My friends made me feel good. They made me feel accepted and wanted, that I fitted there, that I belonged. Drinking this, smoking that, wearing this, and being at that were the outward evidences that I was right – I belonged there, with them. But why inwardly, was it so exhausting? Why was there the constant battle in my head, and in my heart, and why did I have to convince myself that this was fun – this is what I wanted?
Why did I have to pretend to be someone else – someone they would want to be with?
And why did I pray every night I don’t want this forever, God, I just want it for now?
To be truthful, there was some satisfaction found in this belonging and associated reveling. But it was so temporary in its filling. Being always on the outside of them, keeping myself aloof, living within the prohibitions of my church, guilty because I was not in the right place, doing the right things, desiring to honour my parents but longing also to fit in, watching the freedom my friends had…these all played tug-of-war in my head. But the hardest was Love. Hardest because I had developed a sweet intimacy with You – and I knew I was walking out on that because I couldn’t manage to mesh the two. They wouldn’t intertwine. It was One or the other. Knowing I chose the other over the One, was life-sapping. It was tiring convincing myself that I was enjoying being with these other lovers when my heart had already known Love. It didn’t satisfy. It didn’t make me feel good. And fitting in just came to feel like it wasn’t in the end what really mattered.
It was the lure of others that Hosea speaks of (Hosea 14:3a, NIV). For Israel, it was other nations, like Assyria. For me, it was my friends. I thought satisfaction could be found in their philosophies – if it feels good do it, it’s my life I can do as I please, I want what they’ve got, experience everything, you only live once – and my own personal one, I don’t want this forever, I just want it for now. I had become Gomer. I had willingly and waywardly prostituted myself, casually coming and going from One to the other – but never feeling like I was being faithful to either. God, I knew You, why then did I long for other lovers as if they could satisfy me? I mean, I knew You, yet my friends with the enticement of, come fit with us, just seemed to sweep me off my feet. Why so easily? I got tired of it. It wasn’t lasting like Perfect Love is lasting. It was intimate with my flesh only, not intimate like You are with my soul. It’s laced with regret even now, not like the lingering sense of satisfaction that Your love gives. But these lovers took my heart on so readily – and today I’m left wondering how come this counterfeit love seduced me so easily?
Hosea talks of a second counterfeit lover – strength. When love has hurt us, we can fall to thinking that we will just rely on ourselves. That we are strong enough. That we can survive this and get through. That we’ve got what it takes. That we have the strength of war-horses (Hosea 14:3b, NIV).
I’ve fallen in love with some beautiful people that are survivors: girlfriends that have been through a lot of rough stuff and survived, gathering strength from within to do so. They’ve had to. Everyone and everything else has failed them. Love has disillusioned them. They have labeled themselves strong – and while others praise and pride them about being survivors, I see it, and my heart aches with pain for them. For what they have become skilled at, is to shut off from their emotions so that the next thing, or the next one, they encounter won’t hurt. They can’t trust anyone, only themselves, and so they live with a lonely, look-to-their-own-strength and I’ll get through, resolve to life. But their personal strength cracks often. Some days it’s too hard to keep that survival exterior intact. They put on a face, but their emotions leak, they can’t always hold it in, can’t always hide what is going on in their world. Doing their hair and makeup, the clothes, the jewellery, the shoes, give them the appearance of togetherness. Even the tattoos, though beautiful works of art, often betray a toughness and resilience to survive.
I was working on a project for a course I was taking. It was to create a 3D collage that represented something of my life. I’d lived life closely alongside some survivor-girls, so their journey impacting mine at a heart level made this topic an obvious choice – I called her, Out-of-Sorts. She was a female polystyrene head paper-mached with quotes like –
- I like to think that everything is all right, because when everybody else thinks you’re fine, sometimes you forget for a while that you are not.
- That moment when you are completely falling apart and no-one notices.
- She’s banged up mentally and emotionally. Literally and metaphorically. But every day she walks outside with a smile on her face because that’s who she is.
- She comes off as strong, but maybe she fell asleep crying. She acts as if nothing is wrong, but maybe she’s just really good at lying.
It was crafted with every little addition being symbolic of these girlfriends, from the hair to the earrings, the flower crown, and the tattoo. All representing the time taken and the things used to cover up the pain inside. To help her look strong. To help keep her together.
Often a girlfriend would turn up for coffee, or catch up to talk. Her smile, her makeup, and clothes, even her words, all betrayed her attempt to hide the battle within. In just a look or a few words of greeting, I could tell today was hard. Her emotions were leaking, even if just through the sadness or emptiness or fear and panic in her eyes. Maybe, it was the hardness or the stubbornness she wore. But today was a day when the walls were cracking, and she was fighting fiercely to keep them intact.
It was for her that I wrote this poem – days that I could see were too hard. Her strength, her war-horses could not keep the battle away and I would go home with my heart in pieces for her, and unable to express it any other way, I wrote it in the hope that her lovers – strength, fear of falling apart, survival – would give way to the One who saw through her being and deeply loved her soul.
You, God, could be the strength she needed. You, could wrap Your arms around her heart. God, I knew this is what You longed to do. The lovers, survival, and strength, are very powerful lovers. But they are counterfeits. They will fail her.
Then, a third counterfeit – other gods (Hosea 14:3c, NIV).
We have our own gods. Gods of substance, gods of relationships, gods of work, gods of pleasure, gods of fashion, gods of food, gods of art, gods of science, gods of sport, gods of adrenaline, gods of violence, gods of selfish ambition – so many gods that we weary ourselves with and give ourselves to, as if by honouring and sacrificing ourselves to these things, they will meet our insatiable need for the love and fulfillment that only You can give.
There is a weariness from what is expected and demanded from the worship of these other counterfeit lovers. Instead of fuelling us and giving us an excitement for life, they start out as sweet but end up weighing us down or leaving us feeling empty, unfulfilled, and sometimes bitter. We were designed for intimacy with You, not for the other lovers we run to. A relationship with You is never burdensome because it aligns with our design – created for intimacy with You God, the Lover of our Souls. The worship of You satisfies, enticing us to long for more of You. The prostitution of ourselves to counterfeit lovers does not.
Hosea, (14:1-3, NIV), pleads with Israel to agree that their counterfeit lovers (the lure of others, the strength of war-horses, and other gods) have left them empty. It is the plea from a prophet who now understands love. He says, “Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand” (Hosea 14:9, NIV). And these are his final words!
This book has been an obscene picture and an insane ask! You asked Hosea to marry a prostitute! Who would even understand what You were doing through this man? Israel would look on and think “just another ridiculous prophet”. But what a prostitute does by constantly returning to casual sex with her many lovers, her promiscuity, her unfaithful character, and no regard to commitment, is shameful and offensive. Yet this is exactly how Israel has been to You.
Asking Hosea to faithfully love, to remain true to promises made, to forgive, to invite back, to long for, to pursue, to grieve over, and to want intimacy with her, seems ridiculous! A dramatic obscene parable in the hope that Your people would in wisdom see it, realize what You are portraying, discern the symbolism, and understand that this is You. I doubt they got it. You are Hosea in this story: You have been faithful, deeply in Love with Your bride, forgiving and pursuing her, longing for intimacy, grieving over what has been lost, and the betrayal of this one You have given Yourself to – Israel, the prostitute.
You have experienced the pain of a love rejected. Did they even get it? Do I?
I know God, that this dramatic story extends further than Israel. It reaches right across humanity. We are the prostitute – ever unfaithful. I am Gomer. You are Hosea. Even though I am ruined by sin and constantly returning to my lovers, You would say of me,
“How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? How can I treat you like one destroyed in anger? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused” (Hosea 11:8, NIV). “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them” (Hosea 14:4, NIV). Your Love is a redeeming love, it will win…and one day I will experience Your love’s perfection. But even today, You again invite me into intimacy, “Let me Love you and I will Love you”. You offer this to me now, here, broken, and messed up. You know all that is in me and about me, and yet You still desire me.
If the casual sex with many lovers is my empty, counterfeit, destructive, in vain search for a love that cannot satisfy, what is it that You are offering me instead? Who am I to You that You would bother? Who would I become were I to fall into that Perfect Love and allow it to embrace me?
Lover of my Soul, what is this love you offer?
Continued in next week’s blog…