He comes up to me and leans in close to my ear.
Will you pray for me?
Of course, I say as I look into his eyes starting to well with tears. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handkerchief, dabs both his eyes, and with trembling voice tells me straight . . .
I don’t feel God’s love.
Instinctively, I reach out and wrap my arms around this silver-haired man in his seventies.
Of course I’ll pray for you!
We separate and I ask, equally instinctively . . .
Do you feel you’re unlovable?
This time, he closes both eyes, lowers his head like someone hiding from God and from any human who might slip a shaming word. He seems to be looking for those fig leaves somewhere there on the carpet we’re standing upon. He says nothing. Just nods.
I place my right hand on his shoulder. I lean in again.
Why do you suppose you feel unlovable? I ask it soft, hushed.
Choking back tears, he tells me of his childhood—how his parents were harsh—how he didn’t feel loved—how legalism hurt his soul.
I always wondered. It’s his whole demeanor—the joker—faking fine while his heart keeps ripping right down the middle, desperate for love.
My eyes fixed on his, I tell him the truth—God’s word—that God loves us so much He sent His one and only Son to die for us—to pay our penalty for all our sin and cover us with his own righteousness. I tell him we can never be more loved—or less loved—because of Jesus. I tell him how I know—oh, how I know—how we can project certain people, even parents, onto the one true God. I tell him how I know we can become blind and numb to God’s love, seeing and feeling only our wounds caused by humans who have “loved” in a way that’s the furthest thing from God’s way. I get it. I get him. I tell him. And he smiles. Not a wide smile. A meaningful smile. A relief smile. A “thank God someone gets me” smile. He nods again. Thanks me. And he goes on his way.
Why did he choose me? A random pick? A hope for prayer?
Do I have a visible to only the hurting sign on my forehead that reads, I care—that reads, I care because I’ve been hurt too—like you?
Is it because the hurting can sense the hurting—those who have been hurt in similar ways?
Is it because God introduces the hurting to the hurt so the wounded can help the wounded by allowing God’s love and grace to flow through both giver and receiver?
Isn’t this how it works in God’s kingdom?
We help heal each other when we dare to be honest and vulnerable with each other.
When we stop being so stoic.
When we stop our social maneuverings.
When we admit to ourselves and some safe others that we’re still raw in places where no one can see but God?
When we cry out to God in our distress and God just happens to lead us straight into the presence of another human being who has suffered in the same way?
Because this is how our God works. God wants to hear our hearts. And God wants us to express our hearts to safe others so He can work through them—humbling and healing.
Will we open? Will we be healed and help heal? Will we receive the love and truth of God through another? Will we let God flow through us to the hurting?
It’s risky, for sure. But it’s the narrow way. The Jesus way. The cruciform way. It’s between us and God. And it’s between us and God’s other beloved—everyone He puts in our path. Will we love as He loves?
Truth is, we need one another. We’re not so independent as we’d like to think. By-pass God and by-pass others? We by-pass healing and wholeness. Truth is, we were made for relationship. Real relationship. Vulnerable, transparent, honest relationship. With God. With others. It’s the cruciform that transforms us into whole human beings.
So, I tell this broken, brave soul I know. I know some of how he feels. I’m not him and his life and mine have not been identical, for sure. But I’ve known harsh. I’ve known critical. I’ve known conditional. I’ve known blame. I’ve known shame.
And it doesn’t matter how old you are—whether your hair is full and dark or thinning and gray. The voice of shame can ring loud in your ears, deafening you to all other voices, blinding you to all other people, making you feel like a kid once again—a helpless, sad kid.
Shame can keep you up at night, all uptight, unable to shake the shackles that no one but you can see. Shame can keep you separated from others—from others who seem so together as adults—so unacquainted with shame. Yes, Shame can put you in prison—in solitary confinement—with no visible bars—where your soul withers away and you cry on the inside, alone. And then the enemy of all our souls slithers near and whispers, “You’re all alone. No one understands. No one cares.”
But even then—even there—in the most isolated and desperate of places—truth is, you are seen. You are heard. You are loved. The heart who seeks God and His healing will never be left alone and unattended. God insists on seeking all He loves. And that’s all of us.
Our God hears our cries—every single one. Our God sees our plight—as heavy and helpless as it might seem. And our God is mighty to save. Our God wills for us to be made whole. His True Love can bring such a healing, directly and through His people.
There’s such hope here in the story of this man and me. We need not know where, when or with whom we will find our healing. God knows. And that’s enough. We are His. And He is ours. What more do we need but what His perfect hand provides?
So, pour out your heart to God, young and old. Tell him of your pain—your shame—your need. Then dare to drop those fig leaves with just one of His beloved you sense is safe. Pray for such a person. Keep your eyes and heart open. The miracles of God are beyond time and reason. God will heal each broken heart, piece by piece. And sometimes all it takes is an empathic ear and a tender touch to start the heart beating True Life once again. Our God provides. Will we receive?