“What if we end up getting married, you know, after high school?” Steven asked on the phone one night. My immediate excitement changed to devastation when I realized I would have to tell him. Tell him what? That I’m not a virgin? That I dated a girl before him? That I was abused? That I don’t know what happened, but I know I’m disgusting and unlovable and he deserves better? And when could we ever have the privacy to have that conversation?Tasting Dirt, Chapter 5 “Expectations: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”
I considered my options. I could not tell him anything. I could break up with him and not tell him why or blame it on the distance. But I couldn’t lie to him, I didn’t want to break up with him, and I couldn’t hide it for much longer. The next time my family visited our hometown, I snuck out of my grandparent’s house in the middle of the night, took the back alleys to Steven’s house, climbed a tree into his bedroom window, and woke him up. I told him about the relationship: how it started, that it was sexual, that I had tried to kill myself, and how it ended. The bare facts. I wanted him to decide what the relationship was and make his own decision about whether he wanted to stay with me or not. I tried not to influence him either way, but I was sure he would be disgusted and angry, would break up with me, and then my worthlessness would be confirmed. Once that was over, I planned to leave his house and disappear forever. Shame and fear wouldn’t let me look him in the eyes while I told him. I sat on the floor across from him, staring at my hands while tears ran freely down my face, and waited.
I’m sure it was only seconds, but it felt like hours. Look him in the face Sara. Don’t be a coward. Confirm that it’s over and leave. I forced myself to lift my eyes.
Steven was crying. There was no disgust or anger or contempt on his face, only grief like I had never seen before. I was so astounded.
“Sara, that wasn’t your fault. That wasn’t a relationship, that was abuse,” he said quietly but firmly.
Slowly, so very slowly, I started healing. It took me years to make the connection: I had told God on the way home from the psych ward, If you have any reason for me to stay alive, you had better show it to me quick, because the first chance I get, I’m out of here, and less than twenty-four hours later I met Steven. I know Jesus better because of how Steven loves me.
I believed God was disgusted with me, so I didn’t expect him to help me. I believed he had abandoned me, for good reason, so I didn’t expect him to show up for me. I believed I was worthless, so I didn’t expect him to join me in my suffering and stay present with me. I tried to kill myself because I didn’t expect God to be love. I didn’t expect God to be love because I didn’t know him like I thought I did.
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. …There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:16, 18).
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV).
God is love. God loves me perfectly, so I never have to be afraid of him or afraid that he will abandon me. 1 Corinthians 13 may be a favorite for weddings and for encouraging us to love our fellow humans well, but God is love, so that passage is also about what his love for us looks like.
I fell in love with God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit because I experienced his love for me through Steven… God gives us his presence. He gives us himself. We can expect him to show up for us. When the circumstances don’t make sense… “God, how are you loving me right now? I’m having trouble seeing the evidence of your presence, where is it?” are the questions that help us take responsibility for our expectations and move toward letting God love us perfectly. Just like I missed the fact (for years!) that Steven was God’s answer to my prayer, maybe we’re missing what God is doing because our expectations need adjusting.
What expectations are you holding for God?
Do you believe he loves you?
What do you expect his love to look like in your life?
Are you in love with Jesus?
Ask him to show you the times in your life when you might have missed his expressions of love!
Next week I’ll share some notes about my story — why I used wildflowers as the subject picture for a story with so many dark elements, how I led my feelings of shame and fear so I could actually publicly share something so vulnerable and potentially controversial (how the Christian church addresses LGBTQ+ relationships), and suggested reading for anyone struggling with abuse and trauma recovery and their loved ones.
In the next two weeks I’ll be revealing the cover art for Tasting Dirt: When Your’re Disappointed with God and a release date!!
As always, feel free to reach out to me through the comments, contact page, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.