As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. – John 15:9 (NIV
Digestive aliments have garnered much attention in recent years. Ten years ago few people had heard of Celiac disease, a digestive disorder caused by a reaction with the gluten protein found in wheat. Today, due in part to awareness created by celebrity sufferers such as Elizabeth Hasselback, much of the populous is aware of the disease.
Celiac disease creates malabsorption. Malabsorption occurs when food nutrients are not properly absorbed across the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Malabsorption has a number of triggers including infection, structural defects of the GI tract, enzyme deficiencies and diseases. It can cause weight loss, growth retardation, failure to thrive, delayed puberty and anemia. The issue is not getting sufficient food, it’s the body’s inability to put that food to good use.
Today, many God-loving Christians suffer from “failure to thrive,” not physically, but spiritually. For them, the victorious life promised in Christ always seems to be just out of reach. They practice, perhaps unconsciously, a performance-based brand of Christianity. They get caught in a vicious cycle to trying to live the Christian life only to feel as if they are not quit measuring up. This prompts them to try even harder, and in the trying they become weary and quite trying. Once they regain their strength or become so overwhelmed with shame and guilt, they start the cycle again.
I believe “love malabsorption” is one of the underlying causes of performance-based Christianity. It’s not that practitioners of performance-based Christianity fail to receive God’s love, it just that they are unable to truly absorb God’s love. I believe at the root malabsorption of God’s love can be traced back to dysfunctional human relationships. We often see human relationships which are supposed to be caring as proxies for God’s love. This is especially true of parental relationships, spousal relationships, relationship with educators and clergy. Someone who has suffered shame, emotional abuse, physical abuse or sexual abuse in any of these important relationships may have a difficult time accepting God’s love.
Sufferers of love malabsorption feel unworthy and feel they have to earn others love and affection. Their reasoning, much of it done on a subconscious level, is that if I perform well enough, I can win others love. The flaw in this thinking is obvious when it comes to winning God’s love. God’s standard is perfection, a standard in our fallen state that we could never attain. Knowing this, God sent himself, through the person of his son Jesus Christ, to die our behalf. Romans 5:8 reminds us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV). We could not meet God’s standard, so he met it himself on our behalf. (As my former pastor, would say, “that’s a good place to shout!”).
God’s love is extended towards us by accepting the gift of salvation. Those who feel they must earn everything have a difficult time accepting gifts, yet this is precisely what they must do to experience God’s love. Christians who suffer love malabsorption know this intellectually but not experientially. They have a blockage in the “heart–brain barrier.” Author Jeff VanVonderen describes this barrier in his book, Tired of Trying to Measure Up. This barrier prevents them from experiencing that which they know to be true.
Do you recognize the symptoms of love malabsorption in your own life? If so, I urge you to seek treatment for this debilitating disease. It will likely mean addressing some very painful aspects of your past and you might need the assistance of a professional therapist to do so. The road to recovery may be long. Over time the Lord will open an emotional stent in your soul to allow you experience the truth of his liberating word in your heart.