Why do we run from love? Why do we run from what’s good for us?
In this life of contradictions that we are, sometimes we embrace love with all the courage in the world, and other times we run from it out of sheer terror and fear. I often tend towards the latter.
Deep down we don’t believe that we’re really worth loving. So we sabotage something that is really good, or we isolate ourselves when we’ve been invited to an event with good people who love us.
There is a profound little scene in the gospels where Peter has just caught a huge catch of fish after Jesus told him to put his net over the other side of the boat. Peter is not gobsmacked at the unbelievable amount of fish he has just caught; he is gobsmacked by the unbelievable generosity that Jesus showed him. He is so gobsmacked he can’t handle it. He tells Jesus to go away “for I am a sinful man.” Peter expresses the deep down belief of most of us, that we don’t deserve such outrageous love, especially when we haven’t done anything to earn it. But Jesus believes in Peter, knowing that Peter will stuff up (as he does later on, big time). Jesus says, no, I want you, with all your flaws, all your faults. Because I love you. In fact, you’re going to be the leader of this movement when I go. And Peter does, knowing his own weaknesses, but trusting in the love he has been given.
I heard a preacher say once that when we get to the end of our lives, one of the biggest things we are going to say is why didn’t we take more risks? We spend our lives turning ourselves away from love, keeping ourselves safe from hurt. Love is always risky, by its very nature it is open to hurt because it might not be returned. But as Mother Teresa said, love anyway.
C.S. Lewis said that we can lock ourselves away in our cocoon, safe from the world. In that cocoon we won’t be hurt, we won’t need to take any risks, and we can be sure that we will be safe. But in that cocoon you will slowly die, you will slowly rot away from who you really are, because you won’t know the freedom of living. Yes, when you love you will be hurt, but you will be alive. A heart that hurts is a heart that beats, sing U2, the band that more than any other has written the soundtrack of my life.
We run from love and find ourselves running toward the hell of our own loneliness. I do it so often I don’t even realise it. I don’t want to get hurt, I can’t bear the loss of rejection. But when I remember that love is the only way forward, and that I don’t need to prove my worth to anyone because I am already loved, then I can love others and be ok when that love is not returned. That’s not to say it doesn’t hurt; it does and I hate it. But I can cope.
Why do I walk away? Why do I run from love? There is something in me that doesn’t want to take that risk. But when you do, when you move forward in courage, you will be ok even if that love is not returned, or if it is thrown back in your face.
We love because God first loved us. That’s the incredibly fortunate position we are in. We don’t have to make the first move. It’s already been done for us. You have nothing to prove. We already have what we crave; we just need to accept it. And when we reject it, we can get up again because that love never leaves us. Nothing can take it away.
Martin Luther King said the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. It also bends towards hope and love.
I refuse to believe we are a meaningless conglomeration of atoms in the cosmic dark. I believe there is purpose in this universe, despite the hatred, despite the lies, despite the despair. Despite my brokenness, despite my lies, despite my judgmentalism, my fear, my resentments and my demand for affirmation.
God help me to run into the arms of your love, and to be not afraid to be held, to be weak, not afraid to give up my illusion of control. Help me to not run from love, but to surrender.
I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
‘Cause I need it now
To take the cup
To fill it up
To drink it slow
I can’t let you go
I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that
– U2, Acrobat
I was talking with some friends tonight, and we got on to opening up about the contradictions we live with inside ourselves, how we can appear all righteous on the outside but have the darkest of thoughts on the inside. And they can happen from one minute to the next.
I am amazed often by my own contradictions. I can be incredibly loving to someone, and then minutes later have thoughts that are so selfish I wonder where they come from. I can relate to the acrobat in the song quoted above, talking like this and acting like that. I know my own hypocrisy, how I appear to so many people, but how I at times feel like a fraud. There’s that voice inside me that tells me that a genuine person would never have thoughts that are that egotistical. It’s the voice that says you’re never really good enough.
Life is more than experiences. The endless chase for the next one won’t fill the ache in your soul…
I was speeding on the subway through the stations of the cross. Every eye looking every other way, counting down ’til the pain would stop. – U2, Moment of Surrender
On this day we remember Jesus walking the Stations of the Cross, from the place of his trial to the Place of the Skull – his crucifixion. It is a solemn route, a route of salvation through the most intense suffering.
Over the last couple of years I have become more aware of what my heart really desires. In a sense I’ve always been aware of it but growth is a gradual process. It’s a very rare person who has a lightning bolt experience of revelation.
The deepest desire of my heart, and I suspect of all of our hearts, is for intimacy. We long for connection to other human beings. It is the essence of who we are. We are hard wired for relationship.
The image in the above song line is of the way we rush through life on the subway, speeding to make a living but not stopping to make a life. The Stations of the Cross are a wonderful reflection timeline, scattered along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. This Easter is the perfect time to stop and reflect as we stop for a few days from the rush of life.
In our culture we find it difficult to stop though. It’s like we are doing all we can to cover up some pain in our lives, something that is missing. As we speed through the subway, rushing through but not stopping at the stations to reflect, our eyes look the other way, not wanting to make contact with each other. We think the fact that everyone being on their devices and not connecting with each other is a new phenomenon, something that has arisen with the advent of our devices. But if you look at photos from a hundred years ago, you will see people lined up in the street reading their newspapers. Nothing has changed, just the way we don’t connect with each other.
Why are we fearful of connecting with each other while at the same time we yearn for it? Is it because we fear what we cannot control, because we have been hurt to the point that we cannot trust anymore? Why is it that every eye looks every other way, seemingly counting down until we can finally get off that train and not feel the awkwardness of being too close to others? It’s why no one looks at each other in lifts. We don’t want to be in each other’s personal zones.
Connection to each other is what we are made for. Jesus’ suffering and brutal death is a reminder of what love will do to be close to us. It is while we were still bitter enemies of him that Jesus died for humanity, to be close, to connect and to be intimate. That is what love is, and it changes the world.
Humanity can live without success but we cannot live without meaning – Richard Rohr
When life hits you where it hurts, when something knocks you off your feet, pulls the rug out from under you and turns your life upside down, it is then that the things that really matter become crystal clear to you again.
It is said by wise people that love brings clarity. I have found that to be true. And something else that brings clarity is suffering. It is only through suffering that we grow, that we come to a knowing in our heart and not just intellectually that things like relationship and meaning are what really matter and that everything else is just superficial.
This is a major reason why I remain a person of Christian faith. The Christian movement was birthed in suffering; Jesus was known as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Being Christian and seeking to grow in my faith makes sense to me when nothing else does. It allows me to have joy (not happiness) within suffering.
Our greatest lessons in life are learned in suffering. We don’t learn that in our daily interactions with our culture. Our leaders talk about being successful and winning, and our advertising is deliberately targeted to make us perpetually dissatisfied with what we have in life. But it was the Apostle Paul, writing from prison, who said that he had learned what it is to be content whatever the circumstances.
Why was it that those first followers of the man of sorrows, people like Paul, Peter and James, repeatedly talked about joy when they were beaten, lashed, imprisoned and tortured for refusing to budge from their way of life? They were people who were living in what Richard Rohr calls the second half of life. They knew through their suffering what really mattered. They were able to count it a privilege to suffer for what was called ‘The Way’. They were able to count it all joy when they faced trials of all kinds. That idea is lost on us in a society that values comfort and ease and feeling good above most everything else. But that brings its own suffering as addiction runs rampant as we want to feel all we can and are made to believe that more and better will give us what we want.
A few months ago I walked down the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. The Way of the Cross as it is called is the path that Jesus carried his cross to his crucifixion. John’s gospel says that Jesus’ crucifixion was when he was glorified. This is another idea that is lost on an affluent society. But it is the only way to life. That is why Jesus, surely knowing what lay ahead of him, said earlier in his ministry that anyone who would come after him must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. It is why Paul later said that anyone who follows Jesus will be persecuted.
Relationship and meaning in life are what ultimately matter. Suffering is the key that unlocks these truths.
The last twenty years or so have seen an encouraging increase in the number of books being written focusing on what it means to be an authentic male in our culture. Ever since Steve Bidduph wrote his epic Manhood in the mid-1990s, the growth in the men’s movement has seen more men work towards becoming more emotionally centred and available to their families and other loved ones.
This life-giving trend towards becoming better men has been equally seen in Christian circles. Richard Rohr, Parker Palmer, John Eldredge and others have written and taught much on what a real man looks like in a culture that pressures men to be someone they are not.
Into this mix comes probably the best book I have read on being a man among men. Nate Pyle’s Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood is a breath of fresh air in the increasing volume of literature on men and their issues.
It is wonderful to see an author be so open and vulnerable about his own vulnerability about not feeling like a man for such a long period of his life. Pyle’s experience will resonate with many men in the Church, including myself. It is only in recent years that I have done a lot of work on what a genuine man looks like. Reading Pyle’s book has allowed me to breathe a huge sigh of relief that you don’t have to be a “warrior man” – as some Christian authors emphasise, to be a godly man.
“Trying to manage my…image kept me trapped, working to control others’ opinions of me rather than doing what I knew was right…I stayed on the margins of my life, acted to get into the thick of things, terrified that I was going to hurt someone, or offend someone, or mess everything up.” – Alison Vesterfelt
I used to be like this. In my teens I wouldn’t talk to anyone unless they spoke to me first because I thought I might offend them. It was really about me being scared of rejection. I’m still a people pleaser to an extent. Just last year I was told by someone at work that I was the nicest person in the office. It was a compliment but it didn’t sit right. I instinctively knew it was something that was a character flaw in me.
When I was in my early twenties, I used try to compensate for my niceness by being overly blunt a lot of the time. I did it to the point of sometimes being rude. I was a mixture of both bluntness and niceness. People saw me as kind, which I was as well, but I didn’t know then what I know now about being loving. I was deeply insecure and scared of going back to the niceness that was previously such a large part of my character. I thought that if I went back to that, I was going backwards in my growth and wasn’t being real.
These days I speak up a lot more. I’m still a bit of a people pleaser at times, but I have learned that Jesus was not a nice guy. Let me repeat that: Jesus was not a nice guy. If you think he was, you’re missing my point about niceness.
But hear this though: it’s not a matter of trying to compensate for being overly nice by being blunt, or vice-versa. Neither niceness or bluntness is necessarily loving. It’s about trusting God, surrendering everything to Jesus with the attitude he showed in the Garden: not my will but yours be done.
As Alison Vesterfelt says, these days I try to think about kindness instead of niceness. Just thinking of it like that is mind-blowing for me. Jesus was the kindest, most loving person who has ever lived. That’s the sort of person I want to be.
A former colleague and friend of mine died last week. She was too young, and left behind a husband and two kids.
People who were closer to her than I was have been comforting each other this week in their grief. It has been terribly sad to witness.
The times in my life when I have known people who have died have been times of bonding with other loved ones of the deceased. It is not shared experiences necessarily or shared happiness that bonds people. It is shared suffering. When you grieve together over the suffering of a loved one, love comes to the fore.
It’s ultimately what life is about, really. Life is primarily about the experience of loss, ultimately to the loss of our life.
Martin Luther King said once that suffering is redemptive. What he meant by that is that it is not meaningless. In a friendly universe, where the moral arc bends towards love, suffering can always be turned into good.
Jesus was known as a man of sorrows, one who was familiar with grief. He cried at the death of his friend Lazarus, he agonised over his coming suffering and death in the Garden of Gethsemane. and he cried out in desperation as he hung limp on a Roman cross. Jesus’ suffering was real, but it was not meaningless. Continue reading