so many times of joy, fun, laughter, and comfort. The following are 2 of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis. The first is from the movie “Shadowlands” about the life of Lewis; the second is from The Four Loves.
Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
“The boy chose the safety, the man chooses suffering.” Accepting pain as part of life is part of growing up. Yet, scripture assures us it is not without purpose:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” ~Romans 5:3-5
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” ~2 Corinthians 1:3-4
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” ~James 1:2-4
Hard times mature us. They develop our character and God uses them to make us more into the image of His Son. Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Malachi all refer to God as a refiner. Have you ever seen what a refiner does? He takes the gold (or other PRECIOUS metal he works with) and places it in the fire and melts it down. As it gets hotter, the impurities rise to the surface. He, then, removes the impurities, puts it back in the fire, and repeats the process. Once this is done, he molds it into the desired shape for a particular use. Once molded, the metal is placed back in the fire. The refiner leaves it in the fire until he can see his reflection in it; then he knows it is done. God uses those hard times to refine us. He removes the impurities, molds us into His image for His purpose, and desires to see His reflection in our lives.
As I look back on life, I realize that God never left me alone to pick up the pieces. In fact, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could not have picked them up without him.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” ~Matthew 11:28-30
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ~Matthew 28:20