Below is in a exert from the Codependence Workshop at New Life Spirit Recovery
The Need For Love
Sometimes people are ashamed to admit a “love need”, but it is as natural and God-given of a need as the air you breathe. Don’t be ashamed of it. Embrace is as a part of your make-up as a human being. However, understand that many times we ask another person to fill the needs only God can fill. While people are intended to provide love, they are not intended to replace God by any means. God is the SOURCE for love.
The type and amount of love we received as children will deeply impact our ability to give and receive love in adult relationships. If we were not loved properly and did not have a personal relationship with Jesus, we will go through life with a love need, or an empty void. If we don’t have love in us, we don’t have the ability to give it out. You could think of codependency in terms of a “love cup”. If you were raised without much love, your “love cup” is probably empty. If your love cup is empty, you will spend most of your life trying to ask other people to fill it. This type of “love need” will manifest into addictive, compulsive behaviors, similar to a substance addiction. If you do not have your own love need met, you will not be able to offer it to others UNTIL you learn to ask God to fill your cup first.
What is True Love Anyway?
With such a skewed understanding and representation of genuine love in our lives, it is important that we establish some principles and truths regarding God's love. REMEMBER, TRUE LOVE MUST OPERATE BY TRUTH. Oftentimes, we are clinging to lies about love, causing us unnecessary pain and suffering. Below you will find the type of love with which God loves us and desires us to have in our family relationships. We will also point out the "counterfeit" that creeps up into our relationships and tries to substitute for the "real" thing. The contrast is quite dramatic!
True Love is Sacrificial and Giving
God’s Way: The perfect example of God's love for us is demonstrated in the person of Jesus Christ. “God so love the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God gave His Son, who willingly made Himself the sacrifice for our sin PURELY out of love, with absolutely no self gain other than to redeem and rescue His children that went astray. His love had no strings attached to it, it was purely from the heart of a loving Father. This type of love is inconceivable to us, because many of us have become bitter and cynical. We assume that there is always a “catch” or a “string attached”. Not God’s love! This is authentic sacrifice and gift giving.
Counterfeit Version – Many times, we are prone to engage in activities that appear sacrificial, but are actually driven by that self-need to be loved and accepted (the empty void within). This counterfeit version of love deceives us into believing that with the right effort, we can get the desired result. Sadly, this isn’t love at all, it is a subtle, but very strong form of CONTROL. When the root of any behavior is to benefit self, it is not love. But usually, we aren’t purposely engaging in this behavior. We can function in “auto pilot” because it is the way we learned how to get love. We may automatically become prone to doing things for others to earn something in return. For example, we may want their love, acceptance, thanks, praise, etc.
How do we distinguish true sacrifice from the counterfeit version? We need to always be on guard about the motivation behind our actions. Are we “giving to give” or “giving to get?” If we have placed GOD FIRST, doing things for others will be an expression of HIS LOVE. Therefore, we won’t need anything in return. It is one of the many ways God’s love changes us from the inside and gives us the ability to have healthy relationships.
Love is Unconditional
God's Way: This type of love, which the bible calls “agape” love, is not based on anything a person does or how a person may physically appear on the outside. Unconditional loves accepts a person to the core of their being no matter what. It says “I love you for the very sake of loving you, not because of anything you have done, but because you are the object of my love.” As we will learn, this does not necessarily mean we accept and love certain behaviors. Unconditional love can only be found in the Spirit through a relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the picture of unconditional love. No human being can perfectly love, and there should never be that expectation. But when we allow God to pour His love into our hearts, this type of love will show itself. How do you know if you have unconditional love for others? There is a simple test. You learn to love people even when they are not lovable.
Counterfeit Version - In a dysfunctional family system, an unspoken “love” rule says when you do the right things, you are worthy to receive love. Usually the “love rule” is inconsistent, and no matter the efforts, a person cannot succeed. If you grew up in a home where love was based on condition, the belief system may be imprinted on you that says “if I’m good, I can earn love.” You must review your belief system of about how love is “earned” and then line it with TRUTH about how GOD REALLY LOVES YOU. God’s love is pure, free and NEVER based on what we do or how perform! Do you try to earn love? If you do, you’ll be prone to asking others to do the same. This is a guaranteed relationship problem. But God’s love is a guaranteed relationship fix.
Love is a choice
God’s Way: We must embrace this concept in order to ever understand who God is. God gives us a free will, which means He allows us to choose right from wrong, good from evil. He doesn't make us robots, He doesn’t pre-program us.
If someone forced us to love them without our permission or choice, it is equivalent to rape. God’s love is the opposite: He asks us to willingly CHOOSE to love Him. He wants us to desire a relationship with Him. And He does the same in return. He CHOSE to love you, He does not need to do so in order to satisfy His own need! He CHOSE to die for you to restore your life, He did not need to do that, for His own purpose, but wants to out of pure love.
In our own relationships, God intended that we allow others the right to freely choose to be with us in a relationship. It is in relationships based on choice where real love has the opportunity to blossom and thrive. The difference between WANTING to be with someone and being FORCED to be with someone is tremendous.
Counterfeit Version: The opposite of the free choice is control. If our relationships are filled with manipulation and control, they don’t even have the opportunity to become healthy and fulfilling. Controlling others or being controlled by others will never lead to love. In fact, it produces something altogether different. Control leads to anger, fear and shame. A home driven by control becomes a prison rather than a safe haven. This type of relationship is addictive and becomes BONDAGE, based on a need, not a choice. Why does control end up dictating a relationship? Usually, when we are controlling, it is because we fear losing people. Sometimes, people are controlling just for the means of being able to enforce power over others. In either case, if you are in a relationship where you are forced to act, think, do or “love” a certain way (or you are the one exerting that control onto someone), you need to evaluate that relationship. This relationship is functioning under the principles of hell, not heaven. Where control exists, love does not exist.
Love is Intimate and Personal
God's Way: The intimacy with which God desires to love us can only be understood through experience. Over and over again Jesus explains that while on earth He was “One with the Father.” He tells us He wants to be ONE with us as well. Being One with another is the ultimate form of intimacy. This type of love is not demanding or feeding off that person out of NEED, but is submitted and filled with love and the ability to accept and embrace another human being. Intimacy can be thought of as “I see into you”. When we are in intimate relationships, we are vulnerable to allowing people to see all of us, and there is never a reason to hide. When we can be intimate, we are not afraid of rejection or being hurt. This is where true fulfillment and joy takes place in a relationship.
We are NOT meant to have intimacy with everyone in our lives! Rather, intimacy is designed specifically for the family, and the ultimate intimacy comes in the marital relationship, where “two will become one”. A parent also experiences intimacy with a child, but must learn to allow that child to mature into independence with age.
Counterfeit Version: God wants us to be in a deeply intimate and personal relationship with each other in the family unit. If we are not intimate, there is probably some sort of emotional problem with one or all of the family members. Furthermore, when family members don’t’ feel safe to expose their true self, they begin to hide real feelings. Emotional dishonesty is at the heart of the dysfunctional family system. Families that aren’t intimate have deeper rooted problems that must be addressed – a lack of intimacy leads to inability to grow and bond as a family.
True intimacy must first be sought through Jesus Christ. We could never find that level of fulfillment in another human being. If we don't understand intimacy and our need for God first, we will most like try to satisfy that need in the wrong ways, such as substituting sexual fulfillment, people pleasing or emotions. A lack of intimacy with a spouse can sadly lead to outside adulterous affairs.
When intimacy needs are misappropriated, a parent might look for intimacy through a child rather than a husband or wife, or through work rather than home. Understanding your intimacy needs and desires is key to finding fulfillment. And although it may sound repetitive, we can only do that through Jesus first.
Love is Faithful and Responsible
God's Way: God is faithful in His responsibility; He tells us in Hebrews 13:5 “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. When we learn that God is the only One who is entirely faithful to us, we can learn to establish and place our trust in Him first. Anything or anyone else in this world will at some point fail us. It’s amazing how much pressure we can put on another human being who is born to fail! On the same token, to promote and encourage a loving environment, we need to learn and be accountable to our own responsibilities, and allow people the opportunity to be accountable to theirs. Being overly responsible of others is just as wrong as not being responsible at all. This means we should not be doing for others what they should be doing for themselves, especially when addictive, unhealthy behaviors are present.
Counterfeit Version: When people don't fulfill their responsibility, we must first understand that people are imperfect. At the very same time, we don't help an irresponsible person by doing things for them they should be doing for themselves. In fact, we only hurt and encourage that irresponsibility. A part of what we learn in Christianity is to “wash each others feet” and serve each other. There is a major difference between servanthood and codependent behavior. Being of service comes through loving and trusting in God first. Through that love, we pour into others. But this cannot be mistaken for “covering for others” or allowing them to stay in their unhealthy behavior because we want their love and acceptance. God loves us entirely, but he doesn’t co-sign or condone our unfaithfulness or irresponsibility. In fact, He will allow us to suffer greatly to show us the error of our ways.
Love Sets Healthy and Safe Boundaries
Gods Way: God has set boundaries and consequences for breaking boundaries since the beginning of time with Adam and Eve. The purpose of boundaries is to establish what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. All of God's laws you could think of as a boundary. True love learns boundaries through God's Word. Even when God's ways seem difficult or impossible, they are loving direction that will always lead into His best.
Adhering to a boundary takes work and effort, and at times, might be called “tough love”. While loving a person, a codependent must learn to stand against and refuse to accept negative and sinful behavior as being “okay.” Bad behaviors are never okay, period. Abuse is NEVER EVER acceptable no matter the terms and conditions.
Counterfeit version: Many parents and family members don't understand the importance of boundaries and the need to set specific guidelines with consequences. A parent might not want to “hurt” their child. Yet by not setting a boundary, they are doing far more damage. Children who don't face consequences will usually become self-centered and learn to manipulate anything and anyone to get their own way. On the flip side, parents who set impossible and unfair boundaries with abusive consequences will drive their children to fear and anger. This is not love, this is control. Understand that if we do not set limits, we are bound to allow things into our life that we don’t really want. We are bound to compromise and suffer serious consequences.
In the addict relationship, learning boundaries is key. You can love a person, but say NO to behaviors. How do you begin to do this? You may begin by putting together a list of those things you will not allow in your life. You must also include a consequence to that behavior if it happens. The tricky part is we need to rely on God’s wisdom through this process. We must abide by God’s Word or we may be prone to making unwise judgment calls. Finding a person in your live with HEALTHY boundaries to help you through this process is essential. Sometimes, we need to side with grace and forgiveness. Othertimes, we need to follow-through on that consequence, which may have tremendous repercussions for that other person involved. But when that person feels the pain of that consequence, it may be the very thing that will motivate them to change.
Love is Forgiving of People but Hates Wrong Behaviors
God's Way - When mankind first sinned against God, the consequences were extreme. Did that mean He didn't love them? Not at all. But in order to remain true to His word and His character of holiness, He simply could not allow those behaviors to go unpunished. In reality, God never stopped loving Adam and Eve, but He did need to deal with their behaviors, which came straight from the pits of hell under the enticement of Satan himself. What was God's remedy? He prescribed to His people a plan of salvation - a method of forgiving the sin and loving the person. The behaviors were still wrong, but the love behind the forgiveness was even more powerful. True love forgives people and refuses to keep a checklist of wrongs to play off in the future. At the same time, true love does not accept ugly behaviors or tolerate abuse. As we discussed in the previous section, this may require planning ahead what you will not allow into your life, and assigning a consequence if the pre-set boundary is breached.
Counterfeit Version – Ironically, the codependent ends up encouraging (enabling) wrongful behaviors and becoming bitter towards the person doing them. A codependent person often goes to extremes to compensate for someone else's negative behavior. While holding the position of a “martyr”, the codependent becomes bitter and resentful that all the efforts go unappreciated and do not cause the other person to change. In a codependent's belief system, they are producing “loving acts”. In reality, however, they are encouraging the negative behavior. Furthermore, a codependent becomes bound by bitterness and resentments.
Only in learning to let go and give situations over to God can we find victory. Standing against bad behaviors but forgiving a person is truly the beginning to regaining sanity and peace.
Love is Free
God's Way - God demonstrates that His love is free in the gift of salvation. Eph 2:8-9 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.” We cannot earn God's love, and if we believe we can, we will lead religious, self-righteous lives. We will also be prone to think we can earn love in our relationships. True love is free with no strings attached. When two people love each other, there needs to be no manipulation or control - they can allow each other’s imperfections and failures along with the blessings. A love-based relationship will be driven to do things for the very reason of wanting to express love, not needing to get something in return. God loves you and has already expressed that to you. Have you received it?
Counterfeit Version - Similar to some of the other attributes we’ve discussed, when love is seen as something that must be earned, it can drive a codependent to do things that are imbalanced and unhealthy. Controlling behaviors compensate and force two people to function together when love is absent. Wherever there is control, followed by fear, that is not love.
Love Submits to Each Other in Humility
God's Way: Submission is a sign of humility and genuine love. It is built upon the respect and honor of another person. In essence, when we submit we give up our “own rights” and allow someone else to make a decision. This is assuming, however, that we aren't compromising core values and beliefs. The most important thing to understand about submission is that it does NOT seek to manipulate someone to get personal needs met. However, as two people come together in love and submission, there should be compatibility, not compromise. In Phillipians 2:1-4 we read: “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Counterfeit Version: Submission is easily misunderstood to be weakness, or being put in a position of being lower then the other person. However, our roles have nothing to do with our inherent value as God's children (better then or less then), they simply mark out the general management and rule of a home, church or organization. Submission does not operate by someone else controlling you, thus forcing you to do what they say. Submission is a by-product of love. Sometimes, wives have a difficult time to submitting because the husbands lack love. If this is the case, the best remedy is to learn to love God first, submit to Him out of love, which in turn will give you the ability to submit to others in your life as well, just like what we read about in the passage above. Sounds easy? Not hardly, but gradually, one day at a time, God will lead you in that direction.
Love is Powerful and Eternal
God’s Way: True loves lasts and overcomes the impossible - it does not simply die and grow cold due to circumstances. Love is eternal, not only will it exist in this physical life, but it will carry on throughout eternity. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:36-39
In our humanness, we will never experience perfect love among each other. Only God loves us perfectly. However, when a couple has love at the foundation, they will be able to stand through the tests and tribulations, which should only prove to make that relationship stronger. Just as God allows difficult circumstances to grow our faith and love towards Him, the same holds true to our family relationships.
Counterfeit Version - Sadly, we live in a culture that places no value on a lifelong commitment. The attitude is that divorce is always an option when things don't work out. Although this lesson seeks to show how we cannot condone negative behavior, it doesn't condone walking out on your commitment to marital vows and parental roles. In extremes, we could start to recognize wrongful behaviors and want to abandon our roles and relationships altogether. This is not the solution.
Love Is Filled with Grace and Reasonable Expectations
God's Way - Only the Holy Spirit can truly give an understanding of the depth of God's love in Jesus Christ. And the entire premise of that relationship is that it is based on GRACE, which is “undeserved favor.” We do not deserve God's love, but He gives it anyway, and asks that we offer the same to others. The expectations we can place on God are high - the Word reveals His promises and says that God never changes, NOT EVER! People, however, are quite different. It is unfair to ask a person to be perfect or to fill a role that only God can fill. God is the only One who can meet our every need, and we must embrace Him personally and passionately to understand this.
Counterfeit Version - Families that lack grace are shame-based. They are driven by unreasonable expectations among the family members that cause anger, frustration and division. This is often evident by feeling you can never “meet expectations” or “measure up to a standard.”
When love is present in families and relationships, and God is at the core, the system will naturally manifest healthy characteristics. All the members will be seeking ways to serve and bless each other, and will gladly fulfill the tasks and responsibilities. When love is not present, the opposite will happen.
Embracing Love through the Holy Spirit
How do these attributes measure in your own relationships and family? Does it seem a bit overwhelming? In reality, we can’t just go out and start to love the right way on our own. Love is not automatically produced from us as humans. Love comes from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of God, and His Son Jesus Christ. He’s actually a Person represented in the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). When the Holy Spirit reigns within you, you will experience Him personally. Above all, you will encounter God’s real, authentic love. The Holy Spirit is powerful and undeniable. It produces fruits such as love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. The Holy Spirit enters into our life the moment we receive Jesus.
But the Holy Spirit is quenched if we allow sin into our life, and we do not maintain our relationship with God. The Holy Spirit can only truly be activated and work freely in us through a genuine brokenness and surrender of our will over to Him. Why is this important to understand? As we look at love, remember that only true LOVE comes from God, and the only way we can receive it in fullness (and ultimately give it away) is through a relationship with Jesus Christ. True love is not produced in our human flesh, no amount of effort or “head knowledge” will give us the ability to learn to love. True love only comes to us through the Holy Spirit.
Does reading about love make it real? Of course not. Love isn’t something we can merely grasp intellectually. It must enter in through our spirit and into our soul. Ask God to reveal His love to you in your heart, not just your head. Putting the LORD first in your life and allowing Him to teach you and fill you with His love is the most important step in recovery. Are you ready to make that commitment?
A Prayer For Love
I come to you because I can’t do this on my own. I am unable of learning how to love properly. Father, my life shows me that I don’t even know how to love myself, much less other people. I try to love, but I fail. I’m even told that my “love” is harming people. I’m so confused sometimes. Help me. Show me your heart and show me how you love me. While you teach this in my head, help me to experience it in my heart. Help me to become it and live it. Help me to put your love as the main goal of my entire life and to leave all other relationships up to you to change. I claim these promises of your love and I thank you in advance for the changes you are about to bring to my life.
I ask this in the name and power of Jesus Christ, A-men