“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I decided this year that I wanted to stop living from the old places in my life, decided to put away the wounds that weren’t “me” anymore, and move forward to embrace joy. I didn’t realize that in letting go of the old, I would open my heart up to a completely new set of wounds, the sort of wounds you receive when you really love, when you really are.
When I was going through all the things that broke me, this quote by C.S. Lewis resonated with my growing cynicism. I knew I had to love, and vulnerability, as I understood it then, was at least a desirable (if somewhat drama-inducing) trait. This morning, however, I saw things through a different lens.
Recently, I’ve been experiencing some relational fall-out from a few unexpected places, and things that have been clear between me and God have come up under some scrutiny that has had me questioning everything. I have been reaching to love others, regardless of who they are, but love does require that I lower my walls – the angry walls that I put up to keep me safe – and as I love from who I’m becoming in Christ and love from where I am, I have found myself suddenly exposed to old voices that I thought couldn’t affect me anymore, because God, right?
Growing up, I learned to keep a constant eye on myself and my heart to make sure that I was “okay with God.” There were right things and wrong things and doing the right things indicated that I was a good Christian. Doing the wrong things meant that I must not be walking with the Lord, that I must be convicted or confronted about sin. The Bible was full of “guidelines” for figuring out the right things and for dealing with the wrong things.
So was the Law God gave to Israel to keep.
When Jesus came, fulfilling the Law by clothing us in the righteousness of God, He didn’t intend for us to become “better” Pharisees. He intended life for us – life for me – life that could be lived to the full. This is what grace enables before God: unselfconsciousness. God always meant for us to have that – it was how He made Adam and Eve, and it is all over the Old Testament as He sought out the people who would know Him.
(If you read through the books of the prophets, you find His broken heart, God who wanted to give everything of Himself and all the good things beside, trying to decide what to do with His own vulnerability. Being unable to deny His own self and His hatred of sin and sin in us was the dilemma that ultimately led to the Cross.)
Over the last few years, I have come to see that there is nothing else for me but Jesus. No other name, no other spiritual act, no constant accountability that can ever be a measure of my relationship with God. Because of Jesus, God and I have a conversation, the ongoing kind where we talk about what matters to Him and I talk about what matters to me, and we literally do life together with Him being my Father and me being (quite predictably and petulantly sometimes) His child.
My spiritual maturity has nothing whatsoever to do with my ability to lead in a church; it has everything to do with my understanding of God, that “I Am with you always, even unto the end of the earth.” I know He laid His hand on me from the time I was a child; I see His presence there always, being the God that I needed, being eternal I Am within all my moments. This is how I know His love, and how I know it does not depend on my action or inaction.
So I know now that “loving someone” means “being” in that person’s world. It isn’t some rational, quantifiable give-and-take. It is “putting on flesh” and leaving off “guidelines” to lay your life down so that someone else can know what love really is. It is being honest about who you are and leaving room for others to be honest about who they are. And, in my case, it may also mean getting your heart broken on repeat because you can’t hold onto things that others can’t let go.
As I lay in bed this morning, listening to my husband talking to me about God over the noise of the voices trying to convince me that my whole life is “wrong,” I realized that the rawness of this me-in-God-and-God-in-me thing is vulnerability. That having faith that He and His righteousness will ever and always be enough for me is the biggest risk I will ever take – and it is the biggest reason that many I love will judge me and push me away. This is vulnerability at its hardest: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”
There is no room for my walls now, because walls are built out of fear, and there can be no fear in love. I don’t get the right to say to someone anymore: “well, you’re judging me, so I’m not going to bother with you.” I have to go on being me, in Him, with them, and let Him do the work He’s intending to do – both in me and in the other guy.
The old places were easier. Safer. More predictable. But my Life isn’t there, so now we have to figure out the “being me” with others when it hurts part. As a friend of mine shared this week, some things you just have to surrender to walk unselfconscious out into your life: “Take this, I put it on a plate and hand it to you, give me your plate instead, God.”