7. Letting Yourself Be Loved or Forgiven
Not everyone will face this lesson, but those with broken pasts will know what I’m talking about. One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn in my spiritual life (and in my earthly life) is to let myself be loved by someone . . . by Someone.
I come from a very dysfunctional home. Three dads by the time I was 8. And then another dad (after a very messy divorce) when I was in my late-20’s. I didn’t grow up with my bio-dad or his family. I didn’t even really meet them until my teens. And then after that, I’d see them about once or twice a year, sometimes less. I never really felt like I belonged to a dad or had a place in my extended families. And this feeling carried over to my relationship with God.
I didn’t know it earlier in my Christian life, but my relationship with Him was based on fear, not on love. I desperately wanted to and tried to please Him because I never really felt like I belonged, like He could really love me for me. I was always afraid of “doing it wrong,” of being displeasing to Him. I felt like I had to earn His love and acceptance and grace. I didn’t know how to let myself be loved by God for a long time, because I didn’t understand the unconditional nature of His love. I was too busy trying to earn it to be able to simply accept it.
Forgiveness is the same way for many people. They can’t accept the free gift of forgiveness because they don’t feel like they deserve it (or maybe they just don’t think they need it). And because they don’t feel like they deserve it, they keep trying to polish themselves up so that they are “worthy” of forgiveness (or else they simply “give up” and stop caring).
But that’s a detrimental spot to be in, because we cannot truly experience God’s love or forgiveness when we are so busy running around trying to earn them. Because they cannot be earned!
It’s like we run around, trying to do more or be better, and then we run up to God and say, “Am I good enough now for Your love and forgiveness?”
And God says, “No, but . . .”
And before He can finish, we run out and try harder and do more.
“Am I good enough now?”
“No, but . . .”
And it isn’t until we are so tired of trying so hard that we finally fall down at His feet in despair and admit that we will never be good enough. And it’s only then, when we are exhausted enough by our striving and efforts, that we are finally hear what God’s been trying to say.
“No, but you can never earn it anyway. I knew that all along, and I was just waiting for you to realize it. It can’t be earned. But that’s why I made it free and readily available. I already paved the way and paid the price. All you have to do is accept it.”
In and of ourselves, we do not deserve His love or forgiveness or favor or attention. And we will never be able to deserve them or earn them. So as long as we keep trying to earn them, we'll never experience them. (And there are some people who are feel so helpless and hopeless about themselves that they don’t even bother to try to earn love and forgiveness. They simply wallow in their helplessness, never reaching out and grabbing onto God’s outstretched hand.)
I think Satan loves to convince people that they have to earn these free gifts, because then he keeps them busy trying to do more and be better. If he can keep us focused on our efforts and our “helpless condition,” we will not focus on God and we will not be able to accept the love and forgiveness that we are desperately working for. But Satan is defeated every time a person stops striving so hard and just opens their hands and accepts God’s free gifts. Gifts that are available to all yet only acquired by those willing to admit that they do not and cannot ever deserve or earn them and who want them bad enough to simply, humbly accept them.
It’s hard for some of us to grasp the most amazing thing about grace – that it’s free. There are people who will remain unbelievers because they will not admit that they need or want God’s grace or because they cannot imagine accepting a free gift. It’s a blow to their pride. They would rather earn everything they get. And admitting that we can’t earn grace and love and forgiveness is very humbling.
And then there are believers who will remain in bondage to fears about being “not good enough” and about displeasing the Lord. They spend their energy polishing themselves up, accomplishing more, and behaving properly, instead of allowing themselves to enjoy God’s presence and the freedom that comes with living in His Love.
Many of us who come from broken pasts have to work through fears and scars and self-esteem issues and the other obstacles that prevent us from allowing ourselves to be loved and cherished and forgiven. And this is not easy to do, not when you’ve grown up learning to protect yourself from being vulnerable, from having to lean on others, and from taking risks with your heart and your trust.
It is so hard to trust when you’ve been hurt in the past. But a major part of a healthy relationship with the Lord, with being able to accept His free gifts, and with letting Him fully into your heart and life is to be able to trust that He is who He says He is – a good, loving, faithful Father. And that we are who He says we are – sinful, fallen people, but also His dearly loved creation that He desperately wants to have a relationship with and to spend eternity with. And that’s why He makes forgiveness and love and salvation free . . . because He wants us to take it. That’s why He paid the penalty for our sins by sending Jesus to die in our place, because He wants us to have an eternal relationship with Him. He wants us to have a healed heart and the peace and joy that come with letting Him into our broken lives.
But we have to be willing to open our hearts to Him in trust. We have to take the risk of leaning on Him and of being vulnerable with Him. We have to admit that we can never earn His free gifts and that we will never be “good enough.” But that doesn’t stop Him from dearly loving us anyway. And until we accept that His love and forgiveness can never be earned, we will always be in bondage to some sort of fear and our relationship with Him will be strained.
So how do you know if you have trust issues and self-esteem issues that are preventing you from letting God’s love and healing and forgiveness into your heart and mind completely? You may have issues that are preventing you from humbly grabbing ahold of God’s love and forgiveness . . .
if you come from a broken, dysfunctional family . . .
if you’ve been abused or neglected . . .
if you’ve been through a huge trial or trauma and feel like God abandoned you in your time of need . . .
if you’ve trusted significant people in your life only to have them pull away and let you fall on your face . . .
if you struggle with fears about being abandoned or “not good enough” or unworthy or being a failure . . .
if you are constantly trying and trying and yet feel like you are letting God down all the time . . .
if you ruminate on all the “bad” things about yourself . . .
if you haven’t learned to love and forgive others . . .
if you are critical and judgmental . . .
if you feel like you just don’t matter . . .
if you deeply fear being a burden to others . . .
if you always try to “earn your keep” and you are always concerned with “giving” instead of “taking” . .
if you “don’t care anymore” about being loved because you’ve been hurt too much in the past . . .
if you’ve always done very well, aimed high and accomplished much, served in significant roles (when you are used to “earning,” it’s hard to simply “accept”) . . .
if you’ve always tried excessively hard to please others, even God (If it’s not done out of thankfulness for His love and grace, then it could be done out of a desire to earn His attention, approval, and love.) . . .
if you have learned to be “content” with only a little relationship with others because they’ve been unavailable or let you down (this may indicate that you are also accepting a partial relationship with the Lord. After all, why try too hard to develop a deep relationship with Him if He is only going to let you down or you are only going to let Him down, right?).
I’m sure there are other indicators of obstacles in our relationship with Him, of an inability to trust Him and let Him love you and forgive you. And to get past these obstacles usually involves a lot of introspection and thought and prayer and Bible-reading, and possibly counseling. But do not settle for a broken, partial relationship with Him. Do not hide behind walls and fears. Do not keep your broken heart wrapped up and safely tucked away from Him and everyone else.
If you feel that you may be blocking His love and forgiveness and healing in any way, tell this to Him and ask for His help in rooting out the source of your resistance and fears and doubts. Tell Him honestly what you are afraid of and how you feel about yourself and about Him. Honesty and transparency are crucial steps in the journey to wholeness, humility, and healing. But it takes being willing to be vulnerable. And sometimes that takes searching your heart and mind for what keeps you from being vulnerable.
And all of this takes time, and often involves a lot of emotional pain. But the healing and freedom and peace and joy (even in the midst of ongoing problems of life) that you find when you allow yourself to be fully loved by and forgiven by God is amazing.
(I wrote the “Through the Refining Fire” series to help people explore their pasts and any obstacles there may be in their relationship with the Lord. This may be a good place to start.)
1 John 4:15-18: “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
John 3: 16: “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Emphasis is mine.)
Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”