Fear of Being Loved
I remember when I took German in high school learning about what seemed like a curious cultural idiosyncrasy. The textbook assured the reader that anytime someone in German culture gave a compliment to someone else, the appropriate response was to halfway accept it, but then find a way to quickly downplay it. Sample conversations went something like:
You have such a comfortable sofa!
Thank you, but it’s really too small.
It’s like a little game of dodge-ball. Bat away the compliments. Don’t let them hit you square on.
That’s an extreme perspective of the situation. After all, it is a cultural norm and may not actually reflect the state of the people’s hearts (and it may very well be that the book was making this up for all I know). Still, what one does repeatedly tends to sink in, and thus the mentality and habit that might be taking root in the heart is, “Push away people’s love. Don’t let it in.”
I use the German example because it makes for an amusing place to start (unless you’re German in which case it’s likely offensive and I should probably be ashamed of myself). The reality, however, is that it’s far from restricted to German culture. It’s a product of every human heart to a greater or lesser extent. I have known many people over the years, friends, students, acquaintances, myself, etc., who for one reason or another push love away.
Love is dangerous. It is so dangerous that C. S. Lewis once wrote, “The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” To open yourself up to love means to open yourself up to another person, and being finite creatures, we can’t be open and invulnerable simultaneously. We must choose one or the other. But since we live in a fallen world, we have all experienced times when we have been open and were hurt somehow. As infants, we were all missed someplace because no parent is perfect, and because of this (and other experiences throughout life) we learned that to be open can be threatening. So as much as our hearts crave love, as much as we are designed to be love and need it, we are also afraid of the implications of letting ourselves be loved.
But we are designed for it. And thus we do have to take the risk. We must carefully discern places where it is safe to let ourselves be loved. We must find places where we are safe to disclose the parts of our hearts that we think won’t be accepted and aren’t lovable and let them be loved, and this must happen both with Christ and with others – the body of Christ. We must be loved, even if we are afraid of what might happen if we open ourselves up to it.
On another blog, I recently read someone arguing that practices such as sitting in silence and letting God love us is dangerous. The thrust of the argument was that you don’t see things like this directly mentioned in Scripture. I would argue that there are places, but that’s not necessarily the point I’m getting at. What I do want to note is that this person is right – it is dangerous. It’s always dangerous to let ourselves be loved because being loved requires vulnerability. Now, if you’re going to be vulnerable, God’s a great choice to do it with, but He still may open you up to things you don’t want to see, convict you of things you don’t want to deal with, ask you things you don’t want to think about, request things you don’t want to do… But again, the cost of not opening up is not being loved. And love is the transformative element in spiritual growth. If we are not loved, we will wither. As afraid of it as we are, we must be loved. Each part of us must be loved. We have to accept the compliment, sit with the frightened places that fear condemnation, offer the shameful things in our hearts to others and God and let ourselves be loved anyway. After all, “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light (we are open and thereby vulnerable), we have fellowship with one another (we love and are loved), and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” – 1 John 1:7.