It wasn't until this past week when I came face-to-face with grace that I really understood the nuances of love. That is, it didn't occur to me that your love means something different depending on where you are.
It matters where you stand.
I grew up loved and encouraged. By family, by teachers, by acquaintances. One of the most common phrases I heard growing up was, "You're incredible. You're gonna do great." In a variety of contexts, of course. (For the record, they were right. I am incredible. *mock arrogance*) These people always made me smile. They always made me think greater things. They always inspired me to go after what I was going after, to do more, to be more, to achieve more. I have tucked many of their words in my pocket, the way Mary kept the treasures of Jesus in her heart, but it wasn't until this past week that I fully realized what the lingering emptiness in these flattering word was.
The emptiness is space.
It's because all of these people who have loved and encouraged me over the years, all of the things I used to hang my hat on, the words I kept tucked away for a dreary day, were words spoken in front of me, face-to-face with a world that thought they were encouraging me. (And they did. I don't fault anyone, ever, for standing in love. Even if it is dysfunctional love. Most love is.) But the problem is that when people stand in front of you and encourage you, it's hard to see where you're going. All you can see is...them. Standing there. Telling you that you can do it. Obstructing your view of what "it" is.
I think this is why for so long, I struggled with affirmation and felt stuck by encouragement. I couldn't have named it or even recognized it at the time, but everyone was telling me I could do "it," that I could push forward and be but forward only held them. They were standing in front of me, and if I moved forward, what I was really doing was trying to move toward their affirmation...instead of toward anything worthy of my life.
I think this is natural. I think we want to be seen when we're loving. I think we want people to notice that we're there, that we're right there, that we see straight into them and understand who they are and what they're doing and that we want to support and strengthen and encourage them. I think we think love needs to be seen. But so often, I think this kind of love is standing in the way. If the only way forward you can see is straight into the eyes of the one affirming you, you start working toward them and what ends up happening is you're not working toward you any more. Then one day, you're standing there affirmed and obviously loved, but you don't know where you are any more, you've completely lost sight of your road, and you've completely lost sight of you.
In the past week, nobody's standing in front of me. Everyone, without exception, who has come to help me into this new journey I'm taking, is standing either beside me or behind me. People are backing me, putting their faith into what I'm doing. You know what that kind of love does? It's confidence. When there are people behind you, you feel like you have a place to fall. You feel like you have a place that will catch you. And suddenly, you're not afraid of falling any more. You're not afraid to fail. Because there's love back there.
Some are standing beside me, taking this journey day-to-day with me. One woman I love dearly, who has always been the kind of person to stand in front of me in love, has in this circumstance come beside. She started in front, the way she always does, but I recognized it without knowing how to put words to it. I saw that she wasn't in a good place, and I pushed back. Trying to be tender, I denied her offers again and again because I just had this overwhelming sense that the space between us wasn't going to work this time. It didn't feel supportive; it felt pressuring. After a few weeks of her insistence on loving me, just a few days ago, she came beside. She stopped pushing so hard and quietly told me, "If you get stuck, I will help you." And you know what? I love having her here. She's not blocking my view any more, but she's still here and we get to love on each other. She's beside. You know what that kind of love does? It's strength. It's two people blazing a path through the underbrush. It's someone to help you when you get stuck. Ecclesiastes, I think, says blessed in the man who is not alone when he stumbles because there is someone to help him. That's what people beside you do. They keep you going, through good times and bad. There's love over there.
It's so easy for us to stand in front of one another. We want our love to be seen, and we feel like this is the best place to show it. We feel like eye-to-eye, face-to-face, toe-to-toe is the best place to love. But I don't think so. I think if you love me, stand behind me. Be my confidence. Give me a safe place to fall. I think if you love me, stand beside me. Be my strength. Be my brother or sister that takes the thorn out of my side, the thistle out of my foot.
I think if you love me, get out of my way and let me see where God is leading me. He is the one who stands before me. He is my guide. When I look up and try to figure out where this path leads, I want to see Him. Not you. (Sorry.) I want to see what He has for me. I want to see the love in His eyes. I want to hear the tenderness in His voice. I want to take in the incredible view of there from here.
And a last little bit of truth? I have been loved and encouraged my whole life by people standing in front of me. But in this past week, I have never felt more loved or more encouraged with people standing beside and behind. It's a great place to love. With room for the Lord to lead.
I think if you love me....
I think you love me.