The Gift Hiding in Plain Sight

We are creeping into the full bloom of a holiday season, unsure of so much that once was grounding certainty. But this I know: we were made to love.

We were made to love, but this travesty of cruel abuse has shaken us to the core. Our love given so freely and completely to a husband or boyfriend has been twisted, used, then turned back against us like a weapon sharpened with secrecy and contempt. It doesn’t feel like love anymore.

You were made to love. It’s like breathing for you. Oh, sure not everyone will get along, and some people come to mean more than others, but love is your first tool for life.  Love faces challenges to grow beyond your own understanding of it and when this call comes to you, you take it on, expanding your heart and mind and spirit, so that your arms will reach farther to embrace more. You were made to love.

 Most of you know by now that I’ve spent three decades of my life as an ordained clergyperson in the mainline Christian Church. I know the traditions, the texts, the seasons, the liturgies, the programs, the structures, the administration, the people, the unexpected gifts, the theologies, the mistakes, the grace, the violence, the history—the best and the worst of it all from the inside out. Not perfectly, mind you, but there’s a lot at my fingertips now. And in this last stretch before the celebration we call Christmas, I want to share something—something of why I spent 30 years in this religious office, after spending 3.5 years at seminary plus two other degrees to get there. It’s also something of why I do this work that I do now, with wives and partners of men called sex addicts. So, even if the Christmas story isn’t your story I still want to offer something from it, because I believe the story, like us, is the vessel that carries the gift that matters most. That gift can transcend the specifics of my spiritual tradition and become even bigger still. The real point of a sacred truth is not for one group to control it, but to respect its freedom and power to lead us all our of prisons to a spacious place.

To that end and sacred purpose, here goes!

I stared out this blog talking about you being made to love. This is why it hurts so much for us when that love that we give to our life partner is used to make it easier for him to abuse us. His is a strategic decision, a choice to act with the utmost contempt for our greatest gift to him. And doing so gives him both a strange justification and a sinister pleasure. He will enjoy every time he sees you puzzle through details that don’t add up to the story he’s telling, and still end up trusting that you just misunderstood. Your love does that for him.  He will enjoy how when he attacks you with indignant anger you will choose to doubt yourself instead of imagine ugliness in him. Your love does that for him. He will enjoy your tears and heartache while you work so, so hard to find a way back to love. Your love does that for him. And it also tells him he’s still in control of your life. Your love does that for him. 

But what does your love do for you?

Oh, I know I’ve written before about accepting yourself and loving yourself.  I’ve tried to connect with my readers about the life-changing moment that is created when we do that. But it’s a slippery thing sometimes, because it’s not our default setting. We are wired to believe this amazing love that we were made for is something that goes away from us to others, instead of being sent inside our own lives to strengthen, heal, grow, renew, protect, guide and empower. And we are wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s not that there is a limited amount of love available so you must use it for others first. Your love is not going to run out. And now that you’ve read that line, are you seeing how ridiculous that idea is? You were made to love and your love is not going to run out. So, giving some to yourself isn’t going to make anyone else do without, or do with less. The scarcity of love is a manufactured expression of fear, not a truth on which to base your life or a wise stewardship of your love.

Unfortunately, husbands and boyfriends create a cruel confusion about the wonderful worth and capacity of your love by using it to hurt us and control us. So, once we begin to see behind the curtain into his secret life, our love seems kind of pathetic, unimportant, deficient and humiliating. We are beaten down to believe we are much less that we are. And, as our bodies begin to reveal the cost of his abuse and we lose confidence in our physical strength and appeal, there isn’t much for us to believe about ourselves as partners in anything, never mind as partners in life. 

But here’s the thing.

He is not the authority or arbiter of who you are or what you worth. He is not. His opinion used to matter so much that you gave his opinion about you a high status. But you gave him that status because of who you thought he was. And now you know he isn’t that, at all. In fact, it is not you who is less. It is him.

It is him. He is less. You are not less.

Only he can change the facts of his life and who he has revealed himself to be. And only you can use the truth of who you are, to heal yourself, because you were made to love. 

So, back to the Christmas story, which some of you know well and some of you know vaguely.

I love the Christmas story. Its many and varied parts command my heart, mind and spirit every year that I celebrate it. Yes, it’s true that I’m not a biblical literalist, but that’s because I don’t presume to control the story. I respect its power and purpose beyond my own life with it. So, each Christmas my coffee table is laden with books presenting versions of it for every age. There are no trains or snowmen in my Christmas books, but Mary, Joseph and the Baby are always there.

It means a great deal to me that when the time came for grace to be wildly, profoundly, freely present in the world, a young woman’s courage and faithfulness pushed it out of her body in a baby, onto an earthen floor in the company of animals and one bewildered man who let his pride be overcome with loyalty. 

In order for Mary to get to that moment, she had to view this whole experience not as her undoing, but as her opportunity to participate in a Great Love of the world. But first, she had to participate in that Great Love of her own life. Her God had “looked with favour upon her,” so she did as well. She was made to love, just like we are, and she had everything she needed to to love herself into this mission. 

There is enough Mystery in the world for people to wonder over great questions from every spiritual tradition. And sometimes there is a gift hiding in plain sight for us to use right away. I believe that gift is the truth that we were made to love, and that when we love ourselves, there is no less love available to others. In fact, there is usually more love, because we become more fully ourselves and more effective in the world for loving.

Our experiences with these men called sex addicts often leave us believing that our love has been emptied of its power and value. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, our love is so powerful and effective that he had to bend it to his lesser purpose without you knowing. But now you know and it is, after all, your love and you are its ultimate steward. What do you think might happen if the love you gave him was also the love you gave yourself? Just imagine the power of your acceptance, caring, patience, encouragement, forgiveness, respect, support, trust, loyalty, kindness, forbearance, perspective, courage, praise, practical provision, generosity, and more, in your own life. Who would you be if you loved yourself the way you loved him?

Who would you be?

Probably someone capable of being in a sacred story told and retold, a story that blesses you and the world.

So, this holiday season, no matter what your tradition or spirituality, give yourself the gift hiding in plain sight—the gift of your own love.

with you,


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Diane Strickland