While there are many Soft Nevers I could talk about, my experience is when you say never to God, God says absolutely! The one I want to discuss today is this: I will never have anyone love me for me.
Ever since childhood, I believed I was too awkward, too introverted, too quiet, too boring. It seemed the only way I could get people to love me was to help them. I spent most of my teenage years finding broken people who needed fixing and becoming their god. And with the one friend I had who didn’t need fixing, I spent our entire friendship terrified of losing him.
This was evident in my home life too. My dad is the classic outgoing, extroverted, brilliant, “manly man.” By comparison I was a nerdy wimp who was way too emotional. I always believed my dad wanted a son more like him, but instead he got me. I felt like I had to be perfect. I had to be the perfect son, brother, friend, and even Christian. And when I failed, I would lie or break down crying, wishing I could measure up to the expectations I had put on myself.
All of this boiled to a head when I was 19 and in college. I had found a healthy group of people, but since they were strong Christians who didn’t need me, I couldn’t connect with them because of my Soft Never — that they would never love me for me.
I was still dating a girl from my hometown. To honor her, let’s call her “Sheryl” (because I’ve never met a Sheryl). We’d been dating for close to five years and our relationship was not healthy. Just as with my childhood friendships, I was thriving on needing to be needed. It was the classic codependent relationship.
Around this same time, my spiritual mentors (also known as my grandparents), had been pouring into me and encouraging me to read the Bible more and really give God my own needs. Little did I know what He was preparing me for.
One day, I had an honest conversation with my mom. She saw how I was neglecting my own needs and being crushed under the weight of Sheryl’s needs and expectations. She opened up with me about her own struggles with needing to be needed. Her vulnerability, one of her Soft Nevers that she thought she could never embrace, changed my life.
This began a whole process that could easily be a whole book, where, even as I’m preparing to give a sermon on identity at a fall retreat for the youth group I lead, I’m learning my own identity as I’m breaking down and being vulnerable with my friends, family, and God in ways I never had before. All of this leads to another Soft Never. On the night before I was supposed to preach, I broke up with Sheryl.
Those two days were the hardest, but most fruitful, days of my life.
My identity was tied to helping Sheryl; I felt so much guilt and shame as I worried about her and how breaking up would affect her. I’m also a non-confrontational person, which added to my stress.
But that night after I ended things, I was able to be vulnerable with my dad for the first time in my life, restored a relationship with my sister, who had warned me about Sheryl, received real love from my friends in college for the first time, transformed the relationship with my childhood best friend that I had been terrified of losing, and grew closer in my relationship with God.
But God wasn’t done yet.
I was still holding onto a ton of shame. The next day, after I opened up far more to the kids than I was planning on during my teaching, God led me to a simple statement: I am perfect because of God’s ways.
The lie was that God had created me incorrectly, that I was imperfect and never would be used by God or loved by others. But God created me perfect. Not perfect by the world’s standards, because I’m done with that, but perfect by His standards. Even as He’s growing and pruning me, He calls me his perfect child.
Once I finally accepted that, the shame was lifted and I experienced a joy I’d never felt before. I didn’t need to be anyone else because God loves me and that was all that mattered.
And now I laugh in the face of that Soft Never, where people could never love me for me. Because not only has God created me perfectly and loves me for me, but he’s put people in my life who love me for me. Now I can appreciate the gifts, passions, and skills God’s given me and use them in the world around me without needing to be needed by the world around me.