I really hope you have enjoyed reading this sample chapter from Losing the Fig Leaf. To read or find out more, click here.
Freedom in relationships
Jesus’ security in the knowledge of who He was can also be seen by His remarkable humility. It meant He felt free to serve without worrying about having to maintain a particular image in the eyes of other people. In John 13 He had no qualms about washing the disciples’ feet, because He knew that there was nothing He could do and nothing anyone else could do that could change who He was or take away His Sonship. This gave Him tremendous security and great freedom, as He had nothing He wanted to prove. This provides a stark contrast to the disciples, who argued about who among them was the greatest (Mark 9:34).
I would encourage you to rest in the knowledge that you are a son or daughter of God, and to allow Him to love you for who you are. Ask Him to help you to step out from behind this tree of power. And as you take His hand and begin to step out from this hiding place, remember that you don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. You don’t have to do anything to earn His acceptance. You don’t have to do anything to earn His approval. You already have it. Take the hand He offers you and ask Him to help you to live secure in the knowledge that you are His child.
I would also encourage you to realise that, in the same way as we cannot earn God’s love, we should not try to earn the love of other people. God loves us unconditionally, and we should live our lives as an act of worship to Him, so that everything we do flows from our gratitude for what He has done for us and out of our love for Him in return.
If we feel that we need to earn the love of another person, I would say we need to re-evaluate the relationship. Real love does not demand; it gives freely, and it receives what the other person wants to give. There is a big difference between receiving and taking in a relationship.
If someone loves you because of what you do for them, you may feel that you have an element of power and control because you are able to ‘make’ that person love you. However, the reality is that they are actually the one who is holding the power over you, because you feel obliged to behave in a certain way, otherwise you fear that their love will be withdrawn. The balance of power is weighted strongly in the other person’s favour. I would say to you, very gently, please consider whether this person really loves you at all, or whether they are just loving themselves by manipulating you to do what they want you to do. In my opinion, this is self-satisfaction; it is not love. What are they offering to you to express their love for you? Is this the way you really want to be loved? What will happen if and when you can no longer give them what they want, perhaps through illness or other circumstances? Is this the way God loves you – for what you can do for Him?
I was once involved in a relationship like this. The person concerned led me to believe that they loved me, and that they would continue to love me if I did everything I could to please them. Foolishly, I went along with it, and for far too long. I did everything I could to make the person love me, and I thought for a while that they did love me. But it always felt as though whatever I did, it wasn’t good enough. So I tried even harder. But nothing changed.
Eventually I came to recognise what was going on, but not before much damage had been done to my already low self-esteem and self-confidence. I realised that actually, the person didn’t love me at all, in spite of all their words, and that they were really only interested in loving themselves. In the end I found the courage to cut loose from the relationship, and God in His grace and mercy put people around me who loved me for the person I am. These people were – and still are – willing to give to me without wanting anything in return. I still find it hard to receive love at times, and always feel that I ought to be giving something back, but I am realising that real love doesn’t ask for anything in return. It gives freely, without counting the cost. And it welcomes and receives our love in return, if we choose to give it.
If this situation sounds familiar, I would really encourage you to pray and then to talk to the person about your concerns. Cite examples of real situations – it is difficult for anyone to dispute facts – and then describe how those occasions made you feel. Do everything you can to bring the relationship to a place of a more even balance of power. Cover it with prayer, and speak together with a wise and experienced third party if you are both willing.
Allow yourself to be loved for who you are, not for what you can give.
Power is something we all have, and indeed it is something we all need in order to flourish as human beings. But we can hide behind our power and use it for the wrong reasons. We should consider how we use our power, and ask God to help us to use it for the benefit of others, to help them to blossom and develop as people, and to enable them to reach their full potential. We are all made in the image and according to the likeness of God, and He has blessed every one of us with a task to carry out and a role to fulfil. And that role is different for each of us. Let us step out from behind this tree, drop this fig leaf, and use the power we have to help others grow and become the people that God created them to be!
Now to the second ‘tree’: the hiding place of material possessions.
Losing the Fig Leaf by Nicki Copeland, published by Instant Apostle, is available from Christian retailers and online sellers. Order from Amazon in print or on Kindle here.