Love! You didn’t do right by me. To send me a Joe who had winter and snow in his heart wasn’t smart, oh Love! You didn’t do right by me. I’m back on the shelf and I’m blaming myself, but it’s you.
— White Christmas, song by Irving Berlin
I am amazed over and over again by both the incredible depth and the contrary shallowness of my own soul. When I am alone, walking a dirt road, my dreams and desires are so simple. They are uncluttered by overdone drama and ridiculous ideals. But when I try to describe them to anyone they become vague and cloudy, unrealistic, covered in laughable expectation.
Does this sound familiar? I have been here before, I know it. Writing is so much easier than speaking. Words are my friends on a page. These are really just excuses. The truth is, my state of mind is the same whether I am writing it out in splendid color or stumbling through it out loud without the aid of the piano in my head. There is so much I wish to be and yet so much I care nothing for or about.
The provocation for revealing this to all the world starts and ends back at last spring ‘s obsession with knights and maidens. I am so moved by extremes, it is flabbergasting to some who know me. I will immerse myself in an idea for weeks or months or years at a time, take it to the edge of all the reason it can hold, and then let it go with a laugh because I am done with it. Each of these obsessions is filled with revelations and epiphanies, a euphoria of discovery after discovery. As embarrassed as I may be to have spent so much time watching Robin Hood, the immenseness and the reams and reams of pages of thinking that little BBC TV show inspired will still bring a secret smile to my face.
I don’t like to be told I was wrong about something. But I love it when I realize I was wrong! Oh the freedom of it! The loveliness! I was wrong and I can change! I don’t have to stay here, I don’t have to wallow in this blah blah blah!
Knights and maidens. My ethereal visions of grandeur inspired by stupid decisions and how those stupid decisions rob us of beauty we could otherwise receive. As with so many of my writings, a year later I often cock my head at them and say to myself, “yes and no.” This particular yes and no warrants a word because I see how I have shot myself in the foot– how many of us have– by a classic withdrawal, and yet we call it by another name. We call it standards. No, it’s not standards, it’s flaming hoops that we want others to jump through to get to our hearts. The alternative? To give love freely no matter what the cost? This is something the world has right in theory, but they have twisted it into the sickly physical form of free sex and casual “relationships”. In other words, stupid decisions with the name “love” smacked on them to account for the pain associated with those stupid decisions.
The truth is that we should love with abandon, expect pain, expect people to let us down, but love anyway. Love withheld quenches the spirit faster than anything, and it’s why religion can be so toxic. We should have conditions to how much we will physically and emotionally give to a person– something they must give us in return– this is healthy. But love must not be confined to a cell of its own within our hearts. There it will only grow cold and small.
The reason for the walls and walls and miles of flaming hoops is that we forget how to love unselfishly. Love is selfish when it is all about us. “Respect for others is a lost art,” my brother said the other day, and he got my wheels turning. He is right. Either way, whether it be a headlong thievery of affection that belongs to another, or a prideful pile of hot coals for all who want to get near us, the real nastiness of it all is a lack of respect for the other person. It’s all about me me me and whether I’ll be happy happy happy. Forget it! Happiness is a decision. Righteousness is a decision. No one is going to make me do right, no one is going to make me be happy, and no nice box of guidelines is going to protect me from the disrespect of others.
The stereotype that I have been guilty of romanticizing in respect to the knight and maiden is a prime offender of tunnel-vision. It’s truly only a tiny piece of a puzzle, this concept of a standard. Having a standard is a good thing. But it is not a good idea to allow our standards to cause us to look down on those who don’t abide by our standard, if it makes us elevate our visions above the hearts of those around us. We should only draw lines about what we ourselves will or will not do. Do you see this, or is it just me? We smack a name on our expectations of life and call them God’s principles, but they are not! God’s principles have to do with what we each individually do with our hearts and minds and bodies, not what we must expect from other people! Our job is to uphold our end of the deal by obedience, and that’s it! We don’t invent other people. We would stink at it! We can only be ourselves.
I think this is often a huge reason why people fail to stick to their marriages. They think the person they love is always going to be sweet and wonderful and treat them well. But it doesn’t work that way in a broken creation. God never lied to us and told us life in this place would be a piece of cake. We just aren’t that strong, that consistant, that understanding! We’re people! If we can’t forgive each other for whatever hurts and harms we go through in our friendships and more-than-friendships and not-quite-friendships, what makes us think we’re going to be so darned great at forgiving our spouse for far more hurtful and close to home words and offenses?
“Love is a bloody and beautiful mess,” my friend Grace said, and she’s right. God made it that way so it would mirror the extreme and utter endlessness of his own love. Read your Bible. It’s the story of the bloody and beautiful mess of life on earth — and there’s nothing like it anywhere.