Day 19 – Healing and Our Capacity to Love
Certainly, the people of Israel had been traumatized during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Their capacity to trust and receive the love of God was altered and diminished on some level. We’ve seen this portrayed in these last weeks as they struggled to receive all that God was providing. From their struggle to receive God’s care (with the manna) to the timing of His provision (Moses’ delay) to the misdirected desires for connection, they didn’t fully know how to receive the love of God. The journey in the wilderness … feeling alone and abandoned and disconnected … was being used by God to draw them to His heart. The wilderness is a place of healing … of finding God to be our everything. However, it is a process. Transformation is not overnight.
Thomas Merton, in Thoughts in Solitude, highlights this: “The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else … the desert is therefore the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself–that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent upon no one but God, with no great project standing between himself and his Creator.” So, this leaves us with the question, is that what you seek? Pause here for a moment. Are you seeking to be nothing but dependent upon God? Are you desiring for the wilderness to strip you of your learned responses to life so you might experience a “reshaping” of your capacity to love and be loved?
There may be a level of desire in which we just want to numb our capacity … to get some relief. This is likely what was going on with the people of Israel in Numbers 25. Sex is often used this way. God’s heart is that we find His love to be enough, but that can mean that we experience a bit of pain along the way as old relational strategies are laid bare so that new ones can emerge. It will likely mean letting go of some old strategies, involving some starts and stops along the way.
We are designed for intimacy … to love and be loved … to know and be known. Our design includes a beautiful capacity to attach to others in love. Attachment love (hesed) is God’s love (agape in the New Testament), and it transforms us. It shapes us. This capacity is seen in the young child who looks to her parents to see how to respond to falling while trying to walk across the room. A seasoned married couple begins to know what the other is thinking without a word. In 2 Corinthians 5:14–15, we read about this kind of love: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” The word “controls” is a Greek word (sunexo), meaning to hold together or hold fast. His love “controls” us in that it attaches to us – we experience a bonding with Him.
When we are aware that our capacity to know and be known has been diminished in some way (and this is true for all of us – to varying degrees), we are ready to experience the inner healing and formation that comes through the presence of Holy Spirit in our lives. Our woundedness could be from trauma, addictions, or other sufferings brought into our lives either because of harsh things that have happened or nurturing things that didn’t happen.
As we intentionally hold fast to the One who holds us fast (i.e., look to Him), we experience this love. However, we often spend much of our lives unaware and nonattentive to His love in a practical way … letting it touch the actual circumstances of our lives. Awareness and attentiveness begin most effectively as we integrate God’s presence and activity into our story. Much as the child looks to the parent’s eyes, we look to the eyes of the one who loves us more than we can imagine.
How does this work?
We begin with looking at those places of pain that we are tempted to numb or forget. In a wilderness season, by His grace, we are often more aware of these places than at other times. This is a grace even though it usually does not feel like it. We know from trauma research that trauma and pain often get stuck in our body and inhibit the ability to receive love. The “stuckness” happens when we are not able to process the pain the way our brains are wired to process and make sense of life … through integrating the events of life into our story. As children (sons and daughters) of God, we need to look into the eyes of God to see how our experiences (especially those painful ones) fit into His story … the larger story of life. Our small stories generally struggle to hold and give context for deep pain. So, as we bring our pain and hurts to God, our capacity to receive love finds healing and restoration. To put it simply, His story is the reality of His presence and work in our world to connect with His creation through Jesus.
So, we start with awareness. From this place of awareness, we move into attentiveness as we engage in a process of talking to God … asking the questions: how were You present with me in this part of my life? God, what do You want me to see and understand about this part of my story? Then, we listen … seeking to be attentive to what God brings to our hearts and minds. It can be helpful to write things down. As we become present to God’s heart (what we says to us), we respond with gratefulness. In the great prayer book of the Bible (the Psalms), we see the people of God rehearsing their stories in the presence of God (integrating their experiences into His story) and the response is gratefulness and praise.
Question for reflection: is there an experience from the last day or week, or perhaps further back which God brings to your awareness? Take a few moments to sit with it and walk it through this process of integrating it into His story.
Prayer: Father, may I look into your eyes the ways a child looks to a parent to know what to think and how to respond. I desire to attach myself to You in love. Thank you for attaching Yourself to me. Amen.