I was reminded of this when I was walking out of one of my neighborhood coffeeshops this past week and overheard someone begin a story like that just as I walked out of earshot. The person saying this–a woman–said this in an almost cheery way. My first thought was, “I never say that phrase in that tone.” At least for me, there is a sobriety and somberness that I feel whenever some sort of reference to an old relationship comes up.
So, like I said, I hate being able to say that. Yes, yes, I know: I’ve learned much in these experiences and my story is my story and I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am without them. I wouldn’t know God, suffering, people, their hearts, counseling, or relationships in any sort of depth or in a way that could help others had I not gone through these things.
But still, even as I look back, I can’t shake the sense that this is not how it is meant to be.
Looking at the Bible, it seems clear that relationships (of all kinds) were never intended to end or go backwards. Anyone that’s gone through a break-up, or at least found themselves in a super unhealthy situation and had to try and walk the relationship back to some “healthy” place, knows just how difficult this is. This is because this process is not what were made for, and so there is no “right” way to do it. It will always be “weird”, “awkward”, and “unhealthy”.
And I suppose there’s hope in this. It hearkens to a deep desire within us for relationship that is ever-increasing, always moving forward. Knowing the difficulty and rarity of such connections, we still press on, throwing ourselves at the feet of other people’s selfishnesses and sin, knowing that even as we are hurt (and also hurt others), the hurt is worth the possibility that our thirst may be satiated. There’s hope that this hints to the possibility of something more.
I think the typical evangelical “churchy” answer at this point would be that God is that relationship for us! He is that “more”! He is that One with whom we experience this kind of love. And this is absolutely true. And this should absolutely encourage us and strengthen us, especially as we feel most used and discarded. But you know what? I really do think that there’s at least a taste of this kind of depth and “continuing love” we can experience with one another. How?
Grace. This is how God loves us. It’s looking at someone’s brokenness and loving them in spite of it. It’s putting them before yourself in a costly, sacrificial way. It’s treating others as God treats his adulterous, wayward people in Hosea:
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her… And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.
But there’s an irony in this that we shouldn’t miss. Are those words beautiful? Yes. They are. But they are only so beautiful because they are said in light of such sin. Is Grace amazing? Yes. But there can only be grace where there’s sin and brokenness. Relationship that tries to avoid the difficulty and simply be an escape is no escape at all and cannot deliver what’s trying to be sought. It is actually enslavement to a god that promises more than most and delivers perhaps the least. Relationship without the difficulty of Reality is not the relationship we seek.
Those times I have felt most loved by those around me are those times when I can be my most screwed-up self and I am not rejected; I am not pushed away. Instead, these people press all the more into my life and pursue me, reminding me that I am loved and nothing I say or do can change that. But I can only know that’s true after they’ve seen me at my messiest. It’s only in light of my sin that I can feel the full weight of grace and security.
The paradox, then, is this: the only way to experience enduring love is to be acquainted with one another’s brokenness. If we were not this broken, we could never be secure.
And so, as life forces us to recall those past relationships and situations we wish had not been, may we be encouraged that it’s precisely in being acquainted with sin and loss that we are both equipped for and brought closer to the picture of love we long for.
Now go in peace to love and serve one another.