It was 2 o’clock in the morning and in one sudden unexpected moment my world changed.
If you watched the episode of This Is Us that aired after the Super Bowl, you might have heard the character Randall describe an unexpected life-altering event as a lightning strike. The writers’ raw and beautiful analogy articulates this experience well. Here is what Randall said:
“When you lose someone suddenly, and unexpectedly, it hurts differently… Boom, boom, like a lightning strike. That’s what unexpected loss is like. It’s like a lightning bolt you can’t even see reaching inside of you and tearing out your guts.”
Eight years ago, the lightning bolt that struck me was the death of my baby girl, and then another bolt struck shortly after when my father died. I’ve spent 8 years processing and healing from that lightning storm.
But this time the 2AM lightning strike was not the unexpected discovery of someone’s death even though it could in every way be categorized as a type of loss and grief.
Like with any lightning strike that appears out of nowhere and dramatically alters our lives, it felt as though the bolt made direct contact with my heart when it struck; that it had destroyed my heart in an explosion of pain.
Ironically, like with the first strikes, this lightning bolt ushering in a new season of suffering came immediately after a season of giving thanks. Also ironically perhaps, right before this latest strike occurred, I had just written and shared about the revelation that I sort of have PTSD when it comes to giving thanks as a result of these losses that had immediately followed eight years ago (you can read more in this post here).
This was the first year after eight years that I was able to confront my PTSD head on and return to my gratitude journal and count my gifts. And then, just like eight years ago, a lightning strike, and my world fell apart again immediately after. I couldn’t believe it.
And then came the inevitable question spoken through the agonizing heartache and flow of hot tears, Why God?
What I discovered, or rather what God revealed, in the days following this most recent lightning strike of unexpected pain was that when life thrust me into this pit of darkness, He was going to rip off a blindfold, and I would see Him begin to use this shocking pain for good quite immediately.
God used the emotional pain I was in to reveal a deeper rooted pain – a pain that it turns out I had been unknowingly causing myself for too long.
In a moment of anguish and lament, feeling alone, betrayed, rejected, unloved, and consumed by the darkness, pleading His name, Jesus! Jesus! all while weeping until exhaustion fell over me, my soul quieted enough to discern His voice.
It’s time to address the idol standing in the way of you and Me. I’m taking you to this place where it’s only you and Me. This is not like last time. This time you will only find your comfort in Me. This time you will only find the healing for your broken heart in Me. You will look to others and will not find what you’re looking for this time, but when you look to Me you will find it.
My soul wrestled with these words and my spirit pleaded for love, for a tangible love in the here and now, I know You love me Lord and You are my everything… but the pain is too great, and I need flesh and blood people around me. I need the love of people.
God’s gentle voice responded, It does not matter if this world loves you because I love you. That’s not to say your pain doesn’t matter. Remember I am familiar with the pain of being unloved, hated, rejected, despised, and betrayed. I am intimately acquainted with those experiences…and yours. I will send people to love you and encourage you, but for now you need to stand on My love alone.
I understood the divine words being spoken to my heart in this quiet moment of lament, but I also felt God preparing me for something more.
It was this word “love.” It came back to me over and over again in the days following. Love was at the center of the pain I was experiencing. It was both the problem and the answer and the one word plaguing me daily.
At first I processed this idea of love by looking to God. God’s perfect, unfailing, everlasting love had to be enough. This I knew. But something made this feel like this was not what God was leading me to.
Next I processed this idea of love by looking at the people in my life. The love of others is imperfect, and I had to accept this and render myself incapable of controlling the love, affection, and choices of others. This I had a vague knowledge of, but now I understood with a painful clarity.
And then, I was left to look at myself, and that’s where God wanted me to look.
Somewhere my identity was still lost, and now it was blurred with the approval of others, the negative thoughts and judgments of others, and a muddled sense of boundaries and responsibilities for myself and others.
And so I came to see that this word love, wasn’t about my call to love God or love others (although this would come later). This wasn’t about my understanding that God loves me. This was God holding me by the shoulders and shaking me awake to see: I had no love for myself.
Excuse me God, did I hear You right? What do you mean I don’t love myself? I struggled to accept this thought even though I had heard it clearly.
Then one afternoon I picked up a study I had been doing long distance with my Disciple Maker. One of the day’s questions for reflection asked me to list two qualities that God sees as good in me.
What? Good in me? No. There’s no good in me… Anything good in me is Him.
I sat with the notebook open on my lap, pen in hand, reading the prompt over and over again, tossing this question around in my head.
I couldn’t find an answer. Without realizing it, I hated myself for it. And that sent a small but almost unrecognizable shock through me, that self-hatred, but I tossed it aside still not ready to see what had become of my heart and I let the question tear at me. What is good about me?
In my mind I tried to recall the affirmations of others, which in this isolated season due to PCSing, weren’t many and weren’t good. I asked God and prayed over the prompt, but there was only silence. I cried and cried over the course of several days because I had no answer.
All I could see were my failures, my weaknesses, my inadequacies, and the unexpected pain from the latest lightning strike reinforcing those things.
Finally, in desperation after almost a week, I confessed the trouble I was having with my Disciple Maker. I sobbed as I told her that I couldn’t think of a single good thing that God would think about me.
She breathed life into me with her response. I wasn’t expecting her to, but she so graciously did.
And then, suddenly, it clicked. I had stopped seeing the good in me and stopped loving myself.
God used this series of confusing and painful events, this word “love” appearing over and over in my mind, and the question in this study to lead me to this awareness. I heard His voice in affirmation.
Yes, child, it’s time to see you as I see you. Blindfold off. It’s time love yourself. You cannot stand on the love of others. They will always fail you. Your worth and life do not depend upon their ability to love you or their infliction of pain upon you. It’s time to take your place and stand on and build your life upon My love. My love will not fail you. Your worth and life come from Me. But there’s a problem. Your heart is full of contempt for yourself. How can you receive love from others, from Me, when you hate yourself? It’s time to love yourself.
I finally knew He was right.
This unexpected realization felt like a glass of ice cold water had been thrown in my face. The blindfold was off, and now I was fully awake.
It was time for me to see the tangled mess my heart and sense of self had become and walk the painful road of untangling and freeing it from the bondage it was in.
When I thought about this journey of learning to love myself, a vision appeared in my mind where all of these negative thoughts were like barbed wire wrapped around my heart, keeping me from loving myself and from fully living loved by God. And then God showed me that it was time to untangle the wire, but removing each barb so deeply embedded within my heart was going to be painful. It was going to be necessary, but painful.
God has continued to speak this word over me for months, and so naturally I knew that “love” is my one word for 2018.
I am on a journey to love myself, to love myself as He loves me, to live filled with and stand on His love alone, and it will be and is a call to love others unconditionally as a result.
For now, I’m in the process of removing those barbs, healing from their wounds, and growing in love for myself.
Friends, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.
What is your one word for this year?
What is something you believe God loves about you?
These images below are of two poems written by Nayyirah Waheed found in her book of poetry called Salt. They portray beautiful realities as I learn about my one word in this season.
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