God’s Word is filled with encouragement. There are verses that tell us He loved us so much that He sent His son to take our punishment for us. He wants us with Him.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
We see verses that show how God’s people have found comfort in Him; even as we see their doubt and struggles, we see their faith. We are shown—time and time again—that God wants us and loves us, despite our sin.
I was pretty sure that didn’t mean me.
I spent most of my childhood questioning whether I was truly loved and valued. I thought God’s grace was for other people but not for me. I would listen to Christian testimony and wonder what was wrong with me that I couldn’t believe God loved me. It seemed so easy for other people. It was proof that I truly was broken.
As I grew older and made sinful choices, I was further convinced that although Christ had died for most people’s sins, I was too unlovable and too sinful for Him to have meant me, too.
For years, I knew I had self-esteem issues and loads of insecurity. I believed that despite what the Bible told me, God valued the sparrows more than me, I wasn’t worth seeing, and I was the lost sheep not worth finding. I had faith in God—but not in His love for me.
The pain of being unlovable was part of the core of my being, and I had learned how to disconnect that from my day-to-day living. If I’d allowed myself to truly experience it, I would have been crushed. I could no longer see my true heart—the one that felt deeply, had built walls to protect it, and was afraid to risk rejection.
I saw myself as ultimately unlovable. I didn’t believe that God really loved me—so how could I believe that my husband loved me?
I was not alone in this.
Women have shared with me that they feel unlovable or have low self-esteem. Their husbands say, “I love you,” and the women are so convinced that it can’t possibly be true that they think their husbands must value them only for sex.
Meanwhile, their husbands sometimes spend years searching for the thing that will help their wives feel loved—and there isn’t a thing they can do if their wives aren’t going to be able to accept that love.
I didn’t love myself, and I couldn’t accept love from God or from my husband. I didn’t even trust that my friends really liked me. I was sure their friendship was just that they tolerated me out of pity.
Talking to my husband about any of this was difficult. I could barely acknowledge in my own mind that I was so unworthy of love. Putting it into words seemed to make it real in a way that I couldn’t bear.
I was scared, too. What if I tell him how unlovable I feel and he actually sees what I’m talking about? What if it tells him that he is wrong to love me? He will abandon me. I’m safer if I say nothing because maybe he won’t notice how unlovable I really am.
On occasion, I would find words to express my difficult feelings: “I don’t feel loved. I don’t think you really love me.” I would be thinking I don’t think you love me because I’m so unlovable that it isn’t possible. If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me very much and you would realize how mistaken you were to marry me.
My husband is one of those “you tell me a problem and I’ll tell you how to fix it” guys. He views his job as my husband to make me feel happy and loved. (I don’t agree that this is his job, but that’s a whole other post.)
He would hear my “I don’t feel loved” and “I don’t think you really love me” with disbelief, shock, and pain. He loved me so much, and hearing that I didn’t believe him made him feel like a failure as a man and a husband.
It was a knife into his heart—and he responded out of that hurt. He would try to prove to me all the ways that he really did love me, thinking that I surely would be convinced by logic and evidence about what was so obvious to him. (Dude, do you know me that little?) He would tell me how wrong I was to feel that way. (Big Guy, I just made myself very vulnerable and shared my heart with you, and you tell me I’m wrong. Nope, I’m not going to take that risk again.)
Being truly vulnerable with my husband meant taking a chance that he would react in a way that showed me he didn’t truly know me, believe me, or care what I felt.
Each time was yet another confirmation of how unlovable I truly was.
Over time, I pushed the feelings deeper behind a wall so I wouldn’t risk being hurt again.
Within My Walls
I had built walls around my heart, protecting it from hurt.
Every effort I made in trusting my husband with the real things inside me became another stone I used to build the wall around my heart. I reinforced the walls while I sat inside them
As our marriage began to die, I sat vigil for it within my walls.
I remember thinking about being all walled in with no way out but up—yet when I looked up, the walls were so high that I couldn’t even see the heavens. I couldn’t reach out to my husband, and I wasn’t sure I could even reach up to God.
The walls were still up as I began to make my changes in sexual intimacy in our marriage. They stayed up for most of the first year. Then I noticed that I was no longer working to reinforce those walls from the inside. The changes in sex had removed much of the tension from our marriage, and my husband was feeling more loved—so his responses to me began to come out of his love rather than his hurt.
As I stopped reinforcing the walls, they began to fall down, stone by stone.
With each stone’s fall, I became more and more vulnerable. With the walls less strong, I was seeing back into that very vulnerable core of myself. I was reminded how truly unlovable I thought I was.
I was seeing—naked and hurt—the heart of the girl I still was inside—the girl who thought that even God couldn’t love her.
When I saw her, I knew something important about the walls I’d built in my marriage:
The walls had never really been about my husband. They were about my relationship with God. They were about my own faith.
It was a very vulnerable time for me. I felt raw. I didn’t realize it then, but God was working on my heart.
Although much of the wall had been built in response to my marriage, its foundation wasn’t about my marriage at all.
It was about my heart for God. As I was going through the Respect Dare last year, I realized that my work was less about marriage than it was about my own faith journey. I had a couple transformative moments (described here and here).
My marriage has changed dramatically—yet that change pales next to the changes in my Christian walk and my heart for God.
I have realized that my biggest contribution to the problems in our marriage was my lack of faith that God saw me as His daughter.
I didn’t allow myself to accept love or forgiveness—and I didn’t allow myself to truly offer those things to my husband, either.
When husbands ask me what they can do to improve their marriages, I typically suggest that they begin my praying for their wives’ faith.
I know that there are many things that can lead to women controlling the sexual intimacy in their marriage. I am not questioning any woman’s faith. Some women, however, are like I was—unable to accept love and forgiveness and not even loving themselves.
I’d like to encourage you today to think about your own Christian walk and your relationship with God. Are you afraid that if your husband truly knew you he wouldn’t love you? Is there a core part of you that feels truly unlovable?
Look at your own faith. If any of what I have described resonates with you, I invite you to take a step toward the heart of God.
If your faith has been a barrier to growth in your marriage, let that be your next step in healing your marriage and your own heart.
So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.