I once heard a lecture where the speaker said the most tragic aspect of child abuse was not that the child suffers abuse. Although this outcome is horrifying, the speaker identified the child’s precious and innate gift of love being rejected by the parent as even more catastrophic than the abuse itself. I found this quite a provocative statement. The more I thought about it, I imagined a young child innocent and exuberant running towards an adult for contact only to be met with violence or neglect. I pictured that child’s life force gushing forward and then shunned and I wondered where the love goes if it is not welcomed and acknowledged.
When you think about it, young children are bursting with love. They smile and wave at strangers, nestle into their caretakers’ bosom and hug their dolls and teddy bears. They are like walking vessels of love until they start to experience hurt, rejection and the implementation of boundaries. Then with time they start to taper their responses giving affection when they feel it is safe and appropriate.
To love is a risk. Author C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” And indeed any time we love someone, even an animal, we set ourselves up for loss because at some point we will lose the other either to death, separation or betrayal. Given this, it can be terrifying to love. When we’ve suffered extreme loss, the heart naturally wants to protect itself for who wants to feel all the pain involved in being human? The problem though is that if we do not keep risking love and vulnerability, we risk our very humanity. When we stop allowing vulnerability, we slowly put nails in our coffin. When we numb our feelings, we die a little each day.
We all know the cliché, “it is better to have loved and to have lost than to never have loved at all.” And indeed, each time we contemplate love, we weigh our options and whether the gain is worth the potential pain. If only we realized that the more we trust love the more rich our lives become. When we love, we draw closer to God for according to scripture, “God is love.”