To love at all is to be vulnerable….If you want to make sure of keeping [your heart] 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 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 only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from the danger of love is Hell. – C. S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”
There is a great illusion that keeps us from learning to love and be loved. This illusion is made up of many things – the belief that we are the sum of what we can accomplish; the belief that we can orchestrate everything in our lives; the naive belief that dependence on another is weakness and the corresponding belief that we stand alone because ultimately, life is competition and a matter of the survival of the fittest.
We all subscribe to this illusion, whether overtly or subconsciously. We become the slave of many self-created fears. The fear of failing. The fear of losing face. The fear of being misunderstood. The fear of letting ourselves or others down. The fear of having our hearts broken. The fear of being looked down upon, or perhaps sneered at. When we subscribe to the Great Illusion that our world and society propagates, we become like flies caught in a sticky web – we are unable to escape, and our anxieties and fears escalate until we reach emotional and psychological paralysis.
The wisdom of the world tells us it is foolish to let our guard down. It is folly to let ourselves be vulnerable, and it is weakness to admit that we need other people. Well, if we want to be wise in the eyes of the world, we could be… but then we would never taste true love, for only fools can love.
The mystery of love is that it can be received, but it can also be rejected. When our love is motivated still by our own grasping needs, we are terrified of rejection. We refuse to risk our hearts, and we become as ones dead.
But everyone has grasping needs… we are all under the illusion of immortality and omnipotence, driven as if by the belief that if we tried hard enough, or were smart enough, we would find a way to be in control of our entire lives. And then we would be free of needs. This is the conviction perpetuated by the wisdom of the world, and that which is folly through the eyes of love, and of faith.
The truth is that we have little control over what happens to us. Yet, there are some who can turn adversity into fortune, and there are those who are crippled (especially emotionally) by adversity. The problem is not with what happens to us, but with the perspective we use to look at the world.
Love requires radical trust. Not the trust that we would not be hurt, for we will most certainly be hurt. In fact, love and pain are quite inseparable… but Love itself does not fear pain, for it only deepens and becomes wiser with suffering. Love requires radical trust that love is ultimately what makes us fully human, and love trusts that if we learn to truly love, we will receive all that our hearts most desire.
Love must come with poverty in spirit… the one who has nothing to lose is the one who is able to give without asking in return. The paradox of love is this: the more deeply I love, the more lightly I will hold on to what I love. The more deeply I love, the more I open my heart to suffering, but suffering will not break me – it will till the soil of my heart to make it even more fertile.
When I enter into deeper love of my life, and the people in it, I will become less possessive of all I have… my loved ones, my good name, even my very life. For the deepest trust, and the deepest love leads to the enlightenment that none of these are truly mine. And that enlightenment will be what teaches me to empty myself so that I will replace the fearful illusion of an arrogant world with the gentle smile and the open arms of Love.
In 1997, God asked me the question, “Are you willing to suffer for me?” when I badgered Him to tell me my life’s mission so I could decide what to study in university. His question stumped me, and I wanted to say ‘yes’ but did not dare to. What would suffering entail? That’s too open a question! How could I make a commitment when I’m afraid of the possible outcomes?! But I realized then that as long as my answer was ‘no’, I would not be able to comprehend His purpose for me.
On September 11, 2006, as I knelt before the altar in church before mass, that very question surfaced in my mind again. This time I said ‘yes’. It wasn’t because I felt any braver now than I did 9 years ago, but I had greater trust in God than I did back then. It’s just a deeper belief that whatever He allows me to experience, it is good for me, and it will somehow serve His loving greater purpose, even when I fail to see how.
But it was only last week that I made the connection between God’s question for me and and the question of love. The question “are you willing to suffer for me?” is the same question as “are you ready to love Me and all my children?” If He had asked me the latter question, I think I would have said yes without as much hesitation. That’s because I didn’t realize how difficult loving is.
I understand the question better now. And whatever it is I’m meant to do in my life, if there is a purpose for which I was formed… I could only fulfill that purpose by learning to ‘lay down my life’ for others. That process will be painful because of my limitations and the limitations of others, both of which will hurt me. But doing so will allow the greatest joy to grow from my deepest pains. Afterall, in the dance of life, we must all learn to weave both joy and sorrow into our steps!