Stacey sat alone in the waiting room wishing for good news but knowing in her heart that she would be told that she was pregnant. The distant, almost bored look in her eyes didn't betray the knot in her stomach. Mentally, she rewound the tape of the recent past and played back the day she met Steve.
They were at a party with friends from work. There was nothing really special about the evening. In fact, it was really kind of boring. Mark was being stupid -- as usual -- drinking too much. Rachel was being a real jerk, showing off the dancing ability she didn't have. The only reason guys paid attention to her was because her strapless dress was so tight -- and short! Stacey felt a little embarrassed for her -- and a little envious. "Why was it so easy for Rachel to get these guys to eat out of the palm of her hand?" Stacey wondered. "She's not that pretty, and she must be twenty-seven pounds overweight!"
Who could have known that that
chance meeting would lead to this?
Steve never even called her after
that night. Steve had no idea
Stacey was carrying his child, and
she had no idea where he was.
Stacey was alone as she slouched in the overstuffed couch watching the spectacle. She felt alone, completely alone; yet, she was surrounded by noisy people. It was an all-too-familiar feeling. But that feeling seemed to melt away the very moment Steve caught her eye. He raised his eyebrows as if to agree with her that this was one spectacle worth missing. She wondered now why her heart seemed to leap out of her chest at that moment. "He noticed me," she recalled thinking. He glanced at the door, motioning with his head to invite her out. Without a second thought, she got up, her heart still pounding. Steve took one more look at Rachel as he opened the door for Stacey. "Pretty hot stuff," he said in a cool but obviously sarcastic manner. "Want to go somewhere for a drink?" he asked. "I've had enough of this place."
Stacey's mind snapped back to the present. Who could have known that that chance meeting would lead to this? Steve never even called her after that night. Steve had no idea Stacey was carrying his child, and she had no idea where he was.
Stacey had been searching for love. Does that surprise you? Could a passive exterior really contain a heart filled with a consuming, singular passion: one thing, one goal, and one answer to all her turmoil? She had convinced herself that if only she felt loved, she would have no fear of failure and she would find the courage to try new things, meet new people, and take on new challenges. If only she felt loved, she wouldn't be so preoccupied by the need to measure up to an unattainable standard of beauty. If only she felt loved, she could be less self-conscious, abandon the need to prove herself, and escape the competition for attention. If only she felt loved, she could rest.
This longing to feel loved resided in Stacey's heart like a sleeping monster, sporadically awakened by the occasional prospect of fulfilling its need. This longing took on a life of its own, seizing control of her thoughts and actions. Could she help it? Who could blame her? And how could you help someone like Stacey when, if you're honest, you might discover in yourself a similar sleeping monster? Let's consider together some of the complexity of .
The disappointment of love sought
Anticipated pleasure "promises" satisfaction, but all too often it disappoints. Since the Garden, we have sought the forbidden fruit because it was "good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom" (Genesis 3:6). Hindsight has not helped us, and we still fall into the same anticipation- disappointment dynamic.
Pleasure can be deceptive. The feeling of being loved is a particularly strong pleasure. We pursue it because it promises satisfaction. But, when the feeling is pursued as an end in itself, it gives no more than a fleeting imitation of God's intent. God intends that we feel loved because we are loved. And we can only know that we are loved by knowing God, who is Love.
Pleasure offers itself as a substitute for better things. When a man lacks internal strength of character, pleasure can give him the feeling of strength. When a woman lacks the internal beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit stemming from a confidence in God's provision and protection, the warm embrace of a man can make her feel beautiful and loved. Pleasure gives a feeling of control, and that good feeling masks the powerlessness felt when qualities like strength or inner beauty are missing. But when the pleasure ceases, the absence of these qualities becomes evident, and the feelings of disappointment can bring depression.
Pleasure can be addictive. Pleasure continues to present itself as a solution to our desires. However, when pleasure comes apart from God's provision, it simply perpetuates the craving. In Ephesians, Paul tells us that people give themselves over to good feelings, only to find themselves enslaved by a continual need for more. "Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity with a continual lust for more" (Ephesians 4:19).
Pleasure is simply that, pleasure. It is no more and no less. Since it distracts from bad feelings, we believe the fallacy that pleasure makes bad feelings go away. But in reality, when pleasure ceases, bad feelings persist and intensify. The memory of pleasure beckons the heart to embrace pleasure again and again, but mere pleasure never satisfies for long. Instead, it draws us into a cycle of dependence.
The mystery of unattainable love
Ironically, if we try to take love, we forfeit
any possibility of getting it. Think
about it. How can you take something
that can only, by definition, be given?
Love must be voluntary, freely given.
When we embark on a mission to find love as a feeling rather than receiving it as a gift from God, we begin a never-ending journey. Seeking love, we might try to win it, steal it, bargain for it, demand it, or compete for it.
Ironically, if we try to take love, we forfeit any possibility of getting it. Think about it. How can you take something that can only, by definition, be given? Love must be voluntary, freely given. If it is coerced, manipulated, earned, or stolen, the seeker receives something other than love. One might draw attention, bargain for favors, or win against competitors, but whatever is forced or demanded is certainly not love.
The surprise of God's love
God's love breaks through to the heart, freeing us from the deceptive traps of pleasure. God sees us in our need and provides in love more than we could ever ask or imagine. Let's look at some of the dynamics of God's love as portrayed by Scripture.
God's love is given while we are still unlovely. "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). His love to us is not dependent upon our measuring up to His expectations. We're given no opportunity to earn or demand God's love since He loved us while we were still sinners. Our efforts to please Him, therefore, can never make Him love us. So, when we strive to please God, it is not in order to win God's love. Instead, our obedience springs from a heart that is already fully loved.
God's love is given before we look for it. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). He seeks us while we're still lost. Isn't that a relief? He finds us because He wants us. The burden is on Him, not us. We simply acknowledge we're lost without Him and look to Him in our helplessness.
God loves us in order to make us lovely. His love is given for our nurture and care. It is a love that transforms us and changes us to be all we were meant to be. "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:25-27). God loves His people in order to make them pure.
God's love promises fulfillment. Since God loves us in order to make us lovely, He has made a commitment to us. "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). God knows our need for His sustaining power. He does not abandon us or withdraw His love when we fail. Rather, as a loving Father, He disciplines and nurtures us for our benefit.
God gives us genuine pleasure in His love. "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand" (Psalms 16:11). This pleasure and joy in the presence of the One who loves us is no illusion. It is found in the context of His love to us in Christ and produces a response of gratitude and delight. Though struggles, sufferings, and disappointments continue in this life, His love overcomes. Pleasure in His presence gives us the power to endure and to love others, even as we have been loved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Debra O'Leary is married and has four children. She lives in Reading, PA, where she is involved in women's ministries and writing. She has a B.S. degree from Tufts University. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.