I love you… You matter to me… I will not leave you.We long to hear these affirmations, but when they come, we struggle to believe them. We push them away. That’s impossible, we say, I’m not good enough… why would someone want to love me?
I am standing with Claire behind a small house where some of us have gathered for a day of relaxing community time. Poplars graze the blue-grey sky and a steady April wind rushes through the leaves… normally a peaceful sound for me, but this afternoon, tension is high. For the past hour, Claire’s emotions have rollercoasted up and down, unleashing her pain and her paralyzing fear that the bright promise of love has, once again, gone and disappeared…
“Leave me alone!” she yells at me, her eyes dark and frenzied. “You’re not my f—ing friend after all. I thought I could trust you, but you don’t care about me!”
I am lost for words. So many people have abandoned Claire in her life – why would she believe I’m any different? Somehow I need to convince her that I will keep loving her no matter what…
I reassure her again. “I care about you very much. Nothing will change that.”
“I was stupid to come here today,” she yells. “No one wants me around!”
“I’m really glad you’re here.”
She wrings her hands together. “No, no, no you’re not! You’re not even my friend. You only care about Stephanie!”
I look her deep in the eyes and wish like crazy I could convince her. “I am your friend and you matter to me.”
Stephanie is a friend of Claire’s at Sanctuary, and despite their difficulty trusting, they have become close over the months. This morning, however, they got into a heated argument and said some hurtful things. Now, as Claire fears losing Stephanie’s friendship, she tells me she is scared she will also lose me, us – that her friends and community will choose Stephanie over her, and she will be forgotten. Or no longer wanted. Like so many of our Sanctuary friends, Claire is afraid there isn’t enough love to go around. She is caught in something called the zero sum game of love, and her fear of rejection has shaken her deep in her core.
In game theory, the zero sum game is a situation in which a gain or win by one person must be balanced with a loss by another, to equal zero. It assumes there is a fixed or finite amount of a particular resource that two or more people must compete for. When applied to love, this kind of thinking assumes there is not enough love for everyone – that if someone gains love, someone else must lose it; for example, if our close friend gives love to another friend, there might not be enough left over for us.
And haven’t so many of us experienced this same fear and wondered, why would someone love me when there are so many better people to love? Or, how could God possibly love me as much as he loves others, when they are obviously more blessed than me, more together than me, more loveable than me? How could I, with all my mess-ups, also be his beloved?
By the end of the afternoon, I am sitting with Claire in the deck chairs. She has calmed down, and stares out at the trees, sighing. “I guess you probably love me,” she says. “I guess I was just mad because I thought you only loved Stephanie. But I guess maybe you love me too.” Yes, yes I do.
Claire has told me before how the people in her past caused her indescribable hurt. She knows first-hand the devastation of love promised and then taken away: never a place to call ‘home.’ For many of us, we have searched so long for a place of home, that when we find it, we hang onto that love as tightly as possible.
But we are learning together that God blesses us with an abundance of love, a love that stretches as our community grows – not so we can keep it for ourselves, but so we can invite others into that same love. Our need to protect love is slowly being transformed into an ability to release love. We are a community working hard to figure out our place in a very large story of love – a story so human and real and close to home we barely dare to believe it, and a story so all-encompassing that it takes our breath away. As we live it out together, sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don’t, but the process is always beautiful, always courageous, and always worth it…