The humans I’ve met all seem to possess a deep and gnawing, essential and fundamental need for love powerful enough to soothe that incessant hunger for relationships that really mean something, for complete acceptance, attention, and purpose. You’re not crazy if you want all of this; you’re just a human craving the love that you, as a human, are meant to experience. This is my brief account of how to get enough love.
Gnawing, perpetually unsatisfied hunger for love is soul sickness. I see this soul sickness all over the place. I’ve felt this soul sickness. Often it feels like restlessness and discontent, a sense of being ill at ease with my choices and surroundings, deeply lonely, unsatisfied with my life, unfulfilled in my relationships, wanting something or someone to intervene, not exactly sure what would or could help.
One benefit of going off to college is that I had more freedom to exhaust the list of alluring ways to try to feel satisfied and joyful a lot faster: Get into Harvard? Tried that. Get a VIP card at the hottest nightclub in Madrid? Been there. Interesting research position and a great group of friends? Done and done. Hot boyfriend? He was a nice guy, but he was only human. He couldn’t have loved me enough. Period. Because I’m also human, and I’m meant for God’s love. In case you aren’t aware, God is really, really, really big. Much bigger than you or I, and He can love much, much, much more and more perfectly than any of us can.
God does not want us to exist in a state of tormented soul sickness. God’s love can fix these feelings. We are meant to be in a relationship with God, and it is only when our relationship with God is strong that this soul sickness is healed.
In one sense, it is us who choose to turn away from God’s love when we try every other strategy we can think of to soothe our spiritual hunger. In my experience, these strategies have failed, one after another. Sometimes their insufficiency was immediately obvious; other times it took longer to become apparent.
In another very real sense, being separated from God’s love is the default state for folks these days. Why? Original sin. That is to say: ever since “the fall” (no, not autumn) people have been born into a world dominated by attempts to make up our own rules and find a source of sufficient love other than God. This has created a major rift in the relationship between humans and God, and that’s a problem if you don’t want to feel soul sick for the rest of forever. Naturally, it had to be a human to fix the problem since humans were the ones who had caused the rift in the first place, but only God himself is powerful enough to jump the chasm we had created. The solution? Jesus: completely man, completely God.
God does not want us to be miserable. He wanted to love us so badly that He became human—totally and completely human—so that He could live on earth, die, and overcome death to build a bridge over the chasm of sin separating us from His love. Something about God becoming human, befriending prostitutes, defying the Pharisees, and chilling with demon-possessed madmen, something about God telling Simon Peter to put away his damn sword and let the Roman soldiers take him away, scourge him, nail him to a cross, and let him die, something about the fact that God the human descended into Hell, but then three days later he escaped the torment, leaped over the chasm, and left behind a bridge that we can all walk over to get from living in perpetual soul sickness to living in the lap of God’s perfect love, something about all this seemed to do just the trick in a way that no awesome college party or fancy car or impressive job ever will.
I sometimes imagine Jesus surrounded by suffering souls in a landscape red and black, his legs crossed, his back hunched, the wounds on his hands starting to scab over. Then suddenly, more ferocious than three hundred Spartan soldiers, Jesus leaps up, and with a blood-curdling roar, he emerges from Hell screaming, “Satan, you cannot keep me here! I am the Son of Man! I conquer all!”
And then he opens his eyes and, as if waking from a horrible dream, he pulls the burial shroud off his face, gets up, and walks out of the tomb, leaving it empty. This is just the way I imagine the whole “Jesus conquering death, demons, Satan, and the grave” thing might have gone down.
Mark describes a scene in which Jesus meets a man who was possessed by an entire legion of demons. This guy was like an ancient version of the Hulk. He lived alone in a graveyard, wandering around among the tombs:
“And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him” (ESV Mark 5:3-4).
This guy sounds miserable.
“Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:5).
And I completely relate to him.
I have, at times in my life, felt like I was constantly, for weeks at a time, on the verge of tears, wandering around my high school, my hometown, or Harvard Yard, just hurting myself with my poor decisions even when I didn’t intend to do so. This man was so tormented that only God himself could drive away his demons. The story ends with Jesus healing him in an instant then ordering him,
“‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you’” (Mark 5:19).
This is what Jesus has done for me too. Point blank. And I, too, only get to hang onto my restored sense of completeness by continuing to obey Jesus and tell others how much the Lord has done for me.
It started with accepting that nothing I could come up with on my own to heal my soul sickness would work. Next came faith that God can and will restore me if I ask Him to. The only way I know how to get faith is to ask for it. By definition, when I first prayed for faith, I didn’t think it would work. But miraculously it did work, much to my surprise, and I believe it can work for you too. The fact that I went into praying for faith with exactly zero expectation of it having any effect but it had a huge effect anyway redoubles my present conviction that God is real and He really wants to love us and work in our lives and drive away our demons and heal our soul sickness. It couldn’t have been a placebo effect. If the whole God thing is made up, then worst case you’ll waste five minutes talking to yourself, asking earnestly for faith in God. But if it’s real, then your whole life is about to change for the better.
I got the idea to pray for faith from a Bible passage that a friend of mine pointed out. There’s a scene in which Jesus meets a man whose son has epilepsy. Jesus asks him,
“‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ And Jesus”—ever a tad sassy—“said to him, ‘“If you can”! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again’” (Mark 9:21-25).
As soon as the man believes Jesus can help him, Jesus commands the demons that have tormented their family for years to vanish, and vanish they do. The boy is cured.
I specifically want to draw your attention to Mark 9:24 where the man says, “I believe; help my unbelief!” This prayer is short and powerful. The night I said this prayer aloud several times, each time with increasing conviction, while walking along Garden Street back toward the Quad, my world turned upside down. At the time, I didn’t know what was about to happen, but since then everything has changed. My life has a new sense of meaning and stability that it lacked before. I live in real community defined by friendships that feel substantial and authentic. My soul sickness resurfaces rarely, and when it does I have the tools to ask God to love me and cast out the demons once again, and He does—immediately. Ever since I had the willingness to say aloud, “I believe; help my unbelief!” just to see what would happen, life has become brighter, and it’s because of Jesus.
The next step is to “‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you’” (Mark 5:19). For me, there were three initial key elements to growing in my faith enough to feel comfortable telling others about it.
First, going to confession to clean up the damage I did while I was trying to find enough love somewhere else was crucial. If you don’t know how to do this, just look up the confession or reconciliation times at a local Catholic church. You can just show up, tell the priest whether or not you’re Catholic, say you don’t know what you’re doing, and ask him for help.
Second, getting on my knees to pray every morning and (almost) every night has played a huge role in helping me to develop my relationship with God. Just as I have to talk to my friends regularly to have good relationships with them, I also have to talk to God regularly.
Third, finding a spiritual community that includes mentors who care about the condition of my soul has been critical. To find a spiritual community, try going to church. Introduce yourself to people afterward; if it’s a strong community, they’ll be happy you’re there. If they don’t seem happy to meet you, it’s not a reflection on God, just a few of his people. Perhaps try a different church, and keep praying for God to give you a spiritual community where you can learn more about Him and grow closer to Him: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).