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Who Is It Can Withstand Your Love?

By Kristen Ridge

In 1986 English professor Gene England goes to New York City for Easter Weekend to present at a conference, and see several plays with an old friend. Passing some street hustlers playing the three-card shuffle con-games on the side of the street and seeing a tourist get taken advantage of, he stops to watch, and discovers that he guesses the right card every time. The patters notice this too. They invite him to bet. He declines, even though he ends up guessing the right card each time the tourist loses.

The patter sympathizes with him, tells him he’s so good, he should just go ahead and bet. The bets are raised, he decides to bet—he’s been right the last 10 times. He bets $60. He loses. Shocked and dazed, he tries to pull away. He’s bitter, panicked, betrayed…yet still feels the desire to win. He keeps watching. Time after time, he guesses right, looking over the shoulder of the tourist who keeps losing. The patter turns to him again, and says he owes him one, and that if he bets again, he’ll make it up to him. Gene put down $60 more dollars.

He guesses wrong.

He leaves feeling humiliated, violated, racist. He spends the rest of the weekend punishing himself. With his remaining few dollars, he does not buy more than a pretzel and a loaf of bread to eat. He does not tell his friend about his plight, or ask for help. He simply doesn’t eat. He feels like a hypocrite when he goes to present his Shakespeare paper, which was focused on Shakespeare’s preoccupation with Christian ideas on healing the soul.

Who is it can withstand your love?

Why don’t I want to feel the love God has for me, sometimes? Why do I push it away, believing that I’ve got to follow a set of silly rules I’ve created—before turning myself towards him to receive his love and mercy? Sometimes I feel that I would crumple and wither…if I did not first see justice served. That is—my sense of justice. Perhaps that is the problem. My sense of fairness. Perhaps I do not recognize the justice that already takes place when something happens…because I am trying to impose a different set of rules upon myself. Even when it is not a matter of erring—but simple sorrow, confusion, pain. Regardless of the situation…in times of emotional confusion, I try to figure things out before feeling love.

Gene struggled with this concept as well. That is what I most love about his personal essays. The same things kept him awake at night. He says:

It hurts very much to think of you. How could you suffer not only our pains but also our sicknesses and infirmities? Did you actually become sick and infirm or did you merely feel, with your greater imagination, something like what we feel when we are sick and infirm?…And if you did literally experience our infirmities, did you know our greatest one, sin? Everyone says you didn’t sin, that you were always perfect. But how then could you learn to help us?…I don’t want to hurt like this, like I do now..Yet I want you to know the worst of me, the worst of me possible, and still love me, accept me—like a lovely, terrible drill, tearing me all the way down inside the root until all the decay and then all the pulp and nerve and all the pain are gone.

Can’t you tell us directly, without all the pain and contradiction, if what I feel is right? Could it be that your very willingness to know the actual pain and confusion and despair..to join with us fully, is what saves us?…How can I refuse to accept myself, refuse to be whole again, if you..know exactly what I feel and still accept me?…Who is it can withstand your love?

Thankfully, I have never, no matter how hard I’ve tried, been able to withstand God’s love. I cannot resist it. He always finds a way to slip it in the backdoor. Lately it has been starting with me going outside to peer over the railing to see if any gladiolus sprigs are poking through the soil and I feel the heat of dawn and a new day, and at the same time a tiny desire to talk to Him. It continues when my daughter takes a longer-than-normal nap, and I find myself wandering around for a few minutes fighting the thought to go and just say a quick prayer. I don’t want to know what He may have to say to me. I’m not ready for it. Because I have not yet figured out what He is supposed to be teaching me, about why I miscarried our baby on Sunday. I feel like I have to be one step ahead, or I won’t be able to fully accept the love He could give me.

I am full of irrational thoughts and an intense drive to discover the “lesson” I am supposed to be learning in all of this. So far, I cannot bear to fathom that this is an act of love. That is why I am trying so hard to withstand His love with everything I’ve got. If there’s a lesson to be learned, why, I’ve got to get to the bottom of it. But not by first feeling love. That won’t provide any answers for me. I feel like a child whose father is trying to comfort her after having taken, or having allowed to be taken, something so precious to her. She does not want to look to him for love or comfort. Perhaps she is curious and respectful to know what she may derive from all of this. But love and comfort? She has been looking elsewhere.

My favorite part of Gene’s essay is when the narrator switches to an earlier ancestor, George England, for whom Gene was named.

This is my report. I have been assigned to George England, one of my descendants, for thirty years now. I have protected him well, but I do not understand him. I think I should remain on this assignment for at least one more ten-year term.

The main problem is that George understands what is right but does not do it. He knows more about the Atonement than I did–…He writes constantly about it. Many people praise him for what he says. They write letters to him saying how he has helped them live the gospel better and helped them understand repentance. But he still does terrible things. It is still hard for him to be honest. He covers over his mistakes with lies. He pretends to know things or remembers people or has read books when it is not true. I think he loves to do right, but has a hard time being honest or kind when the chance to do so is sudden or embarrassing or when he is painful or lonely. If he has time to think, he is often very good, but is not when he is surprised.

When I helped him marry Charlotte Ann you know how much better he was for a while. He began to learn from her to be generous before he thought about it. He even began to be honest like she is, without toting up the cost. But after all that self-pity when he lost his job..ten years ago he began to be a hustler, to cut corners, to take advantage. I was able to use that car accident to help him know that he was good….

I am certain that he is not praying enough. He is worried, though, and wondering—sometimes frantically, I think–why there is not someone to help him as he has helped some who have needed him. He does not seem to be able to ask for help. Perhaps something will happen that we can use. I hope so. My heart reaches out to complete the circle.

I feel like this! Not because I did something wrong…but because I do not really want to withstand Heavenly Father’s love, yet I’m doing it anyway. Just like Gene knew the right thing to do, but did not do it. God used a terrible car accident to re-awaken the deepest part of himself. The part of himself that knew that he was good.

I want to know what I have been lacking in my mortal journey to cause me to need a miscarriage. A little bit of ingratitude, perhaps? Lack of faith? Selfishness? Patience? If I only knew, then I could feel much better about saying to God, “Okay, I’m ready for your love and comfort. I learned from this, now can you help me feel better.”

Of course, the deepest part of me feels that I am completely wrong about all of this. That I don’t have to learn anything before starting to heal. That I am a good person and can feel loved with no strings attached, without having to present my portfolio of “What I Needed to Learn,” to Heavenly Father. But that part of me feels so diluted and hard to reach. It’s hard to reach because my sense of logic screams that there must be something rational in all of this sorrow and heartache. Why are my natural thought tendencies—my “natural man” so contrary to the mercies and tenderness of my Father in Heaven?

I was able to use that car accident to help him know that he was good.

Maybe Heavenly Father has to use painful experiences–tragedies, in fact—to love us. I can hardly bear to write that. But there—see? I’ve done it again. I’m trying to wrap my head around what I should be learning. And the deepest part of me is saying that it’s okay just to feel loved. That just feeling loved is enough.

So maybe, just once…starting today….I will stop trying to withstand his love, stop trying to see the lesson before feeling that the deepest part of me can be loved, and is good.

How do you withstand, or accept, His love? How do you make stay the deepest part of yourself?


About Kristen Ridge

13 thoughts on “Who Is It Can Withstand Your Love?”

  1. I am so sorry to hear about your miscarriage. What you have captured here is deep enough that I can't get my mind around it all. But I think it captures where I am, just now, just tonite: How can I just feel love(d) in times of pain, uncertainty, confusion when those are the times when I don't love myself; I don't love the way I deal with my pain? And yet, I NEED His love more than ever? But sometimes I want it in MY way (er, without pain that is!) These are such paradoxes, ones that just when I think I'm figuring them out, I can't get them to "work" again when pain comes again. I'd love to hear HOW you went from "what should I be learning/what do I lack so I can feel God's love" to just being loved.

  2. Kristen, thank you. You have my deepest sympathies.

    So many thoughts–can't wrestle them into words right now. But I can't move on with my day until I point something out–

    It's totally normal to want to find the reason why something traumatic happened–it's an expected part of grief. The scariest part of things like this is the feeling of randomness. If we can understand WHY, even if the reason is a painful one, we at least feel a measure of control. So don't be hard on yourself regarding your desire to understand. How can you NOT want to understand?

    It's also totally normal to assume the trauma had something to do with a lack on your part. We're kinda trained to think that way in our culture. Be righteous, get blessings. Be less-than-righteous, get trials. Seeing the logical flaws here doesn't keep us from suspecting that our trials are connected to our failings. After all, we know we make ourselves suffer thorough our sins.

    As if that weren't confusing enough, we also have this concept to work through: trials are hand-picked by God and delivered to us to teach us specific lessons. Of course, this is true–sometimes. But I've stopped believing that everything painful that happens to us was orchestrated by God. The guardian angel's statement speaks to this: he was "able to use" the accident, but he didn't CAUSE the accident, and neither did God. Things happen. And yes, sometimes they happen in random fashion. That fact can bring both comfort and fear.

    As you said, the biggest challenge in all of this is to accept that God loves us, whether he caused the trial or not. That our trial may in fact be EVIDENCE that he loves us. And if not, if the trial is simply an outcome of mortal life, as I believe the vast majority of miscarriages are, God loves us enough to allow us to be here and to experience all these painful things, for our ultimate benefit.

    One Sunday I was sitting in sacrament meeting, reeling from the news that a ward family's child had just been diagnosed with leukemia. We were singing "How Great the Wisdom and the Love," and the words hit me so hard–

    How great the wisdom and the love that filled the courts on high

    And sent the Savior from above to suffer, bleed, and die!

    I just sat there, awestruck by a deeper understanding of the atonement and the plan of salvation, and also realizing how this dynamic applies to all of us. It was God's wisdom and love that brought us here, to suffer, bleed, and die.

    He may manipulate many events on earth, but he doesn't have to work hard to ensure that we get the difficult experiences that we came here for–they happen easily enough just as a result of our having mortal bodies and minds and hearts. Our bodies, and our relationships, give us plenty of opposition without God's help.

    So. To end my rambling comment… I, too, struggle to understand the cause-and-effect of mortal events, and the reality of God's love permeating it all. I resist God's love because it doesn't fit any paradigms I operate in. It's scary love, because while it provides ultimate safety, it allows (and sometimes precipitates) all kinds of temporary dangers. Also, it's so big it frightens me at times.

    (btw, I will be posting next week about miscarriage. I hope any readers who have experienced this will contribute their perspectives.)

  3. Kristen, I am so sorry. SOOO Sorry…what terrible timing, Mothers Day. That breaks my heart. I love this post. Thanks for raising these thoughts. I am going to stew over them, but it the mean time, I'll email a link to you. My miscarriage was the beginning of a spiritual journey ("awakening") that has brought my whole life up to a new plateau the past 18 months. While it was one of my Top 10 Worst Experiences, the effect has been amazing. Right now I just want to send you a long distance hug, though, and hope you are feeling the love.

  4. Michelle–thanks for your question. The truth is, I'm trying to practice not looking for the "lesson" for the first time today. I'm just simply trying to catch myself when I start to analyze what this experience could mean. When that small part of me says, "It's okay…just relax and let yourself feel loved—let yourself WANT to feel loved," I'm trying to listen to it. It's a strange feeling!

    Thank you for your comments.

    Kathy—thank you. The mixed messages we get as Latter-day Saints are exactly my dilemma–not just with this, but so many things!! As always you are able to give such valuable perspective. Thank you.

    Jamie–I'll look forward to the link.

  5. Kristen, I love you honey, and have been thinking about you much in these past several days. I'm so sorry to hear the news. This writing is beautiful, and you have laid yourself out in haunting words.

    I really would like to dole out the answers here. I'm sure none of us can completely fulfill that space in your heart that wants to be filled right now. I do know that too often, I find myself pursuing what it is that would be the very worst course for myself, so you're not alone in this!

    Keep watching for your gladiolus. They bring newness and beauty. It'll come.

  6. Oh, I am so sorry. And that's all I can say right now. Except that I think a part of God's love in all this is that he's crying along with you, that He is the ultimate source of mourning with those who mourn.

  7. Thanks everyone–I feel very loved. I have to say that I fear I probably shocked everyone by telling about my miscarriage on the blog..perhaps that was not the best idea. I apologize if I have broken the blog "rules of conduct"!! I truly did want to have an uplifting discussion about God's love for us, and how we learn to embrace it in our lives.

  8. Kristen, I am so, so sorry. What a terrible loss.

    Your post has given me much to think about. I am amazed that you could articulate your feelings so clearly at such a tender time. I don't have any answers about feeling God's love; I just wanted to say that I am thinking about you.

  9. Last September my BIL and SIL lost their 19 month old in a tragic accident at my in-laws home. It was SO HARD yet I don't think there was anyone in that whole family who did not feel His love all around us. It was truely amazing and I don't know how those without the knowledge of His love and grace make it through these challenges. I don't remeber any talk of what lessons needed to be learned but just that they knew that she was in His arms as were they. I can't express how strong and comforting that Love was.
    I hope you will be able to let Him comfort you at this heartbreaking time.

  10. Beautiful post. But I am so sorry for your loss.

    Excellent discussion as well. This is something with which I struggle mightily. The messages ingrained in my head are "I'm not worthy" and "I'm not enough" and that's why I'm not deserving. Which is silly. I'm perfectly willing to accept God's love for anyone else and applying those conditions to myself actually implies limitations on God. Which is wrong. Yet it is a constant battle for me.

    As for the subject of trials, I believe there may be events that happen in our lives for a reason and there may be events that happen because we are mortal beings living in an imperfect world with other mortal beings. But the cause of those events does not necessarily affect the kind of meaning and relevance they might have for us. The choice we are given is what we make of both our trials and our blessings. What is interesting to me is how for some reason we are often more likely both to look for his love and to accept it in either case rather than when we are humming along in the buzz of daily existence.

    Thanks again for the beautiful and provocative post. Blessings to you and yours.

  11. Kristen-

    I am so, so sorry for you. I remember describing my miscarriages to our bishop, who said to me, "Heather, what's the lesson in all of this?" I wanted to shout at him, and say, "If I knew what the %&$*(% lesson was, I'd learn it, fast, and be done with this whole miserable experience!"

    I do know, however, that the Lord weeps with us when we weep, and mourns when we mourn, and that regardless about what you believe about teaching us something through trials, making us better people, (insert favorite cliche about trails here), God hurts when we hurt. Period. And sometimes it's enough to know that He knows our hurt, and to have somebody to cry with.

    I do remember one answer–"Be still, and know that I am God." That was very powerful to me, as I was mentally and emotionally and spiritually thrashing about, looking for something. To be still, truly still, and know Him, can be very healing.

    Again, I'm so sorry for you, and my heart goes out to you as you begin the healing process. Don't try to rush it. This one is going to take some time.

  12. Dalene's comment reminded me of this talk (slightly off topic, but relevnat I think) I quoted a while back on MY blog…one of my all-time favorites…Elder Holland, May 2002 Ensign:

    “One observer has written: ‘In a world that constantly compares people, ranking them as more or less intelligent, more or less attractive, more or less successful, it is not easy to really believe in a [divine] love that does not do the same. When I hear someone praised,’ he says, ‘it is hard not to think of myself as less praiseworthy; when I read about the goodness and kindness of other people, it is hard not to wonder whether I myself am as good and kind as they; and when I see trophies, rewards, and prizes being handed out to special people, I cannot avoid asking myself why that didn’t happen to me.’ If left unresisted, we can see how this inclination so embellished by the world will ultimately bring a resentful, demeaning view of God and a terribly destructive view of ourselves. Most ‘thou shalt not’ commandments are meant to keep us from hurting others, but I am convinced the commandment not to covet is meant to keep us from hurting ourselves…. Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us—–insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn’t measure our talents or our looks; He doesn’t measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other.”


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