Made for Love
'Why doesn't God do something? I've told him how desperate I feel, but he just sits there and doesn't do a thing.'
The person who made that complaint to me was not just desperate for love but desperate for a love-partner; someone of the opposite sex with whom he could create a deep relationship.
Most people experience these longings. From the age of thirteen, or even earlier, they sweep over us from time to time, sometimes overwhelming us and sometimes hurting us with an ache which is so deep and real that it feels like a physical pain. A friend of mine expressed such inner longings in a letter to me once:
'Sometimes, (tonight!), I almost crave for someone who loves me in all ways; mind, body and spirit. I feel I've got so much to give someone, and am so longing to be given to to have my head cradled and stroked, someone reaching out to me, someone telling me they love me. I long for fulfillment sexually in all aspects, not just physically though that is a major part and to be someone else's fulfillment in return. I'm fed up with being single. When I finish writing to you I want to be able to snuggle up with someone more responsive than my hot water bottle.'
Michel Quoist writes similarly, in prayer form: a poignant poem which must have found an echo in many a heart:
I want to love, Lord,
I need to love:
All my being is desire;
yearn in the night towards an unknown one to love.
My arms thrash about and I can seize on no object for my love.
I am alone and want to be two.
I speak, and no one is there to listen.
I live, and no one is there to share my life.
Why be so rich and have no one to enrich?
Where does this love come from?
Where is it going?
I want to love, Lord,
I need to love.
Here this evening Lord, is all my love unused.1
It so happens that the longings so far expressed have all been penned by men. Needless to say, women are not exempt from such yearnings. I think of the attractive girl who admitted her innermost fears to me the other day: 'What's wrong with me? I'm twenty-four and have never had a boyfriend. Why do I feel so lonely?' Or I think of Rachel, the beautiful young girl who confided in me recently: 'I don't seem to be able to make close friendships with anyone blokes or girls. Other people can do it. Why can't I? I feel so stupid. And what if it goes on like this? As far as I can see, life isn't worth living without warm relationships.'
Rachel was right. Life without warm relationships is drab, empty, painful. We were born for love; made to relate.
The people I have just introduced have voiced some questions which vex many people who hunger for love. In this chapter, we apply ourselves to a few of them. Where does this need for love come from? Why is the accompanying all-consuming desire so hard to handle? Why are we often deprived of the love we feel we need? Did Jesus experience similar longings? If so, how did he deal with them? How can we pattern ourselves on him?
Where does this need for love come from?
I sometimes find myself hurting inside when people share the kind of turmoil contained in the letter I have quoted. It is not unlike the pain and protest I felt when I was out shopping on one occasion. On the pavement in front of me was a mother and her small child. The child was screaming. Instead of consoling her distressed son, the mother lashed out at him, thrashing him not once, but again and again until the toddler eventually fell face downwards sobbing, beside himself with shock, fear and, I imagined, very real pain.
We must beware of hitting others on account of discordance in our inner selves. It is so easy to do; almost natural. But it is counter-productive. We do it, often, because in the absence in our lives of nurturing relationships, we feel guilty and insecure. We resort to self-blame: 'I shouldn't feel like this'; 'If I was more Christlike I wouldn't need others like this'; 'If I was more mature as a Christian, more spiritual, I should be able to cope without the need for an other, someone who is special to me; to whom I am special'. It is when young people make these self-condemning comments to me that I find myself weeping inside. Their presuppositions are completely unbiblical and consequently distinctly harmful. It is hard enough to feel all alone, incapable of making relationships, unlovable. If, on top of that, you blast yourself with self-criticism you are doing as much good (or as much harm) as that mother who deliberately inflicted wounds on her weeping child.
No. Guilt, blaming, self-despising, solve nothing. We must learn to understand where this need for love comes from, and what to do with it.
The Bible unveils the source of need-love in a neat phrase: 'Love comes from God' (1 John 4:7 GNB). The yearning, the deep-felt call of body, heart and mind for the body, heart and mind of another originated in God also. The need for love is not only normal: it is God-implanted, human and spiritual.
The nature of the need
Genesis 2 underlines this fact. Here we catch a glimpse of the Creator surveying and smiling upon his handiwork, the newly-formed universe which exploded into being from his hands.
God approves. The sentence, 'God saw that it was good,' occurs like a refrain punctuating the drama of creation. But when God observes the one solitary human being in Paradise, Adam, God concludes, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him' (Genesis 2:18, italics mine).
'It is not good for the man to be alone.' This profound statement is vital to our understanding of ourselves and human nature in general. God did not intend us to 'go it alone'. God did not even create us equipped to operate solo, to live life in splendid isolation. In fact, even in the perfection of Paradise, man could not cope with his existential loneliness. God created us with an ingrained need for others; for one other, for an other.
This observation by the Creator is mind-boggling if you consider the context in which God made it. The disobedience problem had not yet polluted Paradise. God and Adam were still living in uninterrupted harmony. The fall had not yet fouled their fellowship. Even so, without human friendship, Adam suffered an intolerable loneliness.
It would appear, then, that God not only created mankind with a need to relate to others; he also created us with love-needs which he himself chose to meet not with his own presence and comfort, but through people; through a person. What Paul Simon describes in his pain-filled song I am a Rock is the antithesis of God's plan. 'I have no need of friendship, Friendship causes pain; Its laughter and its loving I disdain...'. John Donne's familiar 'No man is an island' is far more accurate. The truth is that friendship is one of the most precious gifts God entrusts to us. As Margaret Evening observes, 'Life without friendship is hardly life at all.'2 Or as the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, 'Two are better than one' (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
The image of God
Why are we so ill-equipped to walk alone? Why does God seemingly stand back and refrain from meeting some of our basic needs for love with his own felt presence? The answer to these questions also lies in Genesis, in a pronouncement made by God in Genesis 1: 'Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves...' (verse 26 JB).
The Bible gives occasional and fascinating glimpses of life
before 'in the beginning'. John 17:5, for example refers to the relationship which existed between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit before the cosmos was created. John 1:3-4 and Proverbs 8:22 also help us to understand that 'in the beginning' a relationship existed between three co-equal Persons which was characterized by co-operation, communication, commitment and two-directional love: giving love and reciprocal love.
Since man was born reflecting God's nature, it follows that he came complete with the ability to relate to others, co-operate with others, enjoy others, give love to others, and receive love from them. One of man's basic and fundamental needs is the opportunity to give love and receive it. Since man's nature is a miniaturized version of God's, man is lost when he is denied access to a human being with whom he can relate in this way. We each need a soul-friend.
This is why we should never feel guilty when we pine for intimacy. This is why we should never condemn ourselves for craving for closeness. This is why we should not reject ourselves for yearning for relationships. God created us with those desires. As John Powell puts it:
All psychological research has established this fact beyond a doubt. More important than any psychological theory, teaching, or therapeutic technique, that which heals and promotes human change and growth is a one-to-one relationship of love.'3
Contrary to the traditional English 'stiff upper lip' mentality and the current American obsession with the Clint Eastwood syndrome, independence is neither biblical nor healing. What we need is interdependent-relationships.
Coping with the pain of waiting
But what if there is an absence of close relationships in your life? What do you do with the deep-seated desire; the pining, the wanting, the waiting a friend once described to me in a letter. 'The ache is deep and so very real. I know one shouldn't idealize or fantasize and live for an unspecified date in the future when everything will be alright. I'm trying not to repress these
feelings, but to hand them to the Lord whilst they're real and present. I know in my heart of hearts that he's in control, his timing is perfect. It's just so hard. And maybe I'm nowhere near ready for marriage or to be trusted with a "lover"?'
It's hard. Very hard. Why is the waiting so hard? Is it because of our natural impatience; our obsession with instant answers; the absence of a plastic card which takes the waiting out of wanting in this area of our life? Is it because of the force of sexual attraction and sexual desire, which we shall look at in detail in the next chapter? Is it because of peer-group pressure or the subtle insistence of the media that to be really happy you must be part of a romantic partnership? Is it the power of unlocked jealousy? 'Everyone I seem to meet is either married or head-over-heels for someone.'
All of these are contributing factors, but if we are to understand ourselves and be patient with ourselves when the desire for a partner nags with the persistent, dull pain of toothache, we need to focus on the major contributing factor: the intimacy crisis. An intimacy crisis can occur at any stage in the life of an adolescent or adult. It arises when there is a scarcity of in-depth relationships in our lives; when the need for closeness feels urgent, or when the apprenticeship of intimacy seems interminably long.
The intimacy crisis
Human beings must have intimacy. Whether we recognize it or not, within each of us there is a powerful longing to create a really deep relationship with at least one other person. For some of us, this yearning is a conscious awareness. For others, the desire is deeply buried in the subconscious and is experienced as a lack in life, an inner emptiness, an absence of meaning and purpose. But this inescapable need for relatedness sets up a striving, an insatiable restlessness. This is particularly prominent in the life of the adolescent and the young adult whose main quest in life, alongside the search for a purpose for living, is this search for greater and greater intimacy in the friendships they forge.
The dictionary defines 'intimacy' in this way: 'close familiarity, a very close friend, euphemism for illicit sexual intercourse'.
The thesaurus offers a freight of rich alternatives: 'closeness, trusted, special, devoted, fond, companion, a person with whom one has a mutual attachment, confidante, comrade, fast friend, bosom friend, boon companion, birds of a feather, zealous attachment, concern', to select a few. Eliminate the odd-man-out from the above, 'illicit sexual intercourse' indeed, eliminate sexual intimacy altogether since we shall be concentrating on that exclusively in the next chapter and here you have a rag-bag definition of this often misunderstood word, 'intimacy'.
Affection, warmth, touch
Intimacy, like Liquorice Allsorts or Thornton's chocolates, comes in a variety of shapes, textures, colours and tastes; all good, all mouth-watering. It includes the need for touch, warmth, affection, 'we-ness'. This need was highlighted during the war years by some nurses who were working in an emergency hospital ward. To this ward were admitted the babies whose parents had been prematurely and tragically killed. The babies were given adequate and appropriate food, clothes, warmth and shelter. Even so, the mortality rate was alarmingly high. This trend continued until some of the nurses started to cuddle the babies. Every day they would hold them, coo over them, look down on them lovingly, just as their mothers might have done if they had lived. The infants, starved of love and hungry for touch, responded. They thrived. And the nursing profession learned a vital lesson, that food and clothing are not sufficient to meet man's inner needs. Even babies need to feel the warmth of a loving human being if they are to survive. What is true of babies is also true of adolescents and adults. We need to feel the warmth of another's care and concern and tenderness. Where such intimacy is not communicated, a vital part of us disintegrates. That is why we strive to build bridges which span the gulf between the island of our existence and the islands of the lives of others. That is why those who fail in this attempt at bridge-building become withdrawn, listless and detached from other people and the world of creativity.
Emotional, intellectual and creative intimacy
But intimacy, as we have seen, is complex. Howard and Charlotte Clinebell describe it helpfully. They speak of emotional intimacy, the delight of being tuned in to another's wavelength; intellectual intimacy, the stimulus of discovering an affinity with another in the world of ideas; aesthetic intimacy, the joy of sharing an experience of beauty with another; creative intimacy, the fun and relaxation of relating in experiences of play; work intimacy, the togetherness engendered by sharing common tasks; crisis intimacy, the bonding which happens when two people tackle problems or handle pain together; spiritual intimacy, the wonder and oneness two people experience when they come to the foot of the cross together; communication intimacy, the source of all types of intimacy.1
During our childhood most of us, if we were fortunate, enjoyed an appreciable degree of such intimacy from our parents or surrogate parents. They cuddled us, read to us, sang to us, explored with us, introduced us to the world of ideas, of nature and creativity. They allowed us to work alongside them in the kitchen, the garden, the workshop. They prayed with us, talked to us and listened to our fears and our tears, our joys and our hopes.
But during pre-adolescence and, in a more marked way, in adolescence, we began to discover the delights of independence; to untie the apron strings which would hold us to our parents inappropriately. We began to reach for intimacy outside of the confines of the immediate family circle.
The problem is that the quest for extra-familial intimacy and sexual awakening occur simultaneously. Just as we are striving to find a person or persons with whom we can make these new relationships, we are also experiencing new bodily pleasures through our awakened sexual desire, an aspect of growth and maturation which is quite as normal as the persistent and deep-seated desire for closeness. Unfortunately, the media focus attention on the body, on sexual excitation, and this introduces confusion into an already tempestuous situation. Glossy magazines collude with our
bodies to persuade us that intimacy is a one-stringed instrument. The subtle implication is that if we indulge in genital sex, sexual intimacy, all the other intimacies will come as part of the package. Through a series of touch-dominated relationships we discover the hollowness of such a belief. In fact, we discover that intimacy is more like a twelve-stringed guitar. It needs each and every string. And each string requires patient and sensitive tuning. We also discover that we are not only hungry for sex but hungry for love; that sex separated from love results not in fulfillment but in disillusionment, even in disgust, self-loathing and scarred memories. We discover that the challenge of the apprenticeship of intimacy, that long, frustrating period from the age of early adolescence right through to the early twenties, is the challenge to integrate developing bodily pleasures and wholesome relationships. And this is no easy task. The apprenticeship is fraught with fear and failure for very many people. And these inner struggles make the waiting period frustrating and hard.
The fear of singleness
One of the fears which adds to the frustration for many young people is that fear of singleness. As one friend of mine put it, 'I'm just not a career girl. I'm the marrying kind. If I felt God was asking me to be single for the rest of my life, I'd freak out or something. I just couldn't bear it.'
In today's climate, where there appears to be a worldwide shortage of Christian men, many, many girls harbour such fears and reactions. They gnaw away inside at the same time as they are trying to learn from experience the validity of certain truths: that sexual desire need not control us, it can be transcended, we can control it; that the tenderness and excitement of touch and responsible, truly loving relationships have to be integrated. This fear can still hold us in a vice-like grip at the same time as we are learning, through a variety of maturing friendships, what it means to disclose the hidden self, to give, to be open, to experience ourselves as overflowing, loving people. And, of course, this makes the apprenticeship of intimacy doubly hard.
What makes it even harder is that the craving for intimacy first knocks at the door of our lives at a time of great insecurity and rapid and obvious change: when hormonal changes introduce the onset of menstruation for girls and the unexpected emission of semen in boys; when bodily changes bring about the budding of breasts in girls and the growth of facial hair and the development of the genitals in boys; when emotional changes subject both boys and girls to swing-boat changes of mood, the apparent inability to control these powerful moods, and the phase of the obsessional crush either for a person of the same sex or for a person of the opposite sex.
Why the deprivation?
As though the apprenticeship was not sufficient challenge in itself, like the young man whose complaint introduced this chapter, we often suffer the sorrow of being deprived of love. We must now consider why this is.
Christians, I find, seem to resort to blaming God when there is a deficiency of love in their lives. They shake their fists at God, rail at him, and forget that we are not God's robots, nor are we puppets on God's string whose lives are manipulated by him. God does not pull a string here and a string there to solve our friendship problem. No. He has created us as persons with the freedom of choice: a choice he expects us to exercise in the realm of relationships.
One of the reasons why we suffer from a lack of love is that we pin all our hopes and expectations of intimacy on one person. We expect that one person to satisfy all our needs: intellectual, recreational, spiritual, social. And we fail to recognize that this all-sufficient person does not exist. If these innermost needs of ours are to be met, they must be met through several persons. By burdening one friend with such high hopes and expectations we are endangering the relationship, probably strangling it.
There is another reason for the lack of love we experience. It is the fear I mentioned earlier. This fear and insecurity clogs up our lives in the same way as dirt clogs the carburetor of a car. Our life refuses to run smoothly. It jerks and jolts through circumstances and has a disconcerting habit of cutting out,
emotionally speaking, at embarrassing moments and in irritating ways. And we seek to escape from the closeness we crave rather than take the risk of relating to others.
Did Jesus experience these feelings?
Jesus demonstrated, among other things, certain ways of forging firm friendships. How did he go about it? Did he experience the same feelings as we do?
Jesus was human. Jesus was sexual. Jesus was tempted. The Bible makes this comforting fact crystal clear. 'Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin' (Hebrews 4:15-16 GNB).
Jesus was tempted in every way that we are. Try to drink in the relevance of this verse to our present study. Among Jesus' followers were many women, some of them possibly extremely attractive. Isn't it probable that, although Jesus knew that celibacy was the Father's will for him, from time to time feelings of loneliness would sweep over him? The writer to the Hebrews suggests that Jesus identified with our humanity fully. Thanks be to God we do not have to refer to an asexual High Priest but to one who, when he clothed himself with our humanity, became a man also with all the joys and tensions that that involved.
And the mystery of Jesus is that this Man above all men shows us how to achieve true intimacy, how to be fulfilled in our relationships, and how to be fulfilled in our loving even though we may never marry. In Paradise, God alleviates man's aloneness with a woman. In Jesus, God introduces a new model to meet our need for love. The model includes a perfect interweaving of dependence on ourselves, on God and on other people.
Jesus' model of friendship
Although the prototype for human friendship provided for us by Jesus has particular relevance for people who are not married, the qualities of Jesus' style of friendship apply
equally, of course, to that unique friendship of marriage: the husband-wife friendship. But in listing some of the ingredients of Jesus' friendship here, I have in mind those readers whose quest for intimacy is pressing, urgent. My advice would be: cut your life to the pattern of Jesus.
We have made frequent mention of the word intimacy already in this chapter. In his farewell conversation with his disciples (John 14-17), Jesus defines intimacy. Intimacy is being inside of your friend, and having him inside of you (John 15:4-5). Jesus is not describing sexual fusion here, the coming together of two bodies. He is describing emotional oneness, the kind of love we first learn at the toddler level when we grow sufficiently certain of mother's love and presence to be separated from her for a period of time, to stay with a baby-minder or to attend playschool.
Intimacy is love trusting
Donald Georgen, in his illuminating study of John 14-17 5, points our attention to other essential ingredients of Jesus' style of friendship.
Friendship for Jesus included complete openness and self-disclosure. Indeed, in John 15:15 Jesus provides a definition of friendship. Friendship is making everything known to your friend. It is sharing. It is relating to him everything the Father has revealed to you. Thus the friendship modelled by Jesus is emotional closeness, being in tune with your friend; intellectual closeness, enjoying the world of ideas; and spiritual closeness, delighting in the Father's love.
Friendships for Jesus did not happen willy-nilly, by chance. He chose his friends (John 15:16). This element of controlled choice is an important lesson for us to learn. Jesus did not open himself in the self-revealing way I have described to everyone he happened to meet. Neither did he unveil his innermost secrets to all those who would have befriended him. No. Jesus was careful: selective. Wise. From the multitude, he selected seventy. From the seventy he selected twelve with whom he lived and talked and walked and shared, with whom he enjoyed intimacy. Out of this group of twelve, he made a further selection of three: Peter, James and
John. And from the three emerged one: John, the beloved.
If we seek intimacy, we must follow the example of Jesus. Be selective. Let this choosing arise from our prayer. After all, who we are and what we become depends largely on the people who love us and with whom we spend our time.
Self-sacrifice, joy, pain
One of the stunning qualities of real friendship is self-sacrifice. In Jesus' terms, complete self-giving is what friendship is. A friend is someone who lays down his life for us, and for whom we lay down our lives. In true friendship there can be no holding back. This is why the element of choice is vital and pressing. We cannot love everyone in this costly way.
Most of us want the riches of friendship without paying the price. Alas! This is not possible. There is a high cost to true loving. But it produces dividends of joy. Jesus wanted to make his friends happy (John 15:13). He believed that by sharing his joy with them, his own joy would be rounded off, complete (John 17:13).
He was equally aware of the presence of pain in friendship. He warned, for example, that the pain of separation stings (John 16:20).
Compassion, concern, non-possessiveness
Was it the inevitable intertwining of joy and pain in friendship which gave birth to Jesus' concern for his friends? We are not told. What we do know is that this concern runs through his friendships like a life-giving vein. He was concerned for their physical well-being, their emotional security and supremely for their spiritual well-being (John 17:11-12). His deepest expressed desire and burden is that his friends should remain true to God their Father. Was this the guiding principle which governed his behaviour, which prompted him to accept full responsibility for those he gathered under his wing? Again, we are not told. But if this aim becomes the gauge of our behaviour, we will not abuse this most precious gift of friendship.
Despite the depth of his concern for his friends, Jesus' friendship was never claustrophobic, exclusive or possessive.
No. It was characterized by an outward orientation and a superlative generosity. Jesus, far from being jealous if his friends loved one another, actively encouraged them to do so. Indeed, the sign that they were his friends was to be this mutual free-flowing love: 'All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another' (John 13:34). What is more, Jesus longed that his friends should become fulfilled people by discovering and pursuing their calling (John 15:16). Real friendship is this: not preventing your friend's growth, stifling his God-given ambition, or blocking his path to a fruitful ministry, but standing with him, helping him discover his gifts and his calling and then offering encouragement, prayer and support: 'You can do it.' Such friendship emulates the friendship of Jesus. It is liberating and fulfilling.
Donald Georgen concludes, and I agree, 'There is no greater love than the friendship of which Jesus speaks. The effects of this kind of relationship: the deepest and most intimate union imaginable.'6 As Jesus himself said, it is analogous to the Father's relationship with the Son (John 15:9).
Our deepest need, mankind's deepest need, is to overcome our separateness, to take risks of friendships so that eventually we enjoy the riches of intimacy. The challenge is to model ourselves on the life of Jesus, to be transformed into his likeness by the Holy Spirit. But it takes time. In our quest for a Christlike balance between self-sufficiency, dependency on God and on others, we shall fall many times. Like Michel Quoist, this failure will cause us to cry out:
'I have fallen, Lord,
I can't go on, I'll never succeed.
I am ashamed, I don't dare look at you...'
And the Lord will answer:
'Come, son, look up.
Isn't it mainly your vanity that is wounded?
If you loved me, you would grieve, but you would
Ask my pardon
And get up quickly.
You see, it's not falling that is worst,
But staying on the ground!'7
Notes for chapter one
Chapter Two || Table of Contents