Tuesday, May 18, 2010

To Love at all is to be Vulnerable

Yesterday, Holly shared a quote from The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis with me. It reflected something with which I sometimes struggle.

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to 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. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."
-C.S. Lewis

And then, last night, we watched the movie “Lars and the Real Girl”. It was a beautiful and heartbreaking story of a man who desperately wanted and needed to connect but could not find a way to do so in his own power. He created a delusion that helped him connect with those around him and gave them an opportunity to love him well. My heart broke for the character who was stuck in his loneliness, but was overwhelmed by the love those around him showed. They loved him well and it made all the difference. The movie was chosen at random, but connected so well with the earlier discussion that I actually found it hard to believe. So, my thoughts have been stirred about our need for love and connection and what it costs us to disconnect from the world.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable”. Vulnerability is one of the most beautiful and terrifying things to me. To be vulnerable is to lay yourself bare before another person and pray that they treat you with kindness, acceptance and love. It is stepping out from behind the masks we too often wear to obscure what we find lacking in ourselves. However, in order to love, one must be vulnerable. It is in those moments that I have found the most joy, and at times, the most pain.

The perception people have of me has always been important to me. As a child, I would hold back burning questions for fear that someone would think I was ignorant, thereby stunting my own spiritual and intellectual growth. As a teenager, I learned to be outgoing and “the life of the party” when all I really wanted was to stay home and lose myself in my favorite books. I recall often finding myself surrounded by people yet feeling utterly alone. In college, it seemed better to put on a happy face than to share deep struggles with the one I loved for fear that he would leave me if he really knew my darkness. All of those choices to remain behind the mask cost me something of myself and my relationships with others.

It wasn’t until one hot summer night, sitting for hours at the World War II memorial in D.C. that all of that changed for me. I truly recall that night as a turning point in my personal and spiritual lives. I was reconnecting with a dear friend and catching up on life. I shared with her some of my recent struggles and was shocked to see the amazement in her eyes. Although we had known one another most of our lives, she had never seen behind the mask of perfection I had secured between us. She assumed, as I had always let her, that my life was easy and full of right choices and wise paths. In truth, I often make mistakes and regret decisions made from emotion or fear. But, it seemed shameful to me to allow those things to be seen. But, that night, as my mask slipped from my face, it opened doors of connection and intimacy in our friendship that could otherwise never have been possible. It taught me a lifelong lesson that affects my choices almost daily.

Now, my relationships reach a depth that I had never imagined possible. Instead of feeling alone in a crowd, I feel known and loved for who I am. That is not to say that I lay my heart bare before any and all; that would be unwise. I have, however, learned to trust people and allow them to know me. Instead of numerous acquaintances, I have a few very dear and close friends. “My friend is one who takes me for what I am” (Thoreau). I no longer hide myself. I find great value in accountability. It’s important to me to develop relationships where I can be fully known and still loved. I find great joy in those relationships and am fierce about defending and protecting them. I have been loved well and have seen the heart of God because of it. That brings me unspeakable joy.

I want to love well no matter the return. I want the people I love to know they are appreciated for who they are and not what they do for or give to me. No matter the pain that inevitably comes when you love someone else, I want to look back and know that I did my part. Loving someone well, no matter the cost, is never a wasted effort.