Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Harder Love

I have been made painfully aware of an addiction these past few months, an addiction that crawled in quiet and made a home in my life before I even knew its name. I’m still trying to learn how to evict the unwanted vice, but at the least I have named it now. I call it Entitlement.

I talk a lot about love, or at least I used to, before I figured out how little I really knew. This post has been heavy on my heart for a long while, and I feel it needs to be written-- maybe mostly for my own sake.

I find it interesting how I can begin to abuse the term “love.” I call a lot of things love that really are not love at all. I have noticed that what is often labeled love is actually control, or a need for validation. I say I love friends, but I can feel cheated and abandoned when they don’t answer texts fast enough, when they pay more attention to another friend, when they go through a time when they really don’t feel like talking. I say I love my family, but make cynical comments or isolate myself. And when I was younger and fell in love, so often what that looked like was an obsessive compulsion to drink deep every bit of affection and attention the other person had to offer, to want things they never had to give. These things are not really love, yet I have lived all of them at some point, and it haunts me.

I have learned that these places often fall under the name of entitlement. If, for example, I feel I have a need for my friends to know me a certain way, to talk to me at certain times, to act as I have decided they should-- this is me feeling I am entitled to something. I become so blinded by what I think I need that I couldn’t see what I do have, what I am offered. Granted, there are certain base-level expectations we should have. For example, I generally expect that if we’re hanging out, you’re not going to raid my room and replace my Skillet merch collection with Taylor Swift memorabilia-- some things are just basic, reasonable expectations necessary for healthy relationships. I’m trying to discuss here an entitlement that ultimately places all of the focus on ourselves.

And this is the reality I have found: when I feel entitled to something, when I am eternally expecting others to provide for me in ways they were not meant to, I become restless, bitter, disillusioned, and lonely. It’s when I lay down my pride, my sense of entitlement, and instead seek to take in everything I have and to truly express gratitude for it, that suddenly I’m able to recognize how much my needs are provided for. Peace is born in the place where entitlement dies.

That can be the absolute hardest thing to live practically. It means reaching into lives that are broken and being willing to love, even without any return or even a promise that my love will be able to heal anything. I am not entitled to what I would consider to be a satisfying ending to every relationship. I am not entitled to the role of hero, and I am certainly not entitled to safety.

I am not arguing for an attitude of masochism, constantly stating that you don’t need anyone, severing all relationships that are beautiful-- that is pride, and in fact the opposite of what I’m trying to say. My point is that when we let go of this attitude of demand, most of our relationships are more likely to be beautiful regardless of the circumstances they create. We gain freedom to enjoy what we are given without always looking over our shoulders, wondering what everyone else has that we don’t. We get to choose to seek joy in the deepest love possible... regardless of what we lose.

I have a very, very patient boyfriend named Jordan. He was one of my best friends throughout highschool, and at that point I cared about him in a very different way than he cared about me. Because of this, I had to learn some very, very hard lessons about how to not expect anything more than what he was offering. I remember vividly the first time I understood this, when I was in Nashville for New Years with my family a few years ago. We met up with Jordan and his dad for just about two hours to get dinner at a Panera across from our hotel. For those two hours we talked and we laughed and I tried my hardest to soak in every second, knowing I might not see him again for a very long time.

After they left, I sat in a hotel room alone and cried for two hours. I missed him terribly, I had no idea if I’d see him again any time soon, and the worst part was that I knew that he didn’t miss me anywhere near as much. Later, standing on a hilltop near midnight, watching city lights burn bright, I began to understand for the first time. It wasn’t about what I was losing, what I might never have, about the terrible ache of a wish unfulfilled-- it was about the fact that I’d had those two hours, those conversations, those moments. They had been given to me like a gift, so undeserved. I knew then that I wanted to love in such a way that two hours would be enough, that I could enjoy even those short moments with a beautiful sense of receiving a gift-- even if I never got to see him again, even if he never did miss me, I still had those two hours. I would love enough to let go.

This is a part of what I’ve had to learn all over again, years later. I look at my friendships and realize how much they are marred by my pride, and it’s incredibly humbling. My expectations seek control, forever fearing that they’ll be contradicted. I build and destruct until I have formed the loneliest empire, a world where I am eternally afraid of what I do not know.

I am learning to live open handed, to feel entitled to nothing more than what God is granting, for this moment, at this time. I am learning surrender in surprising places, and I am learning that when I unclench my fists, joy falls to fill the hollows of my hands. This is the harder love, the love that surrenders to whatever is offered, whatever is given. This is a work in progress. This is worth the journey.

- Elraen -

Oh Lord, how long will I be haunted by the fear that I believe?
My hands like locks on cages of these dreams I can’t set free.
But if I let these dreams die, if I lay down all my wounded pride--
if I let these dreams die, will I find
that letting go lets me come alive?
- Tenth Avenue North


Candi Michelle said...

Wow! That is so awesome! That you found this out, that you know it, and just...everything! What great post! I'll be praying for you!

Eclectic Elegance said...

I'd never really thought about this topic this way. Wow. :) Lots of thoughts for me to mull over now. :)