cross-posted on Into the Hills
I’m very excited to write this series of posts. This is an idea I’ve been pondering for quite some time, one that I believe will serve as a foundational premise for the rest of my life.
If you know me even a little, you know that C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce has been a profoundly influential book in my life. One of the most captivating moments in the story occurs when a damned husband encounters his redeemed wife in the outskirts of heaven. Their exchange goes like this:
“You mean,” said the Tragedian, “you mean—you did not love me truly in the old days?”
“Only in a poor sort of way,” she answered. “I have asked you to forgive me. There was a little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you.”
“And now!” said the Tragedian with a hackneyed gesture of despair. “Now, you need me no more?”
“But of course not!” said the Lady; and her smile made me wonder how both the phantoms could refrain from crying out with joy.
“What needs could I have,” she said, “now that I have all? I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. You shall be the same. Come and see. We shall have no need for one another now: we can begin to love truly.”
Those words — “most of what we called love down there was the craving to be loved” — struck me with massive force when I read them for the first time several months ago. It occurred to me that Lewis was absolutely right, and that much of what I pretended was love in my life was really my own need and insecurity.
This set me on a quest to determine what real love truly is. Godly love. No-strings-attached love.
In my searching, I’ve come up with three “pillars” that I believe comprise true love. They are authenticity, freedom, and grace. This series will explore each of them in greater detail.
At first I wanted to use the word truth to define this concept. I still believe that truth is probably the most accurate word for it, but truth gets a bad rap these days. In modern society, we equate truth with abstract concepts to which we give mental assent, such as theological propositions or assertions about the nature of the universe and the world around us. This leads to dogma. And it is NOT the truth of which I speak.
The truth of which I speak is much deeper than a set of intellectual descriptions of concepts or ideas. Instead, truth is things as they really are, and it is not fully accessible through language and definitions. Language and definitions point to truth (sometimes more successfully than at other times), but they are never truth itself.
In other words, “things as they really are” almost always defy the vocabulary we create to describe them. This is the case not only when dealing with cosmic issues such as God, love, heaven, and Ultimate Reality, but even when dealing with that slice of God’s image that we call ourselves.
That’s where authenticity comes in. To be pure, love must be authentic. This is much more than saying that love must be authentically felt. What I mean is that pure love must come from a heart that is stripped of deceit, for love cannot survive otherwise.
When we are inauthentic, we run around scared. We invest so much time, effort, and energy constructing false fronts that when someone shows us a mirror of ourselves that doesn’t reflect the image we’re trying to portray, we react defensively. We lash out in unjustified anger, passive-aggression, or blame. We withdraw, run away, or hide. Instead of facing truth, we obscure it; what’s more, we seek to control others so that they will keep it hidden, too.
This is why inauthenticity is injustice’s best friend. While inauthenticity itself may not be what creates oppression and injustice (I believe that stems largely from denying others freedom, which I’ll talk about in the next post), inauthenticity refuses to shine a light on, or fully acknowledge, suffering — especially when we have been the cause of it. It is denial in the face of pain.
Inauthenticity is behind every act of infidelity, disloyalty, and betrayal. It is deception in communication with others; most importantly, it is deception within ourselves. Our unwillingness to turn toward things as they really are creates strained relationships, deep dissatisfaction, and fractured lives.
That is not how love behaves.
On the other hand, authenticity allows love to flourish.
If truth is things as they really are, then authenticity is expressing ourselves as we really are. There are no hidden agendas with an authentic person, for an authentic person has nothing to hide. Authenticity allows us to face truths, even difficult truths, with courage and grace. Because of this, authenticity empowers us to grow, improve, repent, and make amends — which is impossible when we’re hiding or in denial.
Perhaps most importantly, authenticity brings radical self-acceptance. A person who is authentic is basically saying, “Even with all these warts and flaws, which I see and acknowledge, I am worth showing up as me anyway.“ I think it’s difficult to over-estimate the spiritual and emotional power of this position. It is the starting-point for real transformation. God has little to work with until we get to this place.
Finally, when we shed the layers of deceit and begin to live authentically, something amazing happens: we begin to grant others the space to live authentically, too — even if their authenticity looks different from our own. Inauthenticity is so invested in its own lies, it wants everyone else to play along, too. It fears, more than anything else, being “found out.” But authenticity is already out in the open. The pressure to control everything so tightly simply doesn’t exist. That’s what makes it foundational to love: you cannot choose freedom and grace (the other pillars of love) otherwise.
In my next post in this series, we’ll look at freedom as the second pillar of love. Until then, what are your thoughts on the ideas I’ve shared here? How has living authentically allowed you to experience love more freely in your life?