Updated: Jun 29, 2022
I’ll never forget the look on the face of the lady seated in the front row that morning. I believe the year was 2010 when Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday and I had prepared the worship set at our church to be threaded with the theme of God’s love for us. Seemed appropriate. I was prepared to have to pull a few stragglers along as I attempted to lead the congregation (I’m certain less than 20 people at that time) into the presence of the Lord. What I wasn’t prepared for was the dramatic exhale and exaggerated eye roll projected from Row 1, Seat 2 when I mentioned the holiday. I had simply expressed a verbal acknowledgement in an attempt to prepare the people for the video we were about to play that would display our focus for worship that day. Her disapproval was so apparent it was distracting.
I didn’t know the specifics of her history, but I gathered from a few conversations (and her display of emotion that day) that her experience with love hadn’t been a great one. She’d searched and found and lost. She’d been let down and hurt. Too many times to count. And that day, she was reminded of the pain.
As we journey through life, there are times when remaining open to love will result in pain—sometimes more severe than others. Personally, I have experienced this in the context of friendships, relationships and even family members. I’ve been heartbroken, betrayed and led on. Determined never to be a victim of anyone else’s decisions along the way, I made adjustments. I reacted to the hurt in order to keep myself safe. And as time passed on, I became more and more closed off to genuineness, transparency and vulnerability. Truth is, I became afraid of love.
First John 4:18 says, ”There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…” The word “perfect” here means “mature”. This scripture is not necessarily referring to a flawless love, but rather one that’s grown up. Personified, this kind of love doesn’t ask for candy every time it enters the grocery store, concerned about what it will get. Instead, this love plans a healthy menu for the week and makes wise selections to purchase everything needed while remaining within budget. This love has come to understand that in order to be complete, it must be self-sacrificial and not self-seeking. This love has chosen to grow rather than stagnate. When we experience an immature love, we don’t even realize it, but oftentimes we respond by becoming immature lovers. We set our focus on protecting our hearts and in turn, we continue the cycle of fear.
Jesus lets us know in John 13:35 that our love is what sets us apart and shows people we belong to Him. I don’t know about you, but I want to become everything God has called me to be before I spend eternity with Him. And if He’s calling me to love like a boss, then by all means, I’ve got to make up in my mind that I’m going to love like a boss! Even when it hurts. Even when it’s unrequited. Even when I am tempted to cross my arms and remove people from my heart simply because they are imperfect, I will strive to love like Jesus.
This Valentine’s Day, I’ve chosen to write a love letter to my younger self. This is not your typical, “Let me count the ways” letter. Instead, I want to warn former Shelby of what is coming and give her strategy to remain open and warmhearted. She was a tough cookie, but she needed to let her guard down to a love that would never harm her. Maybe the words I’d say to her will speak to you.
I’ve crafted many letters in my life, but none quite like this one. For years, I preferred written communication over verbal communication, so I’d write long messages to my friends when I had an issue I needed to discuss. Sound familiar? It should. I am you. Many years down the line. Believe it!
I write you this letter for a reason. It’s a serious matter. One that will save you time and relationships if you take to heart what I’m about to share with you. You’re no dummy. You already know that along this road, you’re going to experience pain. But here’s the key-- don’t let the pain change you. You are so special and deep down you know it (although, sometimes that truth gets buried). As life unfolds, things will happen that cause you to question a lot but listen to that voice at your core that’s telling you there is a fairytale ending for everything. Later your language will change, and you’ll tell everyone that “all things work together for good”. Either way, keep your head up!
Some dark days are down the line for you. In 2006, someone is going to hurt you and you’re going to be brave enough to speak out about it. You’re so strong. Here’s what’s going to blindside you-- your best friend (along with many others) are going to betray you. They’re going to take the wrong side. But it’s okay. You did the right thing. Don’t ever question that. People are going to turn on you but let them go. Don’t hold it against them. Just understand they don’t know how to love you through it. It’s going to hurt, but don’t let the pain produce a callous on your heart. God is going to use that experience. I promise.
In 2008, you’re going to go through a major heartbreak. You’re going to pour everything into this guy, but it’s going to end. You’re going to peer into your future and not be able to imagine what it could look like. You had your whole life planned and it included him. But you’re going to survive. Don’t let the disappointment of what you thought that love was supposed to be close you off to what will be. One day you’ll be driving down the road, eyes filled with tears, and God is going to speak to you. You’re gonna wonder if it was really Him, but the peace that will fill you in that moment will sustain you. You’ll come to recognize His voice and realize He never left you alone.
Shelby, this letter is proof you are going to survive. That is who you are-- a survivor! And while surviving is the first step, I don’t want you to become a bitter survivor. I don’t want you to look back with anger or look ahead with fear. When someone on this earth fails your expectation for love, there is a love I need you to be reminded of. See, your greatest hang up is that when people failed you, you got upset with God. Rather than running to His perfect love, you allowed the blemished love of those around you to reflect on His. But, baby girl, He’s greater. His love is safe. His love is perfect. God’s love is unending. And check this out… you don’t have to earn it. You and I both know the struggle we have with this, but that’s another letter for another day.
I just want you to know that the relational experiences you have are going to shake you. That’s because you’re passionate and have a lot of love to share. Just promise me this… When you feel your heart becoming hard, you’ve got to run to God and allow His love to saturate you and soften it back up. Don’t let the afflictions compound and infect your flow. Keep purifying your heart. Let your love grow!!
In case no one has told you lately, you’re beautiful. You’re talented and you can do anything you set your mind to do. Don’t be afraid of failure. It will actually help you develop. It’s necessary. So, keep loving you when you fail. Keep showing love when others fail you. And never forget that God’s love will never fail.
Happy Valentine’s Day, my love. Enjoy every second. Because you are loved on a level that you will never fully comprehend. Soak in it today.