“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.”
~ C.S. Lewis
I remember the first time my heart was broken. I was 7 years old, and my best friend had moved away from the neighborhood. The first time we spoke on the phone long-distance, she said very matter-of-factly, “My mom doesn’t want us to talk anymore. We can’t be friends.” I cried and tried to plead with her to recant her decision or convince her mom, but it was entirely futile. We hung up the phone, and I was left bereft and betrayed.
A child’s broken heart is only the beginning of many moments in our lives when we experience emotional brokenness. But, for a child, the heart remains open to loving others freely and without reservations, because the innocence and lack of life experience trumps the hurt and pain. As adults, we become jaded by heartbreak, however it may come; in turn, we often close ourselves off to authentic relationships in various ways: superficiality, extreme introversion, putting on facades, etc.
Vulnerability, in a spiritual sense, seems akin to weakness for many in our society. To become vulnerable implies revealing our weaknesses, our brokenness, our faults and even our honest feelings – all possibly to our detriment. Instead, the world tells us to be “strong,” to carry on without the slightest indication that life is amiss with suffering, to put on our “happy face” or at least take our “happy pills.”
Learning to love as Jesus loves us requires incredible courage, however. He demonstrated vulnerability at its extreme through His paradoxical broken heart in the Garden of Gethsemane, his beaten body on the journey to Calvary, and his brutal death on the Cross. Was this supreme act of love weak? On the contrary, it was the bravest and most valiant of loves that the world has ever known. And we, though broken and bruised by shattered relationships and weary souls, must continue to journey onward toward vulnerability.
C.S. Lewis hit the concept spot-on with the introductory quote. In this month of heart-shaped chocolates, corny love songs, and fuzzy teddy bears, we really must look to what authentic love entails, what Jesus requires of us if we honestly long to bear the burden of love as He did for us. We must ask ourselves if we are willing to take the risk of being ignored, rejected, and ridiculed – for the sake of loving another. If love is worth the risk, as it always, always is, then we must choose to become vulnerable and allow Jesus to break open our wounds, exposing them to the possibility of rejection but also to the possibility of acceptance and conversion.
If our goal is to will the good of another, as is the definition of love according to St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, then we have to cast aside our fears of rejection and scorn. In order to become vulnerable, to share our innermost thoughts and feelings – essentially to be torn from the inside out – we must always keep at the forefront of our minds the other person whom we love. This might mean sharing a difficult truth that the person needs to hear – knowing that s/he may be angry at us or even never speak to us again. It might mean allowing ourselves to weep in front of another – realizing that the person may be uncomfortable and not respond at all to our attempt at sharing such broken love.
Only through the brokenness of vulnerability do we truly become whole. I remember a time in my life when I put up thick barricades around my heart, because I was tired of losing friendships or enduring horrific romantic breakups. The root, I believed, was my longing and attempt at digging more deeply into the hearts of the other persons, to reveal through authenticity and honesty that love is difficult but always worth the effort and risk we put into it. Over time, my heart had been so battered and annihilated that I wondered if I was even capable of loving someone without the fear of abandonment.
But the Lord softened me when I came to Him with puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks. Sometimes sobbing at night over the loneliness and chronic ache in my chest, I poured myself out for and to Him, always coming back to the question, “What do you want of me, Lord?” And the answer was always – always, without exception – to keep on loving.
You see, friends, the world has enough of the tough exteriors, silent responses, and phony optimism. Love is only genuine gift when it is given away, and it can only be offered through sacrifice. That often entails sacrificing our own comfort or desire for reciprocal affection. When we touch someone’s heart in such a way that they are changed – deeply transformed – we give them the ultimate gift of a vulnerable love.
Sometimes loving another person results in tragic disconnection or disengagement. Sometimes it means the person confronts himself in such a way that healing can only happen when he is ready to face the deep-rooted wounds of his past. And many – most – people are not ready for that kind of transformative love. So when they encounter you, or you encounter them, and they see a reflection of the wounded Christ in the way you love them, they might run away. They might fight against such a gift, because it is so powerful and satisfies the longing of every human heart.
But don’t turn away, and don’t give up on being not only Jesus’ hands and feet, but mostly being His heart. We are called to accompany others in their suffering and brokenness, though the task is certainly an arduous one. In turn, we will find our hearts being trampled upon and brought to the brink of death. This mystical martyrdom must not be forsaken. Do not abandon it in favor of a comfortable existence. Instead, take the brokenness from others that was inflicted upon you, and hand it to Jesus. Place your wounds inside His wounds, and He will make your heart whole again, so that you may continue to give of yourself – to pour yourself out time and again, without counting the cost. Then, and only then, will love become complete and efficacious in the world – through you.