Today’s post is by Juliet Vedral
“We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.” –C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
It has never been difficult for me to say “I love you.” Maybe this is just my personality—I’m an ENFJ so that’s kind of our stock-in-trade. Maybe this is just my cultural background—I’m half-Italian and in some ways all the stereotypes of being passionate, emotive people are true. I hug my friends when I see them. I hug new friends after we’ve first met. It’s not hard for me to show love. Except when it costs me.
I am now over four months into a relationship that has gone from a casual, “why not?” set-up to serious conversations about serious, life-altering matters. I’ve discovered that the rules of dating are primarily defensive strategies, the cousins of the job interview technique. You carefully edit out the bad to highlight the good. Weaknesses are re-cast to appear as strengths, making you appear wonderfully vulnerable (but not high-maintenance or a mess). Above all, you guard your heart and do not give it away to just anyone.
But the strategies that work in dating will kill a relationship. When you realize that the other person is not “just anyone” it’s terrifying to open your heart, revealing its cracks and broken ruins, the messiness, the clutter, and the strengths that really are weaknesses. It’s terrifying to love when the price tag is your supposed emotional safety and the coordinates of your secret hideout, located somewhere behind your baggage and to the left of our carefully constructed defenses.
And it’s most terrifying to love when you’re not sure you’ll be loved back.
Since I began my two-year residency with the Shalem Institute’s Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative (YALLI), I’ve been on a journey to learn what it means to be Beloved by God. The question I’ve been asking myself nearly every day since November 2013 has been “what would my life look like if I truly embraced and knew (as far as it’s possible in this world) the love of God and lived out of that identity?”
The answer has never been one that makes me feel particularly “loved” in the sense of comfort or ease. Loving and being loved by God is a risky and unsafe endeavor. It usually involves self-denial and a choice to love and be vulnerable in situations in which I’d rather be defensive. You know, kind of exactly like Jesus, who was God’s Beloved Son. When considering love in the upside-down nature of God’s kingdom, I often feel like Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: “I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
But it’s more likely that here in this confusing and broken world, I’m the one who needs a new definition. In God’s kingdom, love looks nothing like warm fuzziness or sentimentality, and most definitely nothing like our comfort. It looks like God descending to earth knowing exactly what it would cost and still not holding anything back. It looks like God keeping a standing appointment in the Garden, knowing full well that Adam and Eve chose knowledge of the world over knowledge of God’s love–and still calling to them. It looks like a bruised and bloodied man, taking up his cross, the very means of his own death, and carrying it while offering forgiveness and a prayer.
In God’s economy, the coffers of love are filled not through miserly saving and limited liabilities, but through spending and investing it even in places that are risky bets. Because in this world, everything is a risky bet.
And so I found myself recently wrestling with God over this issue of love, when it came to my relationship with this man. I didn’t want to love first—what if we didn’t work out? I didn’t even want to write about our relationship for fear of having any kind of record of our relationship should it end. As someone who has made a lot of unwise investments in love, I didn’t want to make another risky bet.
Which isn’t necessarily bad advice. Collective wisdom tells us to guard our hearts and to be careful in relationships, because we might get hurt. But we can get hurt in friendship. We can get hurt in our families. We can get hurt doing any small amount of living in this world. Avoiding pain is not having “life to the full.”
Yet the invitation to love kept coming. No assurances that my fears were unfounded or new reports that would show the soundness of my investment in loving this man fully. Just the invitation to trust. To experience what it is like to love in the way that God does and trust that God will not abandon me to my fears. God spends love the way that a drunk sailor whose ship has landed spends money—without any concern about running out of love. As God’s Beloved, we are called to do the same—to love extravagantly, knowing that God’s love will always be a direct deposit in our accounts. What would it look like to live a life of love every day, unconcerned with reciprocation or keeping a record of transactions, but in full obedience to the One we love?
Because isn’t that where we most encounter God? It’s not through self-protection, self-preservation, or less living. As the Beloved, Jesus didn’t hold back from loving this world because he drew from an endless source of love. The more we live and love freely, the more we can find God incarnate in the moments of joy and grief and pain and laughter.
So last week I told this man in far too many words that I wanted to love him, because he was God’s Beloved and therefore worthy of being loved well. I don’t know what will come of this relationship, but I what I do know is that I am my Beloved’s and He is mine. It turns out that despite the risk to my own comfort, God’s steadfast, unfailing love has proven to be the safest bet I could ever make. May God’s unfailing love rest upon you, even as you hope in him today.
Juliet Vedral is a member of the YALLI class of 2015. She is the editor of a literary magazine called The Wheelhouse Review and was recently the press secretary for Sojourners. You can follow her on Twitter.