My sister just delivered a ten pound, one ounce baby girl last Wednesday. She is absolutely gorgeous. As I sat holding her, I thought about how helpless she is and how her very life depends on her parents' love and care for her. My niece, like every other baby, came into this world with a God-given expectation to be loved. We all did.
And then life happens to us.
I grew up in an environment of continual goodbyes. It was a reality of being a missionary kid. Life was a revolving door through which people came in and out of constantly. Someone's departure or arrival was continually shaking up "normal" for me. I did not know how to love people and protect my heart from the deep scars burned on my soul from those goodbyes. Because of the small size of my community, the same people were in almost every part of my life. Graduations at the end of the school year meant that I may never again see those I said goodbye to. I still get a gnawing sense of dread when I hear "Pomp and Circumstance." I sat in the bleachers and bawled at my son's eighth grade graduation even though he wasn't leaving home for another four years. I am sure those around me thought I was being overly dramatic.
There was a slow and steady erosion going on inside me concerning my ability to love that I was not aware was happening. I married my husband seven years after my own high school graduation. The first time I was confronted head on with what had been hidden inside of me was when I attended a women's retreat as a very young mom. It was through the speaker's own transparency that her voice became my own. She had lost her father at a young age. Tragically, she decided she would marry a man whom she could love at arm's length. A good man, one who loved Jesus, but a man whom she had convinced herself she could survive losing if life ever took him away from her. She loved him, but never allowed herself to love the way her heart longed to love him.
Her words so perfectly summed up my own thinking about my marriage and, suddenly, I realized how I had tried to protect myself from the possibility of being crushed emotionally should I ever lose my husband. All eyes were on me as the sobs welled up out of a place in my soul that I did not know existed. I ran from the room to try to compose myself. The truth had penetrated the fortress I had unconsciously constucted to try to protect myself from the risk of loving and being hurt.
Loving at arm's length is one of the greatest tools used by Satan in our families. That mindset is selfish. It is cruel. It robs us of so much. It doesn't let us live fully with those who deserve to be loved with no self-protecting conditions placed on them--like our own children whose tender hearts can be easily and irreparably damaged without the grace of Christ. Those who are innocent are the most deeply hurt when we are convinced that loving them fully is too great a risk to us.
The Lord has been so patient with me, so very faithful, as He has taken my bruised and deceived heart and tenderly replaced the lies I had believed about loving deeply being too risky for my heart.
Is love worth the risk? I have asked the question a thousand times.
I am a person who needs to see that something is worth the risk before I try it myself. God the Father knew that. He knew Shawn Lantz would be born and that empathy would be the most powerful way to reach my scarred heart. And so He provided His perfect Son to a world that would reject Jesus Christ and not love Him back. Jesus endured betrayal, misunderstanding, unfathomable injustice, and was killed for loving those who were blind to the healing His love offered to their scarred and broken hearts.
Because Christ risked so much in loving me, I can love through His strength in those very areas where I used to shut down my heart. I can face the fear of rejection, goodbyes, and grieving deeply without walking away emotionally destroyed.
Is love worth the risk?
I am slowly learning the answer to that question is a resounding yes!
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:11-19 (NKJV)