Love is one of the strongest desires of the human heart. We sing about it, paint about it, and write poetry about it. Our TV shows talk about it. The Internet is full of it, and magazines tell you how they think you can achieve it. I have Shakespeare’s sonnets on my iPhone and The Notebook is available to stream online at any time should you so wish.
We love to talk of love and yet we live in a time when the largest single cause of death for a man under 35 in many Western nations – including ours – is suicide. Deep loneliness abounds. How do we explain this?
The world we live in today is more connected than it has ever been. We can send messages to other side of the world in just a split-second. I can chat to colleagues 10 time zones away effortlessly. I can stay connected with all my secondary school friends on Facebook and Instagram.
My favourite comedian – Billy Connolly – when he as filming a travel show for TV and was left alone on a polar cap for a night quipped, “There’s a difference to being alone and being lonely.”
Now wouldn’t you agree that there is something wrong in a world filled to the brim with messages and promises of love when at the same time there’s a vast amount of people drowning in despair without it?
A Shift in Culture
Things are changing in our culture. We get married later, if at all. It’s easier than ever to hook up … and break up. And who of us likes break ups? So we seek alternatives to mitigate the pain.
Maybe if we avoid the commitment we’ll avoid the grief. So, no-strings-attached then. We’ll move from romantic encounter to romantic encounter and avoid the sting that comes from hanging around too long. Except that this doesn’t seem to fix the problem either.
The British feminist author, Natasha Walter, wrote a book in 2010 called Living Dolls. In her book Walter explores the pressures many women face in this hypersexual culture to conform to image. Walter asks if our supposedly more enlightened culture is in fact in many ways robbing women, not empowering them.
More than ever, men and women today are incredibly free to do what we want with out bodies. Old cultural and social restraints have been replaced with an ‘it’s your body, do you want’ approach. But this new liberation hasn’t led to satisfaction for many. In the book, one 17 year-old girl, Carly, tells her story.
“It’s all casual sex now, nobody talks about love,’ she said … I wish I could have a real connection with a man. But there’s no courtship any more. That’s all dead. It’s just immediate. There’s no getting to know someone, you’re expected just to look someone up and down and make the decision just like that, are you going to have sex or not? There’s no time to build up to a connection. The idea is that you have sex first, but how are you meant to create the kind of excitement, the emotional connection, after that? I want to have an emotional connection with a man. I want it to be there with the feeling that I am equal to him. I do think I’m as a good as a man. But I don’t want just this no-strings sex stuff.”
Our appetite for our desires to be fulfilled can lead us to look for fulfilment in the wrong areas. Our desires crave fulfilment, but we must use wisdom to discern what is best for us. Our appetite for food, for example, cares not how it is fulfilled – only that we do something to address the hunger. But we know that if we choose the giant bag of Jelly Babies over a well-balanced meal, we will pay for it in the long run.
Life can leave many with an empty feeling inside, causing us to reach out for connection, only to find that our efforts for love and intimacy in the end leave us feeling even emptier.
In our deep desire for love we can rush head long after the feeling and in the process we can get make some bad choices. Bestselling author Tim Keller, says that:
“Our fears and inner barrenness make love a narcotic, a way to medicate ourselves, and addicts make foolish, destructive choices.”
Many of us will have at times made bad choices and experienced broken dreams. Small or large, things don’t always pan out the way that we want them to.
I have my broken dreams too. Today, I’m happily married to a wonderful woman whom I love greatly and who also loves me.
Before I met my wife there were a few other relationships which ultimately didn’t work out. Upon reflection they didn’t work out in part because in some cases I wanted too much from them.
I knew that I wanted love but I whilst maturing well in a few areas of life in love I was a like a toddler.
Foolishly thinking that my romantic gestures were genuine I didn’t realise that all my efforts were really just a way of showing love in order to receive love! I was living for those moments of acceptance based on how I made someone feel.
Well, I couldn’t keep with this. It wasn’t long before cracks began to show.
I longed to be loved. But like a 14 year old with a poster of a Ferrari on his wall who’s suddenly given the keys to an F12 Berlinetta there’s a world of difference between desiring something and knowing what to do with it when you have it.
Many relationships don’t last because we want too much from them. Perhaps you can relate? Out of desperation to be loved ourselves, we love someone expecting total fulfilment.
But hang on a moment? Have you seen these people we love?! Even the best of us let people down.
The reality is, that when we love something or someone who is not perfect and expect perfect fulfilment from them, we will always end up hurt.
One of the things that I get to do from time to time in Oxford is to take people around the former home of C. S. Lewis. Lewis – perhaps best known for The Chronicles of Narnia – lived in Oxford from 1917 until his death in 1963.
In part I think Lewis connected so well to his readers because his rich imagination tapped into our deepest longings, creating characters we could connect with.
Lewis knew of unmet longing. He once wrote:
“Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.”
So what do we do when our deepest longings remain unmet?
Lewis tells us that we have three responses to this longing for satisfaction from within:
1. The Fools Way
We blame something or someone else. “We reason that it’s not us that’s broken, but the objects of our desire that are faulty. Because whatever we are longing after is clearly not delivering, it shows us the problem is with the object of our affections.
So we ditch the girlfriend we currently have for another. We buy a better car. We take a bigger holiday. Upgrade to the stronger drugs.
People can live in this cycle of repeated disappointment for a long time, moving from one let down to the next, always believing that something will change and never stopping long enough to observe what is really happening.
2. The Way of the Disillusioned ‘Sensible Man’
We blame ourselves for not having our longings met. Clearly, I’m the problem: me and my desires. So, I’ll just grow up and get over myself. I’ll get over my silly desires.
This way of thinking actually spawned an entire worldview: Buddhism. The four noble truths of Buddhism tell us that life is suffering and suffering is caused by desire. To cease suffering, we must cease desiring.
It’s because we love that problems arise, so we tell ourselves to dial back those expectations and reign it all in.
3. The Christian Way
There is a third way. This option that doesn’t shift the blame or give up the game. The core of the Christian message is a message of love. That love is true, love is real, that love is to be given and to be received.
But in addition to that our desires to love and to be loved serve as a clue to a deeper love.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Lewis suggests that instead of thinking our desires are wrong because they are unmet, they are not fulfilled because ultimately we’re looking in the wrong place.
We All Want To Be Loved
Just before Helen (now my wife) and I first started going out and I was thinking, “hold on a minute, there’s something more going on here”, I found my senses went up couple of levels.
Suddenly I was paying closer attention to what she was saying and how she was acting. I was looking for those little clues that maybe these growing feelings of mine were mutual. As my heart began to catch up to the reality of this beautiful, intelligent, funny, caring and increasingly friendly person I started to wonder if she felt the same.
Well, soon we found ourselves on our first date. A quiet, little drink and then an artsy-cum-reflective-cum-depressing Italian movie. Winner. As I saw her come through the door to meet me my senses went into overdrive. My heart level was raised. My skin was tingly. The setting for our date quickly faded away and I just saw … her.
And then she said it. “Hi friend.”
It was brutal. Our date hadn’t even started and here at the outset Helen was clarifying that I was firmly in the friend zone. The drinks hadn’t been ordered and the intimate walk to the cinema in the drizzle hadn’t happened. I was shot down before I even took off.
But then I manned up, drank my drink, and soldiered on. ‘Damned if that would stop me’, I reasoned to myself. ‘To heck with it. I like this one!’
The date went well – really well. She even said yes to another one.
Well, the next week as I was picking Helen up from her house her housemate came home. I was sitting in another room and through the door I overheard their conversation.
My heart soared! This is a greeting. This is a strange-Helen’s-house-friendly greeting! That’s all. I’m not in the friend zone!
The game was most definitely on.
Loving the Unlovely
It is a wonderful feeling to know that we are loved, but it is also scary. Being vulnerable doesn’t come easy to many. We wonder, “What if they find out who I really am?” “What if they don’t like what they see?”
For many of us we’d rather not be known, that be known and be found out to not be good enough.
The Killers put it this way in Sam’s Town: “I’m sick of all my judges, so scared of what they’ll find.”
When C. S. Lewis talks of our desires pointing the way to another realm he is talking of us – you and I – being wrapped up in a greater purpose. He is suggesting that we were made to connect to a greater source.
Our blog articles have been giving reasons to suggest that there is a greater source – God – and that we know him through Jesus Christ.
You might say that it’s all very well connecting my desires here to something – to someone – beyond this world. But how do I know that I will be accepted? Have you seen me?
The Bible tells us that God created us in love, to show us his love, and that in our mess he still chooses to love us. He came to earth as Jesus in order that we might know that He loves us. He died on that cross to fix the problem that prevented us from being in a loving relationship with him: the greatest single loving act the world has even known or will ever know.
The French emperor, Napoleon, said this about Jesus:
“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself have founded empires, but upon what do these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love: and to this very day millions would die for Him.”
All You Need is Love
The Beatles sang that ‘All you need is love’. They say this:
Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do, but you can learn
How to be you in time
All you need is love …
They’re right. But where does that kind of love come from? A love that saves? A love that allows you to be all that you can be?
Something phenomenal would have to change in us to give us the ability to love, truly love, without return, and without fatigue.
Something has happened: his name is Jesus Christ.
The Bible says:
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9–10, NIV)
God says, there’s nothing you can do to make yourself good enough for me. So I will make the first move.
The Bible tells us that God first loved us. Exactly as we are.
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, ESV)
Religions and belief systems across the world tell us we must behave this way, do this act, think this thought, or think nothing at all!
Whatever it is it’s that the onus is on us. We act first. But Jesus says come to me because I have first loved you.
What is love? Love is a commitment to the highest good of another. It is a commitment expressed primarily to you by your Creator who thought you up and brought you into existence in order that you might know Him and His love for you.
This love, which the Bible describes as the love of a perfect father, was committed to you from the beginning of time and has remained committed to you throughout your entire life. It is a total, unrestrained, nothing-held-back, inextinguishable passion towards you and He wants you to know it.
This article is an edited transcript from a talk Jonathan has given at several universities across the UK and Europe.