“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
-- Romans 15:13 (CSB)
The young man approached me with tears in his eyes.
I’d spoken about God’s amazing love for us and how His love gives us freedom to walk humbly and confidently amid life’s difficulties. I shared my personal story of always feeling like an “alien” no matter where I lived and my perpetual wrestling under a shadow of assumed disapproval and exclusion.
He approached me cautiously. He said he knew God loved him but struggled … because he didn’t believe anyone else did.
Can you relate? The gospel he heard intellectually was not what he knew experientially. Although he was aware of God’s grace, his world still seemed steeped in a climate of measurement and merit.
I asked about his relationships to discern if perhaps he was in an abusive situation of some kind. He shared he just didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere. He identified with my testimony of always feeling like I don’t quite fit in. Maybe you do, too.
Growing up, he was immersed in a shame-based culture. Family and church relationships were inauthentic and superficial because nobody felt free to open themselves to criticism or stand out from the crowd.
Achievement and accomplishment were key, and anyone who fell short was treated as a failure. This pressure, coupled with a lack of affection and encouragement, had taken its toll.
Then he left for college. While he hoped things would change in a new environment, he found himself alienated again. An intellectual and theological sort, he considered most of his peers disinterested in deep discussions and thoughtful debates. Nobody read many books that weren’t assigned or seemed too concerned about the deep things of God.
This young man never had someone close enough to be his “me too” kind of friend — his young life was marked by solitude, grief and loneliness.
I understood all too well and followed the Spirit’s prompting to suggest he try reorienting his perspective. “Is it possible,” I asked, “that you enter every potential relationship wondering how that person might satisfy your need for companionship and solve your need to be loved?”
He agreed it wasn’t just possible, he was most definitely doing that. Influenced by his loneliness, without trying, he’d become the relational sponge in small groups, the hangdog sad sack at fellowships and the “Debbie Downer” among the few friends he still had.
This young man’s felt needs became his relational operating system, so he treated others like they existed primarily to show him love. This became a self-perpetuating cycle. If the primary way you relate to others is to get love from them, you’ll always be dissatisfied, because nobody can love you like God can.
If anything, recognizing his self-centeredness should have made him feel less alone, as we’ve all done relationships this way (since the fall of mankind!). We’re not alone. We’re all self-focused together! We seek in others what we can only find in God. Consequently, we never quite feel loved, and eventually, the people we want love from end up feeling used.
Christians want to be channels of the Holy Spirit at work in the world. We can’t do that, however, if we’re constantly worried about having others meet our needs. When we realize the Holy Spirit has already filled our cup through the gospel of Jesus, we begin to see ourselves more as need-meeters than need-takers.
Overflowing. Just like we see in Romans 15:13 … “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Of course, no amount of spiritual perspective makes the wrongs people do to us right, or the hurtful things they say to us OK. But following the Spirit’s counsel through these complex interactions can affect how we interpret, process and respond. Watching the Holy Spirit apply the Bible in our hearts is how we end up supernaturally loving our enemies and blessing those who persecute us.
When we’re filled with God’s Spirit, we worry less about fitting in and more about pouring out.