When I was 15, I fell in love for the first time. I'll call him John, although that isn't his real name. He liked chess and science fiction. He was brilliant and funny, but very introverted. He was handsome in an aloof, Nordic way. Above all, he loved God with an integrity that burned like a clear blue flame, and I wanted his respect almost more than I wanted his love.
I prayed and prayed for God's will to be done in our relationship. But although John was my friend, but he never moved beyond that into loving me. At one point, our friendship almost foundered on the difference in our expectations. I continued to pray, and eventually the amicable status quo was restored. As all this was happening, I sensed that the Lord did not want us to be together in a romantic way. He did not explain—does he ever? So I assumed it was me, that I was unlovable, that something was inherently wrong with me, and that I would hurt John if we were in that kind of relationship. I tried to accept things as they were, but I found it impossible to stop loving him.
We went to the same college, but John dropped out sophomore year. I knew something had gone wrong with him emotionally or mentally, but I was too unsure of my status to ask exactly what the problem was, . . . even though his sister and I were friends too. After John left school, I reached out to him to keep our friendship going, and he did something that wounded me terribly. What it was doesn't matter. He was protecting himself, not trying to hurt me—I knew it at the time—yet his action stabbed my heart. So I let the friendship drop. We were 19.
I did not allow myself to love again for nearly 10 years. But time passed. I eventually risked being vulnerable once more, and I did get married to a man I love and respect even more than I did John. Michael and I have been each other's best friend and lover for 18 years.
Even so, I couldn't forget my first love. I would pray for John whenever I thought of him. I often wept on his birthday. About four years ago, I poured out the whole story to his sister, and finally after so many years, I learned that John has a much more serious mental illness than I'd ever imagined. Even if he had been inclined to love me, he wouldn't have been able to build the kind of relationship I needed. So I began the process of sorting through my old pain in an effort to let go it. I've explored it in fiction. I've discussed it with a counselor and friends. Most of all, I've journaled and prayed.
Last week, John's sister sent me a photograph of the two of them. It is the first time I've seen what he looks like since I ran into him at a college homecoming 23 years ago. And it didn't hurt. I didn't weep for him or for me. To my surprise, I discovered that he has stopped being a ghost with the power to haunt me. He's just someone from my past, whom I no longer love but for whom I continue to pray. God brought about that healing, a closing of old wounds that I was powerless to suture.
I tell this story because most of us have ghosts of one kind or another. And when they have haunted our lives for decades, we come to believe that we will never be free of them. But God is more forceful than these ghosts from our past if we open ourselves to the power of his healing. It doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen without effort. But healing of past wounds is possible. And sometimes we need to be reminded of that possibility before we find the courage to seek a cure.
May God lead you down the road toward whatever healing you need today.