I am continually amazed at what deep themes lie waiting to be discovered in young adult fiction. (Now if you aren’t a fan of YA fiction, don’t leave just yet because there’s more here than you realize.) I recently read Katie Parker Productions, a series of books, by Jenny B. Jones. There were four books in this inspirational series for teen girls. At a glance, it seems like lite lit or chick lit and it is but it’s still fun to read. And it’s not, because under the lightness, there are some pretty deep themes running through the storyline.
One that got me thinking was this; we can love scared. Because that was what Katie was challenged to do. She’d had a drug addict Mom that had abandoned her multiple times and she ended up in a home for girls (basically an orphanage) and then into foster care. Her foster home ended up saving her. She had, for the first time, parents who cared about her. But those wounds of abandonment and feeling unloved are deep and Katie, as she got older, didn’t trust anyone to love her. She was afraid to love too. She was still the tossed aside girl, not worth anything, in her mind. She kept running away from the love that was extended to her.
In the last book, someone challenged her to love, even though she was scared. To quit running.
Isn’t that the challenge for a lot of us? To love is to risk. To love a spouse or a child is to bet against the odds.
To love in sickness is gut-wrenching. Loving a parent through old age and all that comes with that is worrisome. To love friends takes time and commitment. To love a community takes bravery. To love the church, takes the supernatural. To love strangers takes a divine intervention. To love, to commit to that love and to act it out, it is all alarming. It feels like we are on the edge of a cliff with no safety net of any kind. To love for many of us, is to love frightened out of your wits.
Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. Or harder. It doesn’t sway my choice either way. Because that’s what it comes down too. A choice. To love. Katie had to make a choice. Run or love even though she was so scared. Flee or trust in the person offering that love. Turn away or turn to.
I believe we have been given a great capacity for love because we’ve been created in the image of One who knows no limits on love.
The ability to learn to love is there in all of us. Even those of us who feel like we have no heart. We are tin-men. I see it in even the most begrudging of relationships. We actually like hearing those stories because they are hopeful. The grumpy old man learning to love the mischievous neighbour boy. The baby opening up the hearts of the angry grandparents. Enemies who realize they are fighting for the same thing. The old mangy stray being taken in by the widow. The guy and girl who fight all the time but you know there’s more to it. That fine line between love and hate. Sometimes I think the hate is more about the fear.
Loving scared means taking on the risk. To love and be loved. For some of us, accepting love is so foreign that we feel like we can’t navigate that language.
To love and maybe have that love thrown back in our faces. It’s so painful. And humbling. And wounding.
To love and have it go away. Not necessarily on purpose. But still it happens. Death. Sickness. Loss of any kind.
To love and know that there is no payoff. To know it is the endgame. That takes courage and humility.
None of this is new to me or to you, I’m pretty sure. It mirrors the love story that the bible is.
Jesus explains it in the story of the son who ran away from his loving dad. (Luke 15) He took his money and lived how he wanted, on his terms and didn’t risk anything. He loved only himself. When the money ran out, he was alone. Of course he was alone. He had served one master. Himself. All those that loved him were back home. He had a couple of options. Choose love and his father (even if that meant becoming a servant) or stay in his rut. He risked rejection from his father and returned home to love. I’m sure he was scared with every step he took. But he chose to love scared rather than not love at all or be loved.
We never get to know what happened in the years after the son returns. I’m curious if the older brother ever came around. We know the father loved extravagantly and I’m pretty sure that never changed. The son though? He had to live every day with the knowledge of his choices. He had to learn to trust his family. They had to trust him, that he wouldn’t run off again. For all involved, it meant loving each other, scared, hurt.
The story of the prodigal was told for our benefit. But there is a huge difference to the love of God. God does not love scared. He loves perfectly, something none of us can do in this lifetime. And the cool thing? The irony of it all? Perfect love casts out all fear.
1 John 4:18 (NIV) There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.