Growing up, love was elusive. The more I wanted to feel connected, the more distance I sensed. I suppose that’s common in households with substance abuse. When parents struggle to squelch their own emotional pain, there’s not much energy left to tend to their children’s hearts and souls.
In my house, Mother was a classy, complicated alcoholic. Our relationship was always strained. Still, as her firstborn and only daughter, I yearned for closeness. Then, after years of shouldering her pain and meeting her needs, I finally broke free. Unfortunately, the scene that followed my betrayal of independence was the stuff of nightmares.
Mom was starting a new life in Colorado, ending a failed 20 year marriage to my dad. She needed my help with the drive from New Jersey, and the unpacking. The journey would take nearly three weeks (the summer before my senior year of college), so I left my part-time jobs and my boyfriend, to be of service. Everything about that trip was a challenge! To top it off, the movers were delayed by over a week.
Unable to settle her “nest,” tensions ran high in my mother who tried desperately to control the issues and people in her life. Her fury reached a crescendo one August afternoon when I took the initiative to call the airlines, reserving a return flight to Jersey. Mom’s thinking probably went like this: How dare my daughter take matters into her own hands! How unfair of her to choose to leave before the movers arrive… before all the work of unpacking!
Oblivious to anyone else’s needs, Mom’s anger reached a new zenith as soon as I hung up the phone. Immediately she unleashed a tirade of abuse that scorched my soul. Mom physically backed me into the guest room, where I cowered in the corner, hands over my face. Though I began to sob uncontrollably, she continued to spew her rage. As she exited the room, slamming the door, she screamed, “You are the scum of the earth!”
I was stunned and broken hearted. Once again, my efforts to help my mother had fallen short. It wasn’t my fault that the movers were delayed and we were in limbo, roaming an empty house. But I had taken a stand, making a decision that was best for me, and she was livid. The wounds her tongue inflicted that day left lifelong bruises. All I wanted was to feel loved, and instead I was labeled a disappointment.
Ever since childhood, I thought love was something you earned. Maybe if I worked hard enough in school and brought home stellar grades, I’d feel loved. Maybe if I kept my mouth shut, and only spoke kind words, I’d feel loved. Maybe if I agreed with everyone’s opinion, I’d feel loved. Maybe if I lost the extra weight, I’d feel loved. It seemed to me only those who were beautiful and compliant were loved.
However, when the standard is perfection everyone fails. When love is conditional, no one feels secure. It took years for me to understand I wasn’t alone in my struggle to feel loved. I finally realized that imperfect parents, who felt unloved as children, often pass the same feelings to their offspring. But there is One who loves us beyond measure; the One who gave His life so we could experience true love, and live whole.
A couple of years after I first met Jesus, He confronted the neediness in my heart. It had been over 6 years since that awful episode with my mother, and I was now eight months pregnant with my first child. Taking an afternoon break with a book in hand, I lounged on the sofa with my legs propped up. The afternoon sun filtered through the curtains, spreading a delightful warmth over my body as my baby kicked softly inside my womb. Absorbed in the words I was reading, I relaxed and relished the stillness of the house.
Suddenly I hear a voice say, “Let me love you. Let me love you.”
At once I recognized the speaker. How like God to interrupt my thoughts, affirming my heart with gentle assurance. He loves me despite my imperfections and shortcomings. Ever the gentleman, He asked me to accept His unconditional love. What a blessing! And just in time. Within weeks I would begin my own motherhood journey. I needed to be secure in Jesus’ unconditional love, so I could pass it on to my daughter…even if imperfectly.