I thought it was a simple question. “God, I have no idea what You could possibly want me to write about “women at war”…but if there is something You would have me say, would You please tell me what it is?” I thought I knew what the answer would be. “Don’t worry about it Jon…you’re not a woman (obviously)…there’s nothing you can contribute here.” I was wrong. Again. It’s been happening a lot lately. Very gently (although I’d swear I heard a chuckle), He said “write about the effect that healing has on relationships, regardless of gender. Talk about your relationships and how I’ve healed them.” Genius! Again. I am so thankful that He is both so much smarter than I am and so much gentler. I love that He constantly shows me how much bigger and grander and more involved He is…more so than I ever realized. I love that He continues to show me just how much He cares about every…single…one…of us. He is so good. My life has changed dramatically in the last year, and in that time my relationships with others have begun to change as well. I have slowly (ever so slowly) started to see the deeper truth behind “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), and that truth has been, at times, painful to face. The truth is that I had a hard time loving others. The truth is that I didn’t love myself. I mean, I knew I’d been given good skills and attributes. I knew I was a good person…most of the time. I knew I tried hard and bathed regularly and people generally liked me. But I never realized I didn’t love myself until God began telling me how much He loved me. Faced with that awesome, beautiful, jaw-dropping truth, I also began to see the lies I had believed. “People may like you, but they don’t love you.” “See how people always leave you? You’re not loveable.” “Keep trying…it still won’t happen. You’re going to screw it up eventually.” “You don’t even love yourself. How could anyone else possibly love you?” And then my loving Father said… “I love you.” “You are My son.” “And I am so proud to call you My own.” My friends, in the face of that kind of love, you have only two options. Run away in self-inflicted shame and hide in the deep dark hole you feel you deserve. Or (and I pray you choose this) run towards the biggest, warmest, most loving hug you will ever receive in your life. Let the One who knows more about love than anyone else in existence show you the true definition. In that embrace, the healing will begin, the shame will start to fall away, and the true self will begin to be called forth from within the deepest places of your bruised and battered heart. And that’s when things get good! When you finally get to rest in true, unadulterated love, you finally get to learn how to love yourself. And when that happens, you are able to love others. Truly love. No demands. No expectations. No needs. Just love. We were made for this. We were made to love ourselves and love each other like this. Stasi Eldredge in Becoming Myself writes: We women were given a huge capacity and need for relationship. It is our glory and a beautiful way that we bear the image of God, who enjoys perfect, intimate relationship. But our glory has been tainted. Because of human brokenness and sin, there is not one relationship in your life that is not touched at some level by disappointment. There is an undercurrent of sorrow in every woman’s life. Often times, when I feel this sorrow, this loneliness, I think it is revealing something deeply wrong with me. I think that if I was “doing it right” or if I was all right, then I wouldn’t experience this grief. And yes, like you, I am not all that I am meant to be yet. I am becoming. But when I ache, if I believe the cause rests solely on my failures, it is overwhelming. I must run from it. Hide it. Manage it. Sanctify it. Ignore it. Numb it. Or better yet, kill it! Because when I am awake to it, it hurts. And I can feel bad for feeling bad. Sound familiar? The undercurrent of sorrow that we feel is not all our fault. Maybe a part of it is. Maybe God is using it to expose a style of relating that he wants us to repent of. Maybe. But it’s also possible that none of the sorrow we are feeling at a given moment is rooted in our failings. When we become aware of sadness or disappointment, we do not have to run. Sorrow is one of the realities of life. To be mature women, we have to be awake to the ache. Let it be a doorway for us to walk through to find deeper intimacy with God. We ask God to meet us—right in the ache. Woman or not, this hits home with each of us. We’ve been hurt. I’ve been hurt. I was hurt when my parents split up, and my happy childhood home stopped being so happy. I was hurt when my first wife walked out the door with another man and never came back. I was hurt when best friends stopped calling (or even texting!). And each time, I crawled a little further inside. Away from the pain. Away from my Papa, as it turns out, who longed to just pull me up into His lap and tell me the truth. We’ve all done it. And usually, we do it because we don’t realize that there’s any other way to do it. It’s a one-way street it seems, and so we slump our shoulders in resignation and walk down these now-familiar bitter streets again…and again…and again…until it starts to feel like we live here and we’re actually just walking home. So goes the lies. Those stupid lies that convince us nothing else is possible. No other life exists. No other kinds of relationships are possible. This is the best it will ever be, and anyone that says differently is trying to sell you something. And then Papa speaks. And hugs you. And weeps with you. And tells you a story of the life you were made for. And at the end of the first chapter He whispers to you, “…and the rest is still to be written. There’s still plenty of time. What do you say we go write the ending together?” In the last year, I have seen this healing lead me down paths I had never envisioned. And along the way, I have seen this healing change the very fabric of relationships that I had believed were already as good as they were ever going to be. During this past year, the Father took an already great new marriage to a wonderful woman and made it something absolutely amazing. Even as I write this, I am still just in awe of what He has crafted between my wife and me. Last summer, out of the blue, Papa told me to call my step-father up, and when I did, to tell him that I wanted to start calling him “Dad.” At the time, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to, but when I did, it changed both of us. We’re still at the beginning of this new journey as “Dad and son,” but it’s already brought us so much closer than I think either of us thought was possible. Through my healing, he is now being healed. Through his healing, I’m healed further. Just this morning, He gave me a new heart towards my brother. Over the years we’ve been great friends…except for the times we weren’t…and it seemed like the chances of it ever getting a lot better were pretty slim. Today, He showed me the lies that I’ve believed that have cast a shadow over this relationship for years. Today, He set me on a path that I know is going to bring the kind of brotherhood and camaraderie that each of us has been secretly aching for. This is what God wants for all of us. This is what we must fight to enter into each day. This is what we must fight to realize is possible. These are the warm sun-lit streets of our true home. This is truth. This is love. Father, show me the lies I have believed about myself. Show me the lies I have believed about loving myself and loving others. Show me how I have seen myself…and then, Father, I ask that you show me how to break off those lies. Help me to break all ties with each of those things that were simply not true. And then Father, I ask that you show me Your truth. Who am I in Your eyes? What do You call me? How much do You love me? How should I love myself? How should I love those You have placed in my life? I ask for this journey of healing to begin here and now, Lord. I know it may be hard at times, but I know You will walk it with me. Thank you for loving me as much as You do. I love You too Papa…with all of my soon-to-be-healed heart.