From a Past of Suffering, How Can I Understand God’s Love for Me?
I grew up in a tough situation. Both of my parents were raised in tumultuous circumstances and as a result, neither of them had any concept of what it meant to provide a healthy home, or to love and nurture children. They divorced when I was young and the large murky river of our pseudo-family split in two even more dangerous rivers that only carved new paths to pain. As a result, my siblings are either dead, or addicted – a kind of barely-living death. For reasons I can’t begin to understand I have heard the call of God in all of this but I suspect that I know very little about authentic love – the love of God. To some extent I can understand God’s love through Jesus’ incarnation and passion but how is it possible to really know the love of God when life has provided so few real and lasting examples to me? What can I do to better understand God’s love for me? I long to rest in His love. I believe, please help my unbelief.
Thank you for your question. I think you expressed very well what every person wrestles with in the face of suffering – can God be real? And if he is, is his love real enough for me to be able to accept this suffering, to heal from it, and dare we even ask, to experience true and lasting happiness? Before offering some insights in response to your question, I think that it is very significant that amidst all of the pain, suffering, division, and sadness you have seen and experienced in your family, you are asking these questions. This in itself reflects the Holy Spirit, already at work in your soul. He is gently stirring your heart to seek a secure and abiding love that gives meaning to your past, your present, and your future. This seeking reflects the truth of who you are; a person made in the image and likeness of God, who will only find total fulfillment in the knowledge and experience of his love.
You ask if it is really possible to know the love of God when you have not been blessed with examples of people reflecting this in your own life. This is a good question. We can feel the temptation to think that some people seem to have a ‘head start’ in life by the family they were raised in, or the people who surrounded them. Whereas others almost seem ‘set-up’ for failure, by the difficulties they face or the lack of love they experience. We need to look at our lives in the context of God’s greater plan, which is for our eternal salvation. God loves each one of us equally and he knows exactly what each one of us needs to get to heaven, the right measure of opportunities and challenges, and he measures fairly. Perhaps one person who seems to have been given ‘everything’ will battle with self-sufficiency their whole lives; whereas another who is less fortunate has no problem depending on God, but may struggle with something different. We can therefore learn to ask God why he permits certain things rather than comparing what he allows in the lives of others. What did he want to teach me through this? It may well be that through allowing great sufferings; he was preventing us from other ones. Perhaps he is molding you through your suffering so you can in turn be an instrument in the lives of others. Although it may be more challenging for you to discover God’s love since you have not seen it reflected in others, God will give you this grace if you ask in faith.
In regard to your desire to experience God’s love, your words give the deepest desires of your heart away, “I long to rest in his love”. God simply cannot resist our hearts when we desire to grow closer to him. Sometimes it can seem difficult to find God because our understanding is limited and our experience of life is through transient thoughts, emotions, experiences, desires, etc. However, God did create us with a desire for infinite love imprinted on our hearts, and he longs to fulfill us with the experience of his love, but we must desire it more than anything else. We see countless examples in the Gospels of Jesus granting miracles to those who longed for their desires with faith. I would encourage you to continue asking God for this gift first of all in prayer. It can be helpful to spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, pouring out your heart to him, even if it seems awkward at first. It can also be helpful to journal your thoughts, struggles, and desires. Everything can become a prayer if you put “Lord” at the beginning! Ask him very specifically for the gift of experiencing his love and faith to believe in his love for you. Secondly, reflect on the four Gospels or a book which helps you to pray through the Gospels (my book “The Better Part” is very helpful for starting out in prayer and reflecting on the Gospels). Spend a few minutes reflecting on them in prayer each day asking Jesus to enlighten your mind and heart and to speak to you through them. “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Lord, what can I learn from this passage about the meaning of the sufferings you have permitted in my life? How do these words impact my faith? What do I see in the way you are loving this person? How does this apply to my life? Even if it feels like we are the ones grasping for God, he is ultimately the one interested in overtaking our hearts and souls with his love. If you continue to seek him, you will find him. Our Lord tells us this himself, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16).
Art for this post From a Past of Suffering, How can I Understand God’s Love?: Modified detail of Long Suffering, Julia Margaret Cameron, 1865, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons.