Thursday, June 13, 2013
Love Is Worth It
A friend recently ended a long, undefined relationship. Although it was terribly painful, she says she doesn't regret it or consider the relationship a waste, because of how she changed and what she learned through the experience of loving this person. Her words reminded me that I used to feel the same way. Being alone for so long after an intense hurt has made me very defensive of my heart, but God does some of His best work when we open up and risk caring deeply for someone.
Over the ten-year scope of my relationship with my ex-husband, I always sensed that my feelings for him were too profound and persistent to come from me alone; that God had somehow appointed me to love this man. No matter what I did, I couldn't shake my feelings for him, even though he never fully returned them. In the years before we dated (and then late in our marriage), my tenacious love caused me a lot of suffering. But it also drove me to God, forced me to trust Him more, and stretched me in inexpressible ways. It gave me a new understanding of the depth of Jesus' love. It opened my heart and showed me the beauty and value in loving sacrificially, regardless of what you get in return.
After my ex left, I reasonably thought that I must have "heard" wrong from the beginning. If I had been meant to love him, God would have saved our marriage and this wouldn't have happened. No, it must be that I'd fallen in love, hung on like a stubborn mule, and badgered God relentlessly until He, reluctant and sighing, gave me what I wished for. I was a fool reaping the harvest of her foolishness. But eventually, I recognized that I was trying to make sense of the senseless by taking responsibility for someone else's selfish decisions. I realized that even though those years were now a pitiable waste by the world's standards, they were still valuable because of what they had done in me. Even today, I am a deeper, more complete human being because I loved that man. If God did indeed call me to that love, and even if changing me was His only purpose (I don't think it was), it would still be enough.
Inspired by my friend, and this great post about King David and his first wife Michal, I searched the Bible this week for all the direct statements that X loved Y. As an overall picture emerged, I was stunned. With a few exceptions, the Biblical stories of people who loved other people are rife with disaster and tragedy. I'm talking Game of Thrones type stuff, and not just romantic love, either – all four loves are clearly represented. I can't speculate on whether these relationships were poor decisions, "God's will," or what, but I find it interesting that these are the loves God chose to highlight in His Word. It's depressing and encouraging at the same time. To me it shows that a sad ending – or any ending – to a relationship doesn't mean God's hand wasn't on that relationship. (Just look at Hosea, a story that I still connect and wrestle with.) It's also proof that God can use even the messiest, most dysfunctional love to advance His kingdom. Not that we shouldn't use wisdom when bringing people into our lives, or let them walk all over us. But if we get hurt, if we lose everything, there is still hope and purpose to be found.
One of my favorite quotes, which I occasionally mention here, is Goethe's "In all things, it is better to hope than to despair." Well, it follows that it's also better to love than to be afraid to love. As C.S. Lewis famously said: “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.” When you've experienced real loss, it's natural to want to shut your heart away to make sure you'll never experience it again. But in the end, the thought of developing an unbreakable heart is scarier to me than the thought of reliving the pain. I want to be open even if it hurts. You can't grow when you live guarded and afraid. Love, any kind of love, is always worth it.
(I have more thoughts on love, from another angle, which I might post about next week.)