When Love Feels Like a Prison


I was reflecting recently on some of the heartbreaks I’ve been able to endure, by God’s amazing grace. It’s not normally something I like to rehearse, because I am so thankful to not be there anymore. But some recent circumstances have given me occasion to remember that I’ve most certainly been through more painful and difficult things than I am now facing.

In the midst of all this reflecting, one thing in particular rose to the surface, commanding my focus. I remembered how trapped my heart has always felt in the process of the enduring – much like a prisoner locked away behind bars, stuck in a place I didn’t want to be and didn’t think I deserved to be.

Now, a prisoner is not a victim, but often tends to think and act like one. The truth is that prisoners make choices which land them behind those bars (I realize there truly are innocent prisoners, but for the sake of the illustration, let’s assume we are speaking of guilty ones). So, in essence, they choose the consequence they receive, because they know there is a risk of it contained in whatever it is they decide to do.

I’ve tried explaining this to my children when they blame me for the unfairness of their consequences. Sentences, I reason, would never have to be an option if they would simply obey Mommy’s rules. Therefore, it is entirely possible to live without the consequence of sentences. However, since they choose to break the rules, and know the consequence will be sentences, they ultimately choose to write sentences. Such logic is lost on little, still-forming minds, but to me it makes such perfect sense.

Now, when I flip that on myself and try to swallow the reality that, by choosing to love people who are not yet perfect (a.k.a. any human being, including myself!), I am essentially choosing to imprison my heart in relationships which will be painful, hard, and messy. Relationships that may, at times, feel like punishment, even though they are intended to bring transformation with healthy doses of grace. I, by my own commitment to faithfulness, have locked myself into something that makes me feel trapped, but was actually a free-willed choice.

Right there is where we tend to jump tracks and get things all mixed up. At the critical junction between our free choice to love and the consequences which love naturally bears, we feel the wounding blows and pitch our tent in the victim’s camp. We mourn over the time we lose, the personal injuries we sustain, and the sacrifices we so selflessly poured out…only to be wasted, so it seems.

And right there is where I felt the Holy Spirit stop me. In the middle of my sob-story reverie, a window opened and I suddenly saw my heart as more than a prisoner. I saw it as the home of Jesus. I saw how He has committed Himself to dwell within me, to take up residence in my heart. And, for a brief few moments, I thought about what kind of home my heart might be for Him.

The spotlight shifted from my own pain and suffering in love to the possibility of His, and how His commitment to be faithful to me has bound Him to remain with me despite my flaws and failures. Instead of rehearsing my own scarred past, I couldn’t help but think about the very present reality He must be experiencing.

Does He feel trapped when I take Him for granted? Does He feel stuck and forgotten when I get busy and don’t make the time for Him that I know I should? Does He long to be free from the kind of life and love that suffers long, willingly?

Both the Word of God and my experiences in growing to know Him personally tell me no way! He is the God Whose love sent Him to the torturous cross and the hopeless grave, so that we could have the free will to choose whether to accept or reject that love. He is the God Who has not only entered into our grief and sorrows, but made Himself subject to them, suffering on our behalf…when we deserved every bit of pain we’ve ever felt. He is the God Who waits patiently, daily, for us to recognize the immeasurable gain of His presence – with tender mercies and love that knows no expiration date – while we get lost and distracted with counting all our own losses.

It rarely dawns on us that our sufferings are light in comparison to what He has endured in the course of loving us, often as the direct result of our own foolishness, selfishness and unfaithfulness. It doesn’t really register – at least not often and likely not too deeply – that we have given Him plenty of occasion to grieve and mourn, to feel much like a prisoner as He dwells in the home of our hearts.

We think more about the years we have lost to pain and devastation in our relationships with difficult people than about the years God has lost as we have struggled through our rebellion or our fears or our issues that keep us from fully committing ourselves to Him.

I know it’s not a pretty thought, but I think it’s an important one. And while I don’t think God is playing the victim, I do think He grieves for the many opportunities we miss out on daily to draw closer to Him and know more about the perfect love He died to give us.

Yesterday I was reminded that we are called to be peacemakers. That doesn’t mean we walk around avoiding conflict and trying to appease everyone. In fact, it often means that we must confront existing conflict and bring truth to situations which are subject to deception and unnecessary division.

But in that process, it is critically important that we always keep an eye focused on ourselves. As we pray for our own conflicts and as we lead others to reconciliation in theirs, we must remember to consider what God might address within our own hearts and lives, in order to fully connect with His heart, and allow others to do the same.

It’s always much easier to see what others are doing wrong and recognize the effect it is having on us. But what if, as a wife married to a husband in process (because I humbly recognize that I, too, am in process),  I decided to focus on the kind of wife I am being rather than the kind of husband I might feel he is not. Or what if, as a leader in a growing church, I decided to focus on the kind of servant I am being rather than the kind of leader I might feel needs improvement (this is a hypothetical situation for me, but I’ve talked with many who have real frustrations like this).

I think this would be a sure way for us to grow in the kind of love which God demonstrates toward us. I think it would result in closer relationships with God and with others. And I think we would be less quick to recoil in the face of pain, injustice or conflict, and instead do what Jesus did: move in closer and fight harder for each other.

I don’t think our hearts feel like a prison to Jesus, because I think He knew what He was choosing when He chose unfailing love. He knew it would cost Him all of Who He was, and He surrendered Himself willingly. But just because He doesn’t act like a victim doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider the kind of love we give Him in return.

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I’m sure your own heart has been bound with chains at some time in this life you have lived, if it’s not right now. I encourage you, therefore, to break free from that prison of pain by turning your focus to the reality that Jesus dwells within you. Your heart, while wounded, is not merely someone else’s captive. Your heart is home to the God Who has fought and will continue to fight for you.

As you step into that revelation, allow yourself to clean house and exchange the chains for cords of love that keep the curtains held open just enough to let the light of hope shine on in. He is with you, and He has promised that He will cause ALL THINGS to work for the good of those who love Him. Your present pain and suffering are included in those ALL THINGS, so choose to spend your energy focusing on the kind of home your heart will be instead of the kind of prison it has been thrown into.

He will break through for you. But in the meantime, remember that love suffers long, and He is your daily example of that, as He lives in relationship with the you that is still in your process.

May He grant us eyes to see and hearts which are willing to be transformed in love.

{Photo images courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com}


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