“The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering.” C.S. Lewis
“How can a man born upside down know when he is right side up? G. K. Chesterton
Love is costly and risky, but well worth it. As I write that, I can hear you saying, “Duh! Tell me something new, will you?” Then I imagine you deciding you are not interested in anything else on this page. However, hang with me for a bit.
That old adage, “it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all,” but in the pit of our pain, we wonder. Relational pain causes us to put our hearts in a protective sleeve assuming the barrier we place around ourselves will be sufficient to protect us from further hurt. Here’s the problem; we are completely unaware of the deepest longing of our heart, and we go about searching to fill that hole with any number of idols we grasp to bring us peace, comfort, and happiness. These are second order desires. Protection comes in many different forms. We develop unconscious patterns and habits of relating to others that we unknowingly believe will protect us and keep us emotionally safe. We attempt to protect or “save” our life, by being overly rigid, or overly flexible, by managing everything, or managing nothing, by staying busy, or checking out, by acquiescing in an attempt to avoid conflict in response to someone else’s attempt to control, by talking, talking, talking, or saying nothing. This is upside down living. G. K. Chesterton asks, “How can a man born upside down know when he is right side up?” We fear rejection and we will do anything to keep our false self-image intact. When Adam and Eve disobeyed in the Garden, they refused to take responsibility for their choice; they hid because they were naked and ashamed, and shame makes us feel naked and exposed. Thus, like them, we also hide. This protection is what Jesus called “saving your life.” It is relational sin. We employ these strategies to protect ourselves. As the veneer of our self-protection wears thin, emotional, psychological and spiritual discomfort rise, and we encounter a shocking realization, a deep loneliness. Slowly over time, we gradually become acutely aware something is very wrong. This awareness of something missing opens up the ache in our soul. The pain of broken dreams brings us to our knees and sometimes shatters what we think is a “well put together life.” This forces us to lean over and peer deep within, asking questions with elusive answers to address the painful sorrow we experience in these broken and shattered dreams. Knowledge does not always equal understanding.
C.S. Lewis lost his mother at nine years old, and his father was angry, distant, demanding, and eccentric. He states he learned an early distrust of emotions deeming them uncomfortable, embarrassing, and dangerous. He unconsciously chose to protect himself as a child and hide his heart, from these dangerous feelings. He turned to atheism. When you can’t understand and make sense of the painful parts of life, it is easier to dismiss God than to grapple with the answers to painfully hard questions. Some said Lewis never asked questions he didn’t know the answers to. His sharp mind, educational training, and later his return to Christianity led to him to grapple with life’s deepest issues, and he became known by many as one of the most influential Christian apologists of our time.
God created us with deep longings in our hearts for connection, to live in community, to love and to be loved. We long to know and to be known, we do not realize that our deepest longing is a search to fill our empty heart with only what God can give. Lewis quoted Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” St. Augustine. Lewis’ relationship with his wife, Joy, brought him to open his heart and truly love. Something he had never done. He exposed his heart to experience love. Nevertheless, it came with a price. True love always does. Her death forced him to look at his own “well put together life.” He realized the pain of losing his wife stripped him of that protection, and he found himself open and vulnerable in a place not experienced before, stating, “Pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world.” After Joy’s death from cancer, Lewis had to admit that he did not have all the answers. In this journey of sorrow, he wrote A Grief Observed. The “Shadowlands” movie portrays his own shoes on the road of a shattered dream journey. Douglas, his wife’s son, was about the same age as Lewis when he lost his mother. This event forced him to face the old wound from losing his own mother, and him and Douglas forged a new relationship.
Lewis stated, “The boy chose safety, the man now chooses suffering.”
This is the question for you. What will you choose; safety or the suffering that may come as you begin to love others differently, a new way. This is what Christ calls losing your life, to find life, to embrace the larger story and be willing to pay any price to make the larger story come to life, both in yourself and in others. Embrace this or you lose the power to tell the larger story. Christ is our example. For the joy set before Him, he endured the cross and while there, he reached toward others seeking the best for them and us, paying the ultimate price. He loved differently, “not returning evil for evil, but giving a blessing instead.” I Peter 3:8. First in asking Father’s forgiveness for those who mocked, stripped, beat him, and nailed him to the cross; then to the thief pronouncing his entrance into heaven, lastly charging John with the care of his mother. Finally, he committed himself to Father for our ultimate freedom to love as He does.
Perhaps you hurt over shattered dreams. Your life has just not turned out as you envisioned, much less hoped it would, and broken relationships, either in your marriage, in your immediate family, or in your family of origin, cause deep agonizing, unrelenting pain. You turned to something else to manage the pain of loneliness. You leave or you stay in the fray, either way, you put your heart in a bubble vowing that no one will ever hurt you again. Perhaps an addiction has taken over your life, or a loss of interest in things you used to care about, along with constant fear, anxiety, bitterness and anger. Although you find yourself surrounded by people, you find your heart screaming to be known, and longing to be loved in the depths of your being. And God? Yes, what about God? Do you have glimpses, of how life could be different and you are ready for a change and a different answer to the emotional pain you carry?
Alternately, are you living your life taking risks, taking the chance to be open and vulnerable, with those you are in relationship? Are you committed to the well-being of another at any cost to you, allowing what is alive in you to penetrate and touch the deepest part of what is alive in them? Have you considered the possibility of stepping out of the cocoon you put around your heart, becoming vulnerable to learn to love and live differently? The Abundant Life that Jesus talked about is being able to love ourselves, love God, and love others as the Father and Son love one another. It is reaching deeper to find what is alive in the deepest recesses of your heart. This is right side up living and losing your life to find life.