Learning to Receive Love, Not Earn it
Letter from Hannah Vollmer
I’ve always been a warrior.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved the thought of saving people. In make-believe, I was always the heroine who was fighting the villain herself instead of being saved by the knight in shining armor. When learning about the saints in elementary school, I was drawn to Joan of Arc because of her amazing leadership in battle. Having two brothers helped me embrace this desire, and I tried to do everything they could do. I wanted to be seen as tough, strong, and fearless.
Growing up, that looked like standing up to bullies on the bus and keeping peace on the playground. It was being competitive in academics and sports. It was speaking up and stepping out to volunteer for projects and initiatives that others were afraid to take on. Criticism didn’t bother me. Being popular didn’t bother me. Being single didn’t bother me. Nothing seemed to make me falter. Even when I failed, I picked myself up and threw myself into the fray again. Failure was just another battle to be won. People naturally followed my confident lead, looking to me to have all the answers.
So I tried to have all the answers. In all things.
In academics, that was being a brain. With my friends, knowing random facts about just about everything. At the Newman Center, it was trying to be the pious, but spunky retreat leader. The more I knew, or could prove I knew, the more I would be accepted and admired. I convinced myself that the longer the list of my accomplishments, the harder I tried, then I could be fully accepted into every group I entered, especially my faith community. By my senior year of college, I was in or leading 3 bible studies a week, being mentored, mentoring a student, starting and leading a prayer group, sitting on the student executive board for the Newman community, and was a lector and Eucharistic minister at mass. Surely the Body of Christ could accept all of these wonderful contributions right? Effort + time + works = love?
While this armor allowed me to be successful in a lot of things, it also isolated me. I had a very hard time receiving love in any form--gifts, compliments, romantic gestures. (I once gave finger guns to a guy who told me he wanted to date me. Yup, that bad.) I didn’t know how to receive something that I didn’t have to return or earn. So I often ran from those things or made the decision I didn’t need them in my life. Which not only wounded other people, but also myself without even knowing it. And over time these things that I was accomplishing, the shiny armor I had worn in battle, got heavy. I was tired of fighting; I wanted to retire from this facade I had built but didn’t know how. So I trudged on.
I remember trying to get rid of my armor by myself. One night, I collapsed onto my campus minister’s couch after a long day of activities . She asked me the simple question “How are you?” and the floodgates opened. The stress, insecurity, and weight of everything I was carrying came pouring out. When I finally took a breath, she looked at me, amazed, and uttered, “Hannah, I had no idea any of that was going on. Do you want to go through some of those things?” We made some tea, had a wonderful life chat, and she sent me off with a new mindset.
Yet nothing changed. The morning after that, I found myself committing to more things, putting on more armor. Subconsciously, I felt weak and so to prove to myself I wasn’t, I decided to drown that feeling in tasks and activities. If no one could see it, it didn’t exist.
The summer after I graduated college, I had the opportunity to go on a retreat where we spent hours at a time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, bringing to the Lord different wounds, intentions, or asking him specific questions. During one of those many holy hours, I heard this question in my heart of hearts: “What do you want me to do for you?”
I boldly replied: “Lord, I want to receive your love.”
I was so tired of running, Sister. The weight of keeping up this tough appearance was weighing me down immensely. During that retreat, the Lord started to remove my armor piece by piece. With every piece he took, I could feel His loving smile, saying “You don’t need this anymore. Receive my love.”
I wish I could say I embraced this new part of me just as I had embraced so many other things. But I did not. I often felt frantic, desperate to hang on to the security I had built in my life. I wanted to kick out at the Lord, scream at him that He was wrong, that I needed that armor to do His will. Couldn’t I fully receive His love with it? That anger soon turned into begging, in hopes that He would let me keep at least some of it, to protect myself from this new world. In my mind, I was going from this fierce young woman, a modern Joan of Arc if you will, to a defenseless child, unprotected and alone. I felt emotionally raw, unsure of how to interact with others, even those closest to me. My confidence, for the first time in my life, was shaky, a tightrope artist desperately clutching to his perch as to not be blown off by the wind. I convinced myself that my time as a warrior was over because I couldn’t be a strong person like this. How could anyone love this new, unsure, imperfect person?
“The LORD will fight for you; you have only to keep still.” - Exodus 14:14
Our Lord took this hardened heart of mine, this heart that had kept people and Him at a safe arm’s length away, and softened and molded it into a new creation. Day by day, the Lord helped me recognize and receive love. At first in the smallest of things: a friend doing my dishes after a dinner party I hosted, a coworker buying lunch for me, a stranger leaving an encouraging note on my desk.
I resisted those things at first, pretty defiantly. But through even the smallest of examples, I realized that love is our first call. We are created to love and be loved! The Lord doesn’t care about your track record. He sees you as you are; something good that He has created. A daughter to whom He wants to give an immeasurable amount of grace and gifts. He is waiting with open arms for us, ready to give His love and mercy.
Why had I resisted something so good for so long?
Jesus slowly revealed to me that love is the strongest weapon--it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7). But without my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, true examples of what it means to love and be loved, I would still be that timid girl, hiding in the shadows. Jesus knew that I needed a strong community who would meet me where I was and walk with me. He has gifted me many holy men and women as friends and mentors, reminding me that first and foremost I am loved and that I belong in God’s family, imperfect as I am. And I always will.
My prayer, sisters, is that you are not afraid to open yourselves to the Lord’s love. I pray we can all learn to not only receive His love, but pour it out into our friends, our families, and our communities. That when people look at us, they do not see the “things” that define us, but how we love one another.
What a wonderful thing to fight for.
For the Kingdom,
About the Writer: Hannah Vollmer
Hannah Vollmer is an old soul living in a modern world. After serving with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) for two years in Madison, WI, she moved to the Queen City of the Midwest, Cincinnati. She loves writing, dancing in her kitchen, and starting meaningful conversations. She sees God most in the love of her family, the beauty of a sunset, and the joy of her friends. When she’s not working or volunteering with the young adult ministry in her area, you mostly will find her one of three places: a restaurant patio with friends, a walk, or in the pages of a good book.