I was raised by a raging narcissist who taught me how to hate. If you had asked me a year ago what it means to love, I would give you a list of actions a person can take to show love but I couldn’t tell you what it felt like.
I always experienced frustration when people in church would make the claim that God is love without being able to tell me what that meant. The fact is that, while we can name the attributes of love and explain what a loving gesture may look like, love demands to be felt.
Ironically, it wasn’t until I was on my way out of the faith that I met H. H is my general physician and, unexpectedly, the catalyst for my feeling the confusing new emotion of real, human love for the first time.
The first time I met them, H asked me about the root of my PTSD. I sat in the chair nervously twisting my service dog’s leash as I felt the familiar pressure in my chest accompanied by the inexplicable inability to formulate words. In the midst of this mental paralysis, H offered simple yes or no questions to help me through the distress I was feeling. The gentle line of questioning reminded me of videos I’ve seen teaching parents how to help their young children identify and communicate their emotions.
When I saw H after drunkenly slashing my arm the long way across the inside of my elbow, being taken against my will to the ER, and asking a cop to shoot me, they asked me if they had told me about God. I was a Christian at the time so I was actually kind of hyped that my doctor was willing to talk to me about my faith. H told me the story of Christ and his love for all of us, seeming to be perfectly genuine in their desire to alleviate my suffering. The way H spoke of the love of Christ was, and remains to this day, fascinating to me.
Now that I have left the faith, H has doubled down on talking to me about the Lord. I don’t ask them not to, either. When H speaks about Jesus, they do so in the most non-judgmental, impassioned way. I love to watch as H’s whole demeanor changes to one of extreme gratitude and humility, even going so far as to say that they are a terrible person without this love that they perceive and if they have shown me any kindness of love, it is because of God.
Whether or not H would be a terrible person without their faith isn’t something I can speak to, certainly there are those among us who absolutely need their God belief to keep them from committing atrocities, but I suspect that H would still be the gentle, kind person they are without their faith. It cannot be denied, however, that belief in a God who is the manifestation of perfect love and surrendering oneself to this perceived love can have a profound effect on the individual.
A few days ago, I helped my friend leave an abusive relationship. She was asleep on the couch in the basement and when I saw her, I became overwhelmed with a desire to protect her and keep her safe that I had never felt before. Confused by this new feeling, I texted a few friends asking what the hell was happening to me. They told me that that’s what love feels like. I believe them.
Letting go of faith means that we are all we have - humans allowing themselves to love one another. Even though H credits their conversational expressions of love to Jesus, they have taught me that love is real and if we allow ourselves to let our collective guard down, we can finally begin to love one another in practical ways that make the world better for all of us.
Human connection is all we have, let’s be willing to love people the way they deserve to be loved. Even if they don't believe love exists.