It’s not hard to see our urge to fit in, belong, be liked, be a part of. Whether we’re 16 or 43, the source of the hardness that comes out in our behavior is often transparently obvious – our unease and discomfort with ourselves, our fear of being rejected, excluded. If we can’t get in by playing the game right, we push it all away by acting like it doesn’t matter. Whether I’m playing or pushing, what is it I believe, cling to, rely on? On what, or whom, do I fix my gaze?
In the world, I am a lawyer, a second wife, a stepmother, a barren woman. Labels I am reluctant to claim, identities I don’t fully recognize, roles I fail at, wear uneasily, want to apologize for, justify, and explain. I am afraid, I don’t know what direction I’m supposed to take. I don’t know what anyone is expecting of me, but I know I’m not measuring up. When I look at myself through these lenses I feel broken and condemned.
“What is wrong with you?!” I demand with my voice shaking.
“Maybe I’m just a horrible person.” he replies, barely sarcastic.
Yeah, maybe you are, I want to agree – knowing he’s not. Maybe I am, in fact I’m fairly certain I am – I have proof. A list of acts, thoughts, behaviors, deeds, failures that show I am horrible. My fear, that I’m not worthy of love and belonging, rises in me and I really don’t want that for him, this young boy-almost man, my stepson.
I assert that something is wrong with him – not whether, but what – because in my perception his behavior is inconsiderate, selfish, maybe obnoxious. But my reaction is, I know, inconsiderate, unkind, and defensive. If he thinks there is something unlovable, unfixable, something that doesn’t measure up in him, I am certain that it’s true of me. And yet, he is lovable and worthy of love. I know that, even in my human frailty, even when I am uncomfortable with his behavior and deeply dissatisfied with my ability to handle it, as if with a total absence of grace and compassion I can somehow encourage him out of that darkness into a place of light.
Blame and criticism come out of me and fall not only on him, but on me, too. Even the dog cowers knowing things aren’t right between us. And so I justify, I seek to fix, to remind myself that children need to have certain behaviors required of them or how will they turn out? I must put my foot down or what kind of a parent will I be? Because this dispute arose over the television and a poor bit of sharing it, I think, “We’ll just cancel the cable, that’ll solve it!” If I let this attitude go unchecked, what sort of a terror am I allowing to be unleashed on the world – on his future wife, children, workplace, friends? If I let myself go unchecked, what sort of a wretch am I unleashing on my husband, family, workplace, and friends?
In the midst of being frustrated with this teenage sense of entitlement, in the midst of being appalled at my own predictable, ineffective way of “dealing” with it, I catch a glimpse that, WOW, God loves this boy! Wow, does He ever adore him! Unimaginably, is God not bothered by our “bad” behavior? I think not, because He’s already contended with it through Christ; wiped it clean.
He’s smiling at that spotless lamb and I get the impression that He wants me to have a sense of entitlement to this love, to count on it, to claim it, to expect it, to recognize it, to know it’s already and always here. If God has any sadness over us, it is with our turning away. That we both know Him, know God’s love for ourselves and for one another and, at least for my part, choose to rely on my own wits rather than God, choose not to allow God to enter into this situation, choose to see myself as a wounded, unlovable outsider instead of the one God so loved.
God’s love is too much. It’s too radical. It’s way too irresponsible. It dismisses all charges against me although they are straightforward and easy to prove, most already confessed. God’s love doesn’t require me to do penance, await my behavior modification, or allow my performance to overcome it. God keeps no record of loss, and perhaps not of gain.
How dreadful to be given something so freely, something that’s never withheld or withdrawn, something that is absolutely not contingent on what I do. How totally out of control. He just pours it out on me nonstop, regardless of how I’m doing, and the only way I can deal with it is to open myself up to receive it or turn away from it. Rush up to grasp His embrace, wide open, all-in or slam the door in His face, twist off the tap, run hard. God loves me even when I can’t handle it. He loves me when I won’t love me.
I hear God whispering to me, do you see how much I love this boy? How do you think I feel about you? Do you see how much I love you? God is right up in my business, way inside my personal space, looking me deep in the eyes, so close to my face that I can feel His breath on my cheek and His gaze holds so much endearment, such tenderness and exuberant delight that when I look at Him fondly looking at me, I cannot help but smile and rejoice and know that He looks on you in just that same way.