I recently finished Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I've had many people reference her work to me before and I'd never quite got round to picking it up. Then, when Mum came to visit, with this book to give me as we often swap our favourite reads, I had no excuse to not bump it up my reading list. Boy, was I glad I did.
Redeeming Love is a different style and genre to my usual choices. It's not a science fiction, dystopian or a modern story about a young person as is my usual go-to. It's a retelling of the book of Hosea from the bible and follows the story of Angel, a prostitute working in 19th century California. From a young age, Angel has drawn the short straws, being forced into her work quickly. Then, Michael, a farmer vows to marry her and love her unconditionally.
But, it's not all smooth sailing once Michael gets Angle out of the brothel. She goes back and is unfaithful to him on more than one occasion. Michael gets angry and doesn't understand why he has to love this woman, but he never gives up on her to the point that it's painful for him.
In stark ways, Rivers makes it clear that Angel cannot see herself beyond her work as a prostitute. The belief that it's all she'll ever be, and all she'll ever be seen as, is so deep-rooted that for most of the book, she's trapped. Being taking out of her working environment, and not being able to do the only thing she believes she's good at sends her spiralling. It got me thinking about how much a lot of us are like that. We hold on so tightly to what we're good at or what makes us look successful, that we can let it define us, and then when for whatever reason, it's taken away, where does that leave us? Most of the time feeling frustrated, unworthy, and anxious.
Michael persists with Angel, despite his own hardships, and helps her to see that she can be something beyond her work. Beyond what society and other men have forced her to be. She can find peace in other things such as love and friendship. The way Michael still cares for her, despite her constant betrayal, is what real love looks like. That no matter how much someone turns away from you, to welcome them back with open arms and true grace and humility, is so powerful. What a picture of God's love for us. Sometimes we might not be able to see ourselves beyond what we do day to day, but there's a greater calling for us already written. One bigger than we could ever imagine.
I'll leave this with some words from Rivers' herself:
"By the world's standards, I was successful. But it was all meaningless vanity. Now, I have joy I have everything I ever wanted or dreamed of having: a love that is so precious I can find no words to describe it. I haven't achieved this through my own efforts. I certainly have done nothing worthy to earn it or even deserve it. I have received it as a free gift from the Lord, the everlasting God. It is the same gift He offers you, every minute, every hour, every day of your life."
Francine Rivers, Afterword of Redeeming Love