“I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.” (Romans 15:30)
I often find inspiration and revelation in unusual places. Lines from movies or songs can suddenly allow me to make a connection or bring on a realization I had not come by before. Whether or not the writers intended it, their words carry unexpected deep meaning. Sometimes it happens when I first hear them; other times I might remember something unexpectedly. I had one of these experiences recently when the second part of a refrain from the 80s came into my head:
We are strong, No one can tell us we’re wrong, Searching our hearts for so long, Both of us knowing, Love is a battlefield.
Those words are the tagline from a 1983 Top 10 hit by Pat Benatar. Call me a nerd if you like, but those words actually describe my daily spiritual struggle very well, and I will wager, to some degree that of most Christians. To accept and give the love of Christ, we must regularly navigate a battlefield both internally and externally. Inside each of us, we must fight to cast aside our fears, doubts, and self-centered desires, and embrace our identity as children of God. And when interacting with others, we will typically encounter resistance or persecution in many forms.
I am currently reading Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved for the first time. It is a very easy read, and yet so deeply powerful that I can only read a little at a time before having to stop and reflect for a while. Nouwen’s message is one that I have needed to hear my entire life, because he speaks to this same struggle to claim and live in God’s unending and abiding love. He identifies key aspects of being the beloved of God and offers suggestions for practice in each. He also talks about the biggest obstacle to living under God’s love, self-rejection, which I have always struggled mightily with.
Back to the song, for I believe each line is important. We are strong. We must always believe this, for God gives us strength. He loves each of us enough to call us His own, and we must be able to think of ourselves first in His light. I have struggled with physical and social weaknesses throughout my life, and they still get the better of me whenever I think of myself in any type of comparison to other people. I realize now that if I identify myself in this way (which is still not easy for me to avoid), I am setting myself up to be bound by limitations. We all have our weaknesses; as Nouwen writes, we are all broken in some way. The challenge is to be able to embrace our brokenness and live with it under God’s blessing rather than under doubt and self-rejection. Paul sums it up best: “…my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power my rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
No one can tell us we’re wrong. This is another important statement to believe, for we all face a lot of doubt and criticism from others in our lives. This can easily cause us to doubt ourselves, and dissuade us from doing whatever God may be calling us to do. I got mocked and criticized quite often when I was younger, and that had a lasting effect on me. I was constantly hearing voices inside myself telling me I wasn’t good enough or had no hope of something. In my current accounting job, mistakes and shortcomings are regularly pointed out, which makes it easy to be hard on myself. But God will silence our inner critics and give us the affirmation we seek if we identify first with Him and interact regularly with Him. His truth will triumph over lies the world may throw at us.
Searching our hearts for so long. This speaks to the internal struggle. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23) It is very easy to be overcome by agony, disappointment and despair in our hearts, and to retreat into denial. The challenge is to accept even these as a part of who we are. Only then can we surrender to them to God and allow Him to lead and change us.
Love is a battlefield. Being instruments of God’s love means not only accepting and embracing our own broken selves, but being led by Him into unknown places and circumstances. We may face self-rejection here in the form of fear and doubt, as well as hostile environments and others who oppose us. But we can take comfort in having God as our ally, as He will not lead us into anything He has not already equipped us to conquer, even if we do not realize it immediately. We also have others in our body to support and pray for us as we each fight our own battles.
Daniel can be reached via email here.