You can’t live halfway between love and indifference. One or the other has to win in the end.
I’ve been thinking about this more and more lately because I continue to struggle to love in the ways I’d like to. A year ago this week, I wrote something fairly long about love in the broadest sense — and it’s something I’m still trying to come to terms with.
The natural way of this world is to ultimately experience something worse than hate. It’s for indifference, but it’s broader than that. The way of the world leads to a cold, hardened and callous heart. Hate can sometimes be part of it, but in its most extreme form, it’s indifference and a complete lack of feeling anything.
I believe we ultimately face two choices.
On one side, there is turmoil, anger, envy and judgment. Most “realistic people” — who have had their hearts hardened by disappointment in others — default to living closer to hate than to love, but ultimately they settle into a cold indifference.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have moments of genuine love and clarity and understanding, but it means they have walls around their hearts. Such a person is ready to defend himself so much that he does the “safe” thing and removes vulnerability from his life.
He becomes hard. He becomes mean. To one extent or another, he lets fear and hate rule his life, even if he goes to great lengths to call those things something else. And I think these are the things we see reflected to a very great degree in popular culture and social media.
On the other side, there is love, understanding, intimacy and vulnerability. There are all the things that make life worth living — but in order to experience those things, you ultimately must give up the way of the world.
Someone who discovers this other side — the side of love and understanding — is faced with a choice. To genuinely live that life requires changes which are terrifying. Living a life of mutual love requires giving up a focus on the things the world claims are important.
Living in love requires complete change, because partial change won’t stick and it will leave a person conflicted and torn apart inside.
To live in love means giving up some things at first. It means giving up the habit of judging. It means giving up the spectacle of politics as a team sport. It means giving up the pleasure of making fun of people who might well deserve to be made fun of. It means giving up the indulgence of our desire to prove we’re right and that everyone else is wrong.
When I mentioned some of this earlier today, a friend mentioned that a popular book called “A Course in Miracles” asks the question, “Would you rather be right or happy.”
“I perceive much of what you raise regarding how we treat each other as a constantly reinforced goal of always wanting to be right and avoid doing the hard inner work to tackle our own insecurities,” my friend said.
He’s right. Much of the ugliness I see in the conflicts between people — both online and offline — come down to the fear of being wrong or the fear of being seen as wrong. As I look at my past, I know I’ve experienced that fear and I’ve sometimes acted in ugly ways as a result. That realization now sickens me and it humbles me.
I remember when I used to participate in online discussions — on early message boards at various online venues — and I would find myself viciously attacking people who I believed were wrong. In many cases, I continued arguments well past the point of the discussion becoming personal flame wars simply because I felt afraid people would believe I couldn’t respond if I didn’t respond.
I don’t regret any of the intellectual positions I took in such discussions, but I do feel ashamed of the ways in which I treated people at times. I didn’t actually hate them, but I was indifferent to them as human beings. I simply needed to be right — and I was terrified of what people might think of me if they thought I was wrong.
As I have slowly come to understand my need to love — in the broadest sense of the concept — I have had to start changing. But I’ve discovered something even worse. To live with one foot in love and one foot in the world is horrible, because you realize what you’re seeing around you — even what you realize you’re part of at times — and you have full awareness of the ugliness.
I’m slowly becoming better at focusing on the things that matter to me and trying to eliminate focus or concern about things I can’t control, but I’m nowhere near where I need to be yet. I’ve had to start heading down that path in an active way, because being so aware of what I see in the world will either destroy you or make you become one of the partisans trying to destroy others.
I have had to cut some people and some activities from my life, not because I hate them but because my interactions with them were unhealthy and kept me at a point of not being able to experience the love and inner peace that have come to be so important to me.
And that’s one of the secrets. You have to either love completely or else walk away from something or someone. Whatever you allow in your life that you don’t love is a serious threat to destroy you, because that thing is always going to tend to pull you toward anger, hate and — ultimately — indifference and callousness.
A love that’s halfway isn’t real love. It’s not an emotionally safe place to be. And attempting to live such a thing will ultimately consume you in unhealthy ways as it pulls you back toward the way of the world.
In his book, “The Four Loves,” the late British author C.S. Lewis explored different kinds of love. He warned of the danger of keeping a heart safe and invulnerable.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable,” Lewis wrote. “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even 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. To love is to be vulnerable.”
I’ve always been struck by one line from a song on a Gungor album from a year or two ago. In a cover of the song, “Land of the Living,” they sing, “You cannot love in moderation.”
That line pierces me, because I know it’s true.
You have a choice between two very different ways in this world. You can choose to love — in the broad and genuine sense which I believe was intended by our Creator — or you can emulate the culture around you. You cannot walk both paths. You cannot consistently walk between the two paths, either. Trying to do that will tear you apart.
I’m still struggling with this, but I do know a few things.
I have to keep cutting out the things of the broader world — the hard things of a cold culture — which pull me back toward the wrong way of thinking. That includes politics, news and much of what passes for popular culture.
I also have to choose carefully who I allow in my life and who I allow to influence me. I’m not strong enough — and nobody is strong enough — to be bombarded by bad relationships and still remain loving and emotionally healthy. Trying to do so is a path to depression and hurt and pain. You won’t be the one who can live with lukewarm love — or fake love — and remain whole. Instead, your heart will be broken — and you will be sucked back into all of those things on the dark path that I’ve called the way of the world.
I’m still struggling with all of this. I’m not where I need to be, but I’ve come too far — I understand too much and I’ve experienced too much of the light — to turn back to the way of the world now.
As long as I’m struggling to completely make the healthy choice, it tears me apart. I have to reach the point of breaking ties with all lukewarm love — and with all of the world which isn’t healthy for me.
This isn’t something we see modeled very often — if ever — so it’s really, really hard. But once you’ve tasted what living in love can be like, it’s very foolish not to walk toward the light of love with an open and happy heart.