Deep inside my pocket, or oftentimes in the palm of my hand, I carry a horse chestnut. To all outward appearances it’s nothing more than that: a plain, simple, ordinary horse chestnut. But to me, it’s a sacred object.
It’s easy to feel unloved—and unlovable—when struggling through an abusive relationship. Victims are often told outright that they aren’t worthy of love, or the attack can come in different words but with the same meaning. Verbal abuse—phrases such as “you’re stupid,” “you’re ugly,” “you’re selfish/cold/mean” etc.—is just another way of being told we’re not cherished by our partner. An individual with covert tendencies will often say things such as “you hate me,” or play the victim in order to guilt their target into submission.
These words and actions also show a lack of empathy and love.
That’s why—for the sake of our mental health and emotional well-being—a group of understanding, supportive loved ones is so crucial. There’s a reason the LORD God declares in Genesis 2:18, “it is not good that man should be alone.” He created us as social beings, living in a social world. Isolation is a detriment to health and healing.
This precious object was given to me by my daughter, a token of her love and thoughtfulness.
One colorful autumn day in Maine, my daughter decided to go out for a morning stroll. Along the way, winding past the harbor and the evocative screech of sea gulls, she came across a horse chestnut tree. It was dropping its heavy fruit due to the knowledge of the impending season to come: a winter of repose and hefty storms, yet all within the will of God.
My daughter knew a single nut would bring me joy, since I’ve always loved the smooth, gentle hardness of horse chestnuts. Scooping it up, she carried it back home and lovingly presented it to me.
I’d been having a rough time. She knew the details—she was a young adult, yet she’d already witnessed too much in her lifetime. She wanted to bring me comfort and joy, and she did.
Immense comfort. Tremendous joy.
Now—during times of stress or anxiety, sorrow or despondency—I hold that little nut in my hand. It represents love, and through it I feel cherished by everyone I hold most dear.
He showed me a little thing the size of a hazelnut, in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind’s eye and I thought, “What can this be?” And the answer came, “It is all that is made.” I marveled that it could last, for I thought it might have crumbled to nothing, it was so small.
And the answer came into my mind, “It lasts and ever shall because God loves it.” And all things have being through the love of God.
All shall be well, and all manner of thing will be well.
–Julian of Norwich
Knowing we’re loved in the midst of trauma can be the lifeboat taking us away from the chaos of emotional and mental turmoil, the shackles of the trauma bond, and the insecurity of contemplating whatever the future may hold. The authentic love of others is a gift from God, and when we begin to emerge from the fog and ask God for the grace to see His love at work in the world, our vision begins to clear. A kind word from someone at the grocery store, a hug from a neighbor, a squeeze on the shoulder from a supportive friend, kisses from family members … All these are blessings from our Lord.
And, above all, God is always eager for us to feel His immense love: His love, His never-ending protection, His intimacy.
We are loved. All of us. It’s so important to remind ourselves of that, often and throughout the day. In the words of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, “Let yourself be loved!”