Updated: Nov 15, 2020
"He can't value you more than you value yourself." He stopped. She did not move or give any sign that she had heard him. Pretty woman, he thought. Pretty little black-skinned woman. Who wanted to kill for love, die for love. The pride, the conceit of these doormat women amazed him... They could not believe or accept the fact that they were unloved...
Guitar shared these words with Hagar (both characters in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon). After sleeping with a man who refused to marry her for years, Hagar died too young, believing she was ugly and unloved. My heart aches at her fate. At just sixteen years old, I wept at the similarities between this fictional character and me. Hagar was dark skinned, pretty, and fatherless (just like me). Hagar gave too much of herself to any man who looked her way (just like me). Hagar envied women who easily became wives and girlfriends (just like me).
Years later, I still sob over the same subject alone in prayer, on the phone with friends, and at the feet of God. Dating has been a series of unfortunate events. From fearing rejection and failing to set-up healthy boundaries; to chasing after emotionally unavailable men because it hurt less when they disappoint me--or at least that's what I told myself. I've tried to forego healing with men outside of God's plan more times than I'm proud of, and my missteps always led me to desert places.
Jesus said "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
According to Jesus, the second greatest commandment is contingent on self-love. I've always struggled in that department. When I got serious about God, I wanted to try celibacy to get better at loving Him and myself. I found women of God who spoke about abstinence, courting, and "Biblical womanhood" online. Sporting head-coverings and modest fashion or perfect makeup and dainty necklaces, these were the kind of women I would've called brainwashed a few years ago. Yet, out of desperation and a sincere desire to please God, I listened. I took notes. I applied what they preached, because I knew a lot of it was rooted in Truth. These messages birthed conviction, which wasn't like the self-condemnation that colored my 4AM Uber rides of shame. No, this was from the Holy Spirit. I wanted to change, but this time I actually believed I could. I deleted Tinder. I dodged the men from my past who tried to reconnect. I took active steps to dress more modestly. I avoided media that would tempt me. It was a fight, I went from being the living embodiment of SZA's Ctrl album to celebrating over a year of celibacy. It felt so good to say, "Girl, can you believe I haven't had sex since February of last year?"
Welp. Ya girl backslid this summer. I re-downloaded a dating app, only to get my feelings hurt and hurt the feelings of others. When I realized I was dealing with the same wounds that led me to try celibacy in the first place, I felt foolish. So, I became defensive and critiqued the Biblical teachings that led me to try celibacy. Scoffing, ranting, and raving: "There's no ABC-123 formula for romantic relationships. We're all different. Doesn't God know I'm not some frilly, white girl, Evangelical from Texas who ends up marrying her high school sweetheart? I didn't grow up hearing this stuff in church camp. I didn't ask for this. I didn't sign up to be a dark skinned black woman whose statistically already at a disadvantage in the dating market. I didn't ask to be battling lust. I miss not having to fight. I didn't know these were the consequences. I didn't ask to be bad at love. Why me? It sucks. This sucks. I hate it."
I was projecting. I was mad at myself, and even though I couldn't say it out loud, I was mad at God.
My friend listened. When I finally cooled down they spoke, "I hear you. Black women are definitely undervalued, but I think that gives us even more reason to raise our standards. Also, you're a woman of God. I know it's hard, but we have to hold ourselves to certain standards... That is IF you want to be a woman of God. If not, do what you want."
These words stung, and made my heart drop. Especially, since I heard them from the Holy Spirit often, "Choose this day who you serve."
And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, CHOOSE FOR YOURSELVES THIS DAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
This time last year, I was crying out to God to change my life, to let His will be done, to help me pivot in a problematic narrative. I was fasting and praying. I was binding and loosing. I was celebrating victory over a very real spiritual war for my soul. It's sad how quickly we forget our own prayers and God's faithfulness to them. I've been fortunate even in rebellion. For the amount of bad decisions I've made, so much worse should've happened to me by now. Sure, none of my flirty flings worked out, and I still haven't been in a committed relationship. Yet, despite, searching for love in all the wrong places, God's has protected me from abduction, sex trafficking, rape, disease, molestation, physical abuse, blackmailing, and public shaming (just to name a few). Do you know how often women who look like me fall prey to these evils? Do you know how many women and girls around the globe aren't even given a choice to abstain from sex? Regardless of how they or the God who created them feels; they're used and abused in the name of domination and lust to fuel global forced-sex industry.
Which reminds me of another Hagar. The book of Genesis introduces her as an Egyptian woman enslaved to Sarah, but Sarah eventually forces her to become Abraham's second wife. Similar to many women in her position then (and now), Hagar didn't have a say in any of this. Genesis 16:4 in the NIV says, "[Abraham] slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress." Of course Hagar had an attitude. She didn't ask for this. She didn't sign up to sleep with old Abraham or carry his child. If anyone had a good reason to roll her eyes and cry why me, it was Hagar. The Bible tells us that Sarai began to mistreat Hagar so badly that she fled to a desert place--like we all do when we're mad at ourselves, our neighbors, and/or God.
My desert place looks like the arms of men I wished loved me the way my earthly father never did. It looks like too many glasses of wine or a few puffs of weed. It looks like running away from responsibilities and running to distractions. It looks like wallowing in rejection. It looks like no prayer and a lot of projection. My desert place looks like giving up.
In typical YHWH fashion, God met her in the desert near a well.
And he said, "Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" (Genesis 16:8)
God asks the best questions. Similar to Hagar, these questions are my lifeline. When I look back on where I've come from and where I'm going--by the grace of God--I could shout right there. However, the narrow path God's leading us through doesn't always feel good or line up with our preferences:
"I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered. Then the angel of the Lord told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." The angel added, "I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count." (8-9)
What if I told you, sometimes our blessings are wrapped up in the things we don't want to do. God loves placing a valley before victory. There was a time when I despised the idea of giving up weed. I couldn't fathom life without it, but deliverance from anxiety and depression came when I put it down. I got my professional and academic life back on track when I put it down. I encountered "EL ROI: the God who sees me" when I put it down. God will do what we thought was impossible again and again and again... So now He's working on my heart, my daddy issues, my poor self-image. I've struggled with these things for as long as I can remember, but God doesn't want me to relate to Toni Morrison's Hagar forever or suffer her fate. If I want to be healed, I can't run from Him forever. He just wants me to get out of the way (*cough* out of my flesh) so He can do what he does best:
While God's will is the best option, it' not easy. Soul surgery hurts, but who's better to trust with our trauma than the God who created us? The God who knows us better than we know ourselves? The God who sees us clearly and still loves us beyond measure.
Whatever God is asking us to change or do, let's just do it. When we mess up, we'll try again. We can't keep settling for desert places when our Father is the Well.