The coffin of selfishness

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to 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. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

This has long been one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes, from his book “The Four Loves.” It has inhabited the “About Me” section of my Facebook page for years, and I have referenced it occasionally in conversations with others. A couple weeks ago, I heard someone else reference it for the first time, as one of the pastors at a youth conference I was attending taught on the need for us to be more vulnerable in life.

C.S. Lewis provides incredible insight into many aspects of life, and this quote is amazing in that as much as it applied when he first wrote these words, it applies far more today. Our world has been progressing toward individualism for decades, as technology becomes better, smaller and more “personal.” From the creation of the “personal” computer, we have seen this focus on the individual. Heck, virtually every Apple product or application starts with the letter “i,” and this has been done intentionally to direct people towards their own individual lives rather than the community.

We learn about personal responsibility and the need to contribute for ourselves in the world, and it is absolutely true. But everything we do today aims toward a level of loneliness. Even the process of writing this blog involves me sitting up late at night in an empty room. Facebook is the epitome of a lonely generation – its incredible ability to (re)unite us with people we rarely (if ever) see (anymore) allows us to feel as if we are still a part of a group. It allows us to maintain “friendships” that 10 years ago would have inevitably faded as distance and lack of involvement prevented us from keeping in contact. But in the end, it simply isn’t real.

Another example comes in multi-player gaming. Twelve years ago I remember classic slumber parties with groups of friends that involved one Nintendo 64, four controllers (preferably with RUMBLE PACKS!) and one GoldenEye game cartridge. Hours of entertainment. Today, multi-player gaming involves logging onto XBOX Live and chatting with and shooting other people while sitting in an empty room. We still talk to other people, but not in the same way.

Obviously, as we grow up and friends move away, this sometimes becomes the only way we can spend time together and stay involved in each others’ lives. Physically hanging out together simply is not an option anymore.

But read that quote again. And this time, think about how much all of these things fit as perfect descriptions of the way we live our lives. We are being trained to be social without the physical presence of other people. The “Social Network” opens our lives to so many things while limiting us to ourselves. And as much as we need to take personal responsibility for our lives and actions, here’s an unfortunate truth that none of us wants to admit: we can’t do it alone.

We are trained to eliminate vulnerability. Discover your areas of weakness and squelch them, hiding all signs from anyone else so that he/she doesn’t have a chance to exploit it and bring you pain. Eliminate emotion and spirit, allow only the shallowest aspects of your being to manifest themselves as you relate to others. This way you are not hurt. There is no pain, no loss, no betrayal.

Now read the quote one more time. More importantly, read the last sentence. “The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” Now I think we can all agree that we are not in Heaven. So where does that put us when we create an artificial environment where we cannot be hurt?

The sad thing is that most of us don’t realize we are doing it. We become increasingly self-focused as we share less of ourselves with others and invite less of others into ourselves.

The most terrifying result of this progression is not in our individual expression but in the resulting failure of the Church. You see, as we focus on ourselves as individuals rather than ourselves as a relational unit, we fall further and further from the model set by the most successful church in history – the early church in the book of Acts.

Read the first few chapters of Acts and you see a church not focused on evangelizing or serving outsiders, but on seeking God in community with each other. In the perfect example of Jesus’ call in Matthew to seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and all the other things will be added, members of the early church met together constantly and devoted themselves to a unified growth in Christ.  As a result, we learn repeatedly in those chapters that the Lord added to their numbers daily. They grew: first in community and spirit, and as a result in numbers.

But in that time the meeting together involved much greater risk. Society didn’t allow for open meetings of Christians; the simple gathering was a practice in active vulnerability. They relied on each other, literally giving all they possessed in order to ensure that everyone had what he/she needed. They were completely open with each other, sharing their shortcomings and failures and working together in a quest to discover God. And they were successful.

Yet we are taught the opposite. Hold it in. Don’t share because sharing leads to pain and betrayal. And I’m here to tell you that is absolutely true. Anyone who has known me long enough knows that I have experienced heartbreak and betrayal after opening myself to others, and anyone who has known me long enough knows that it was probably the best experience of my life. It was miserable and devastating and it radically altered my faith and taught me to turn to God in a way I never had before.

We’ve all met people with broken hearts and we’ve all met people with a fear so extreme of allowing their hearts to break that they have closed themselves off from emotional risk. Christ calls us to openness, to vulnerability, to learn how to love by joining together with others in a vulnerable state of genuine seeking. Christ can’t fill a closed heart, we have to open it for Him to enter. And that requires trust, faith and vulnerability. It requires us to open up to others, because God repeatedly correlates how we relate to Him with how we relate to others. We can never claim to be open to Him if we are closed off to each other.

We need to leave our coffins of selfishness. Return to the model established for us thousands of years ago in the early chapters of Acts by joining together in a unified quest to grow in our faith and relationship with God. At that point we will see growth, finding ourselves challenged in greater ways than we ever imagined. We will in all likelihood experience betrayal at some point, but it will be a part of the growth that draws us into a deeper need relationship with our Savior. And we will learn what true relationships entail.

And isn’t that the whole point behind Facebook and all our other “social networks”?

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