A friend has a new girlfriend and I asked him what he likes best about her. “She doesn’t have any drama in her life. She’s always positive, everything is easy; she doesn’t have any problems and we just have a great time when we are together.” My response: “So you think this is real love?”
In King’s Cross, Tim Keller says that “life-changing love is a substitution sacrifice; either you make the sacrifice, or they make the sacrifice, either you suffer temporarily in a redemptive way, or they are going to suffer tragically in a wasteful and destructive way. It’s at least partly up to you.”
I realized that I’ve had many relationships just like my friend, where I withheld the messy parts of my life, my anxiety, and my fears. I had a permanent “happy face”, thinking that if I revealed my weaknesses and tears, the other person would walk out of my life because I was too needy, or “too much trouble”. Other times I revealed my fears and tears and the people did walk out of my life.
Keller continues: “If you love a person whose life is all put together and has no major needs, it costs you nothing. It’s delightful. There are probably four or five people like that where you live. You ought to find them and become their friend. But if you ever try to love somebody who has needs, someone who is in trouble or who is persecuted or emotionally wounded, it’s going to cost you. You can’t love them without taking a bit of yourself. A transfer of some kind is required, so that somehow their troubles, their problems, transfer to you.
There are a lot of wounded people out there. They are emotionally sinking, they’re hurting, and they desperately need to be loved. And when they are with you, you want to look at your watch and make a graceful exit, because listening to them with all their problems can be grueling. It can be exhausting to be a friend to an emotionally damaged person. The only way they’re going to start filling up emotionally is if somebody loves them, and the only way to love them is to let yourself be emotionally drained. Some of your fullness is going to have to go into them, and you have to empty out to some degree. If you hold on to your emotional comfort and simply avoid those people, they will sink. The only way to love them is through substitutionary sacrifice.”
Tim Keller’s book has helped me to understand that Jesus died for us, substituting for our sins, and that is what real love is, when we are willing to give up our comfort and a part of ourselves to love another person.
I pray that you will share the tough parts of your life with friends and they will feel free to be open with you. Only then can a “life-changing” love be experienced, when we give up a part of ourselves for another person, just as God did for us. (John 3:16)