Recently, I have been learning how important it is to surround yourself with people. Not just anyone, but God-given relationships. “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20). The Lord has graciously been walking me through years of relational disappointments with various people in different phases of my life.
Slowly, but surely, I am learning that doing things my way is hurtful to myself and those around me when I do not surrender the situation to Him. Thankfully, I have since been surrounded by a group of girls from my church who were (unfortunately, but necessarily) able to speak into my life when the emotional pressure I had been suppressing just burst one night.
I like to be a very private, surface level person when it comes to answering questions about myself. I don’t like people digging deep because who knows what they’ll find!? Are they just curious? Or do they actually care about my answer? If they are simply curious for the sake of being cordial, my subpar answers should suffice. If they actually care, then I must be even more cautious. Once they know me as more than just an acquaintance, I become vulnerable. Vulnerable means breakable. Breakable means fragile and I refuse to be a china doll.
I like to be self-sufficient. I don’t like asking for help. I like my space. I don’t like being pushed outside my comfort zone. I like being alone; it’s safer there. I relate with C.S. Lewis (1960) as he admits in his phenomenal book The Four Loves, “I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as ‘Careful! This might lead to suffering'” (p. 120). I have had too many people slip into my life, take pieces of me I never intended on giving and walk away without a second glance.
Having said that, I tend to build walls in order to fortify my heart from further damage. Locking your heart in a box is safer than wearing it on your sleeves. Instead of admitting that I cannot physically handle the pain of another failed relationship, whether that be a friendship, family member, significant other…etc., I anticipate the ending before it happens so I can abandon ship before it sinks.
As a reaction, I become distant and slowly disappear as if the ocean had swallowed me up with the ship anyway. But dear, let me tell you, loneliness at the bottom of the ocean can be just as painful as letting in love…once you’ve drowned, the life tube at the surface is useless.
Now that you know a little bit of the mental struggle I deal with when it comes to making new relationships (or deepening current ones), let’s get real. I have a very unhealthy fear of intimacy. In all reality, I am selfish. I care about my own wellbeing over the desire someone else has in getting to know me. Whether I have good reasons or not, walls and disappearing acts are not tools God condones for relational resolution.
When you build walls to keep the pain out, you become numb to your own feelings (or lack of feelings) which can, in turn, hurt others because they see you as indifferent. In addition, you prevent those who genuinely do care about you from healing your broken places. Inside those walls is built up bitterness and shattered expectations festering like a wound that will consume you from the inside out.
I can fully attest to the internal, bodily struggle of being a defensive person because, as you can imagine, my coping mechanisms are far from healthy. That’s half the reason I started this blog! Writing is an outlet that I can use to turn my low points into lessons for myself and hopefully others.
Pop question: where did you get your expectations of people from? As my pastor always says, “disappointment comes from unmet expectations…” Solution: Get biblical expectations! “Therefore, since we have been surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).
Lay aside your unrealistic expectations of people and expect greater things of God. God is the standard because He is Love (1 John 4:8). Where do you stand? How clearly can you see the situation at hand? Where are you at fault? Have you checked your eye for logs? (Matt. 7:3-5).
We need to be vulnerable. We need to ask for help. We need to be honest with each other. It’s okay to get emotional. It’s okay to feel hurt, but it’s also your responsibility to make it right. You cannot control other people, but you can control your reaction. Forgive, as you have been forgiven (Eph. 4:32). Love, because you were loved first (1 John 4:19).
Love is an action and we are called to love others like God loves us. Life was not meant to be walked alone and true companionship is not limited to marriage or even your family. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Invest time into people who invest time into you and speak life into your weary heart.
I want to end with this C.S. Lewis (1960) quote because hit me like a ton of bricks and convicted my soul more than anything before. I want to renounce this kind of thought process from the corners of my mind and love out loud:
To love is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin 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 Four Loves, p. 121.
Don’t let your love change. Let God’s love change you. Step out in faith and get real with a true friend who can be your accountability partner. Share your struggles, stresses, and successes! But most of all, be brave and love fearlessly.