Originally posted on Facebook–January, 2011
When I was very young, I viewed God as a child would. I think it was a good thing. The problem was that as I grew older, I started to create my own visions of what God should be based on my perspectives; not the reality provided to me through His own Word. My world was very black-and-white, right-and-wrong. God was a strong Father figure in my life, and I wanted to be a strong figure too.
During those adolescent years, each year led me to become more confident in my own capabilities, and to feel less dependent on God. I grew up in a blue-collar town that had an identity in its toughness. Undeservedly, I received a significant amount of harsh criticism and negativity from those close to me as a youth. It was important to hide weakness in public. Quite sensitive, many nights, I would fall to sleep with tears in my eyes.
There were two ways—being as black-and-white as I was in my mindset during that time—that I saw to respond to the verbal abuse I was receiving. One way to respond was that I could accept the words said to me as valid, and adopt the role of a victim. The other response was to prove those words to be false. Never did I think that I could just disregard the words on the basis that there was no basis in them.
With every defiant achievement, I strengthened an identity that leaned on my own capabilities. There was a sense of pride with every new accomplishment. What I perceived as healthy ambitions, drove me towards a performance-based mindset. At the time, I thought I only competed with myself, but it is easy to see now that I was comparing myself to others. God was definitely a major part of my life, but I was trying to make Him proud of me through each personal success.
Not quite as loquacious a person as I am now—that came with college—I had a semi-reserved arrogance. I thought I was better than most people. I was a ‘straight-edge,’ refraining from smoking and drinking in an environment where such behavior was common. I did not fool around with girls, as I felt—and still strongly do—that sex should be reserved for marriage. Academically, I was a solid student; graduating eighth in a class of just over two-hundred. From the age of nine through the age of eighteen, I served as an altar boy at my church. A well-rounded athlete, I played a number of varsity sports, captaining the soccer team. While I did not have any real enemies, I was extremely selective with my friendships. My friends were few, but they were genuine and loyal. It was never difficult to know where I stood with them.
Since I was not a partier, and I did not date—as my ambitions always had me eyeing a day I would leave Gloucester—I spent much of my time outside of school either running, playing sports, or working at Walgreens. For a long time, I believed I had an outside chance of being a professional athlete, and wholly committed my time towards that endeavor. My high school soccer coach, Ricci Jeffrie, had played for his national team of Trinidad and Tobago. He and I would spend hours over the summer training. As a teenager, I was able to persevere through the disappointments I experienced by keeping my sights on a future I perceived as inevitable—as long as I kept focusing on my studies and training. Optimistically, I expected great things. In many ways, I still do. Though, the definition of what I consider to be ‘great things’ has changed.
I masked my pain through performance.
At some point during my freshman year of college, I came to the conclusion that something had to change with my priorities. Having lived in the same house my entire life, it was the first time that I had been away from home for an extended period of time. Without my close-knit group of friends nearby, I battled with loneliness.
At the same time, I loved college. When would I have the chance to be around so many people in the same stage of life as me? It was a great place to reinvent myself. One evening, hanging out in my dorm alone, while everyone else was out partying, I decided that I was going to have to leave my comfort zone, and invest more intentionally in my relationships. There was a good and bad to this decision. I believe making myself more vulnerable in my relationships was a good thing. To place as much emphasis as I did, however, on some of these relationships was not. Sometimes I lost myself in trying to meet the expectations of others.
I suppressed my pain through social activities.
During my time in college, I still attended Mass. The priest at Catholic Campus Ministries (CCM), Father John, became a friend of mine. While enduring through a difficult period sophomore year, he told me something that has stuck with me since. At the time, I identified my natural traits to be similar to someone that I did not want to resemble. Father John told me that traits in-and-of themselves are not good or evil, it is how we choose to act upon those traits that determines their use.
I excused my pain through my environment
Upon completing graduate school, I found myself moving to a city in which I never had desired to live. I was alone, living in a small apartment next to a MARTA station, without a mattress on which to sleep. There had been a trainee position available with a reputable company—a sponsorship consulting agency—for a sixth month period. There was no guarantee that I would be offered a permanent position following my time as a trainee, but the opportunity to get a foot-in-the-door of my dream field was too special an opportunity to pass.
A month following my arrival to Atlanta, however, I was spending my birthday in that empty apartment; trapped inside by a freak ice storm. I did not have cable, or even a stereo. It provided me quiet, contemplative time—needed time. The plans that I held for my life up to that point had basically happened. At that time, I felt like I had reached the point where the training wheels had to come off. Having finished schooling, and achieving more than I had ever anticipated academically, it was time to be ‘an adult’ in the real world.
But what did that mean? Growing up, I always looked forward to the day when I would be ‘an adult,’ and making my mark in the real world. It did not seem all that fulfilling, sitting in that apartment, alone.
I justified pain through passionate pursuit of an identity.
And eventually, somewhere during my years living in GA, I have come to understand pain’s primary promulgator: feeling unloved. Consider the happiest people you know. Do you think any of them would tell you that they normally feel emotionally alone? Based on my own experiences with people, I would think that most happy people feel loved…if not all. Coincidentally, it seems that pain is magnified when you exhibit love towards another, and that person does not appear to reciprocate that love. I often think that this was the persecution that Christians were promised in the Gospel. Nothing to me could be more painful.
The greatest law according to Jesus was to basically love God and love others. The definition of “others” is pretty broad, so that is a lot of loving for a Christian to be engaged in at all times. I find it challenging in most circumstances, because to love others is to make oneself vulnerable. At the same time, we are told to be wise in how we exhibit love to others, being advised to ‘guard our heart’ from evil and to be ‘cunning like a serpent, for we are sheep amongst wolves.’
Jesus also spoke of how the Kingdom was for those like a child. I believe that this statement holds many layers of truth; more than I am aware. What strikes me as important in this instance, is that a child seems to have a greater capacity to unconditionally love others than an adult. What would make this true? I have a theory.
It is my assertion that adults slowly lose their ability to love unconditionally, because the compounded effects of rejection throughout one’s life—the cumulative pain—paralyzes one from acting out of unconditional love towards others. While told to love others, not being loved back becomes an emotional hurdle that encourages hesitation…
…and that is what makes Christians the most Christ-like. Unconditional love.
To unconditionally love, it is necessary for me to grant grace to those who harm me. No grace I grant another compares to that provided to me—and all willing to receive it—from Jesus, when he permitted himself to be crucified for our salvation. He became vulnerable though he was omnipotent. He was ‘rejected by the builders to become the cornerstone.’ He IS God, and yet, is still constantly denied deserved love by His creations…
What type of pain did Jesus endure prior to the cross, being rejected time and again by those whom He righteously loved? I will never be able to endure such pain. Yet, how many times do I find myself hesitant, or even paralyzed, to love others because of the pain previously experienced from such action? And in not doing anything, I still lose, because I took away the opportunity to have someone else enjoy the benefits of being loved—as well as removed an opportunity to reciprocate that love. Moreover, it is one less chance to show God how much I love Him by loving those whom He told me to love.
The trick is to find peaceful contentment in the love God holds for me, and out of love for God, share it with others—regardless of whether it is reciprocated.
It is just another reason to know God better, because the better I understand the nature of our Lord, the more I will be able to comprehend the depth of His love for me. And in feeling so loved, how could I not want to please my lover through sharing His love with others?
As His love for me is constant, may my love for others eventually be as well.
Pain is temporary. Love is forever.