Pieces of a Broken Heart

It never ceases to sadden me how those who have shaped our past never seem to allow us to move into the future. Even those who are now moved out of our lives, if they’ve left their mark, sometimes make it hard to focus on what lies before us now.

For so long now I’ve thought that this is not how it’s meant to be; we are not meant to share so much of ourselves with people who were never meant to possess us, and, when we find ourselves experiencing these emotions, we have ourselves to blame.

To some extent that’s true—we ought to be careful with who we entrust our hearts to. However, I think it inevitable to lose our hearts to friends or lovers we once trusted and idolized only to find out that their time in our lives is but a moment or a blip on our larger timeline. And it’s inevitable that we will find it hard to let go fully long after their time ends and our disappointment is realized.

This is a very real part of our human experience now. But perhaps our reflection on this experience need not be guilt and self-reproach for having trusted people with your heart and loving deeply. Perhaps we ought to think more of this experience and the feelings that result as a symptom of The Fall.

I think it’s true that we weren’t meant for this. We weren’t made to give our hearts to anyone other than God and the one who would become our spouse. And yet—we set our hearts up for failure the moment we made ourselves our own gods and shunned the path He made for us. The heartbreak we are wont to feel is an innate part of our fallen humanity, but it’s a blessing as much as it is a curse. It is a blessing because it points us back to our need for God—a need we forgot when we turned away from His instruction and disavowed our dependence on Him. In our desperate moments of hurt and despair, we are sent running for the arms of the only One who can heal us—the only One who can bind up our wounds and give us a new heart.

While I still lament the days we chose to turn from God and so subjected ourselves to anguish and heartache, I am grateful for the experience, without which I would never quite know how desperately I need my Lord and my God. So don’t be given to regret over past relationships and mistakes. They’re not mistakes in the plan of God if they lead you back into His arms.

Conditional Love and Justifications for Ignorance

Our world is full of “if/then” statements.

If someone is nice to me, then I can be nice back.

If someone does me a favor, then I can return the favor.

If someone shows me respect, then I can be respectful.

These are the kinds of conditions our world is built on, and I think each of us can see this attitude in ourselves if we examine ourselves with sincerity.

It is no different in the Church. We always have the sense that outsiders must qualify in some way in order to be embraced by us. If they do not enthusiastically take up our doctrine—if they do not join our club—they are outsiders and worthless to us. This failure to see in others—no matter how detestable they might be—the image and likeness of God, and to treat them with the love and dignity due to them as such, cannot be justified.

Sometimes this discrimination is less pronounced. Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to hang out with the guys you find funny or the guys who are good at playing soccer like you are. Sometimes we simply don’t want to talk to the guy who’s not cool enough—the awkward kid, the nerdy kid, the loser.

Sometimes we’re too insecure to speak up when a friend’s cracking jokes on them, or maybe we join in ourselves. 

Sometimes we try to rationalize those behaviors. Other times we’re just spineless.

Let’s face it: this is human nature. Each of us is guilty. The fact is it’s easier to love those we find easy to love, and it’s easier to go about our days only seeing God in the faces of those who look like us, think like us, live like us or do for us. We are spiteful creatures, but, even more devastating than that, we are utilitarian to the core. We love people only insofar as they are useful to us.

We also see things through lens upon lens imposed on us from an early age. Engrained in us by a larger western culture as well as the very local culture in which we’re raised are racial prejudice, socioeconomic bias, physical standards, intellectual chauvinism, and the like. No matter how subtle, these attitudes cannot be justified in any way.

The point here is not for me to stand on my pulpit and say I’m bigger than all of these things. I’m not. It pains me to see how our human condition keeps us from loving those whom our Heavenly Father loves. It kills me that we see so much hate, hurt and suffering in our world—and in our own hearts.

All I know is this: something is deathly wrong with us, and this is not how God the Father loves us.

Growing up, I was taught all of this the hard way. You see, I was on the receiving end of social rejection. I didn’t measure up. I wasn’t cool enough to be “one of the guys.” The only thing I was good for was being the scapegoat for every one else to make fun of and bully so that the spotlight wouldn’t be turned on them. And they made me truly believe that. Something in me was deficient. I was not enough. I tried really hard to make myself enough, but I never felt I could be enough in my own right.

This feeling plagued me even unto ministry. I drove myself into the ground last year trying to be everything for everybody, and it was because of this experience, this conditioning. I tried not to miss a single volunteering opportunity because I didn’t want to fail my Adore family and be deemed unworthy. I didn’t feel like I would ever be cool enough to be part of the club—to be liked, wanted, loved—but I figured that if I became a consistent contributor I’d be less easily thrown away. They’d have to keep me around. They couldn’t toss me to the curb like so many had done before, and I’d finally get to hang out with the cool kids, even though it might have felt obligatory to them.

But they taught me something. Even as I have become more superfluous to their ministry as new leaders have risen up and I’ve committed to less, they have loved me radically. They have loved me not as the world loves me, but as God loves me. Their love hasn’t changed.

Even though this is what I’d been preaching for the past several years, I guess I never believed it could be true. I still struggle with it, but I want each of us tonight to understand something with perfect clarity: you are loved unconditionally by a Father who neither thinks like the world thinks nor operates how the world operates. You do not have to qualify for His love—you could never qualify for His love! We simply have to receive it.

Receiving it is a challenge in and of itself. As I’ve said, it’s something I still wrestle with. The voices of my past still taunt me, and the voices of the world often make it hard to believe the still, small voice of God stirring in my soul. Sometimes they drown Him out altogether, and other times I don’t want to hear that I’m worthy of love because I know in such a deep, dark, and wounded place that I’m not. But this is something that’s critical if there is ever to be Hope for our world. We need to address our need for healing and challenge our perceptions of love.

The task does not end once we find healing for ourselves, however. We must also evaluate the ways in which we allow ignorance, insecurity, selfishness, and unlove to reign in our dealings with others. The world has too much brokenness. We must not delude ourselves into believing it’s all “okay”—that we’re okay. Meditating on how God loves us and how we fail to love others must convict us. If it doesn’t, all this religion crap is just pointless. The love of God should change us. If it doesn’t strip away the lenses, if it doesn’t strike down our selfish rationalizations, if it doesn’t jolt us from our ignorance—and do all this on a continual basis—it’s pointless.

The love of God is not pointless.

We’re not meant to be comfortable. We’re not made to love in a way that comes easy. Real love is not meant to come easy. Nothing meaningful ever does. Sit with that and ask yourself how God might be asking you to get uncomfortable—to experience Him, to be convicted, and to love others in a messy, radical, and maybe not-so-pretty way.

Learn to love that which is hard to love. 

Pray for yourself, and pray for our world.

• Matthew 5:43-48
• Matthew 25:31-46
• Luke 15:11-32
• Luke 23:33-34
• 1 John 3:1-3

Why I Won’t Be Getting Drunk When I Turn 21

This Sunday, I have the privilege of making one of the last societal rites of passage into adulthood. I’m turning 21. With that, of course, comes the legal right to purchase and consume alcohol.

Sex, drugs and alcohol are all bad, right? At least that’s what you’d expect any Jesus freak to say. That’s actually quite the opposite of what I’m going to say, however.

God created the world and He declared it good. Every part of Creation has found its source in God, and this makes it very, very good (Genesis 1).

What is not good is how we use it. We are the stewards of Creation and Creation was made for us to enjoy just as God delights in His people and His handiwork. With that comes responsibility.

Sex, drugs and alcohol are all very good things when used in the right context. What I mean by that is that they are good when they are used in the manner in which they were intended.

Sex is very good when it is both unitive and procreative and shared between a husband and a wife as it was intended to be. This bonds a man and a woman so intimately that the Church has called the conjugal embrace the closest we can get to understanding the sensory goodness of Heaven while still living here on earth. It is also life-giving, which is so beautiful. It is creative!

Sex is not very good when it results in broken hearts, damaged relationships, diseases, or premature pregnancies and subsequent abortions. Sex is not very good when a man and woman are not giving themselves fully to each other; when it is not a total gift of self; when it is selfish. These consequences factor in only when we condone promiscuity, wrong conceptions of love, or a divorce of the two underlying purposes of sex as established by God and evident in our very being. These are consequences that were never meant to be associated with such a beautiful gift.

In the same way, drugs are good when they cure us or alleviate physical suffering, but bad when we use them dangerously, illicitly, or as a substitute for addressing our underlying physical, emotional or psychological problems.

That leaves alcohol. Alcohol is not bad! Jesus turned water into wine because it would have been a total bummer for them to only serve water at the wedding feast!

Sharing a beer with friends or having a glass of wine with dinner cannot be called a bad thing. In fact, this form of sharing fellowship or enjoying life in a way that offers us a foretaste of Heaven is very, very good.

As St. Paul and the Church have taught us, though, drunkenness is not very good at all. In fact, the Church teaches us that it is a sin to overindulge in anything, but in alcoholic beverages in particular. Here, we refer to the historic meaning of the word “sin” which is “to miss,” so it’s not to say that we are terrible people should we have one drink to many but that we have missed the mark or fallen short.

Balance, health and moderation—these are all things both Jesus and the Church desire for us. That means we do not cling to one extreme or the other, but rather to Jesus. We enjoy Creation, but, most of all, the One who made it.

In John 10:10, Jesus declares: “I have come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

That is fundamentally what the Church is about. She does not exist to burden us with rules; She exists to spread life wherever she goes. She lives to rain true freedom upon Her people—to help them navigate life in this strange place and keep them constantly looking upward to their heavenly home.

Indeed, we see this theme continued in St. Paul’s instructions to the people of Galatia. Namely, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

That is the yoke of heartache. That is the yoke of addictions. That is the yoke of the hurt we cause to others. True freedom comes in living as we were meant to live, in not sinning, in not missing the mark. Or at least this is what we’re striving after.

In John 10:11, Jesus continues: “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus is the good shepherd.

Adam and Eve’s sin was not submitting to God. Instead of enjoying Creation the way He intended them to, they made an idol out of the fruit. They made themselves their own gods. And for this they experienced death.

I’m having a drink this Sunday, but I won’t be doing it my way or the world’s way. I’m going to savor the opportunity to taste some awesome local craft beer over dinner with my girlfriend, I’m going to have a blast being a ridiculous goofball with her, and I’m not going to get drunk. Instead I’ll enjoy the goodness and freedom of doing it God’s way.

Sunday is one day, but I have this decision every day, and so do you. Jesus is the good shepherd. Will we allow ourselves to be shepherded by Him, or will we again submit to the yoke of slavery?