I find that if I have a misconception of love and thus of God, that is, one that does not align fully with scripture, I need look no further than my relationships. Because we are in a genuine relationship with the Lord, we will often have similar hang ups to those we have in our human relationships. All of us have relational styles, learned from parents and friends that we bring to our marriages and parenting. It should then come as no surprise that those relational styles affect our connection with God.
A misconception of love, too, is common. As a naïve seventeen-year-old, I took my first husband’s overwhelming interest in me as love. Perhaps love played a role, but for the most part, he had a need to control. He learned early in his family that love means control, and I believe fear of control played a role in his rejection of God.
We bring our baggage to Him, just as we bring those heavy laden suitcases to our spouses and children.
The sure way to tell if you are maturing in the Lord is that you will also find yourself maturing as a wife or husband, mother or father. ‘Faith without works is dead’ is a verse often quoted as spiritual ammunition. It is sometimes used against those Christians who either do not give as perhaps they ought, or do not volunteer enough at church. But I believe that some of the works we can expect to see in the life of a maturing Christian are peace at home and satisfying relationships. This does not include those in abusive relationships. Being a Christian in an abusive marriage requires discernment of a different order.
However, the working out of our misconception of love, who God is, and how we relate to others, God, and ourselves is a continual work in progress. As we become more deeply acquainted with Love in the person of Jesus, our lives grow to reflect His glory.
The misconceptions begin to fade as Truth emerges in the being of Jesus Christ in our lives.
I list the causes of a misconception of love as a partial list. In order to go a little more in depth, this piece will come in two parts. This first blog will deal with controlling and dependent relationships, while the next blog will go into merging relationships or a lack of boundaries as well as a lack of conflict or a lack of intimacy as a relational style. I think we all go through these relational styles as phases to some degree. My hope is that this provides a road map showing us where we are and we hope to travel.
Relational Style 1: The Controller
If you find yourself in a pattern where you control your relationships or where you are on the receiving end of overbearing control, your relational style is bound up in the idea of power. Power struggles are, of course, a part of every relationship. We have to find our voice in our marriages and as parents and often, our ideas are very different from our mates and our children’s.
The problem with keeping the idea of power in the center of a relationship where love should be is that God too becomes a part of that cycle.
God as an authoritarian is sometimes an angry God, holding us to a set of rules that are more important than our hearts. This misconception of love and thus of God who is love, as the enforcer creates a lot of guilt and performance issues. Just as controlling relationships spell bondage for those involved in them, people with this relational style become bound to their ideas of what God wants from them. I stayed in my first marriage to a narcissist for years longer than I should have, not because I wanted to but because I convinced myself God required it of me.
But as far as I am aware, God never forced me to do anything. In fact, Jesus came to serve, not to rule. He who is God did not assert Himself as such. He came as a man, poor and humble. God Himself withholds judgment and punishment. He may chasten us, but as a loving Father in order to correct rather than punish. This misconception of love for power can cause us to resent God, just as we come to resent a controlling parent or spouse.
Relational Style 2: The Dependent
Dependent relationships have at their core a well of unfulfilled need. In these relationships, we either play the role of need-filler or needy. Sometimes we flip flop between the two roles. Everyone must develop the ability to minister to one’s own need. Proverbs put it like this: the righteous man is satisfied from himself. When we clutch at one another, draining the life out of each other, we prove that we have not learned to love.
The misconception here is that God is distant. The fear of abandonment overrides all else. But while it is true that we each have a God shaped hole inside of us, the fear of rejection projects onto God the same inability to give enough that we suffer from. God we feel holds Himself at a distance. He will leave at some point, just as everyone else has.
Of course, this is not true.
But the inability to receive love from our family and friends translates into an inability to receive love from God.
For the needy, fear has replaced love. Anxiety camouflages a God who is present, immediate, and loving. In this misconception of love, there is never enough and we are always alone.
I don’t want to be among those Christian writers who can accurately describe a problem without an adequate solution. One thing I know after forty-eight years is that maturity is measured in decades. If you have one of the two relational patterns I mentioned above, chances are you are aware of it. Growth, however, comes at a cost, and it is not one size fits all.
For me, growth requires constant vigilance. At times I sought counsel and other times, I sought mentors in the form of the wonderful library of Christian literature available to us in the modern age. Relationships with those who have wiser hearts help tremendously. Seek after your healing. Seek after His righteousness.
You will find it like everyone else who makes the journey, in bits and pieces, moments of revelation, and God’s invisible provident hand.
This excerpt from a book entitled, The Authentic Heart: An Eightfold Path to Midlife Love by John Amodeo, Ph.D., has some good insights into mature love.