Our beloved housecat died last week. Marvin the Cat was a mere 6 years old and in his prime. We heard a crash in one of the bedrooms and there he was, on the floor, taking his last breath. His death is a mystery. Maybe he fell and hit his head, or maybe it was a heart attack. We will probably never know.
Although my wife and I aren’t “cat people,” we came to love Marvin and accept him as part of our family. Once again, we have loved and lost. To love a person or a pet is to risk feeling the pain of separation. In fact, it’s more than a risk. It’s a certainty.
In his book, “The Four Loves,” C.S. Lewis points out this harsh truth:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping your heart intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to 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 only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
Therein lies the trap that so many of us fall into. The safety of isolation—of being a “rock” or an “island” as described by Simon and Garfunkel—also means that we will not know love.
Protecting our fragile hearts by keeping others at bay also means that we will not be truly known for who we are. The wounds of past relationships remind us to keep up the walls in order to stay safe and hidden.
So many horrible beliefs seem true when we live in loneliness and isolation. As a client of mine recently exclaimed, “If you really knew me, you would not like me.” But the opposite is actually true; the more someone knows you, the more they can genuinely love you.
In all my years of being a psychotherapist (nearly 30!), there have been very few times when I found a person to be evil when they revealed themselves to me. Yes, everyone sins and falls short of perfection, but Satan has a way of magnifying those imperfections to create self-loathing and self-condemnation. The lie is clear: Isolation makes us weak, not strong. Our hearts become hardened, like a rock, and just as senseless.
As Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” This is especially true if you buy into the idea that earthly love eventually ends in separation. The only love that never fails, that goes on forever, is godly love. There’s no hiding from it either. God knows everything about you, and yet He loves you even though the imperfections are many.
Maybe the truth is that God loves you because you have no secrets from Him. Maybe God’s love is so deep because He does understand your pain and suffering. The One who loves us cannot be taken from us. There is no need to fear separation or loss of love.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).
With this foundational truth about our security, let us embrace the “dangers and perturbations of love” by being vulnerable to others with our thoughts and feelings. During this month of February, when we celebrate Valentine’s Day to commemorate those we love, let us step out of our comfort zone and risk loving more
— by Daniel Jenkins, Ph.D.
Jenkins is a licensed clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Psychological Services in Mission Valley. He is also a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. Learn more at www.lighthousepsy.com.