Hiding from Love
Updated: Jan 25, 2019
I thought I wanted a relationship. I didn't realise all that was holding me back.
I adored Jamie with all the shy fervency of my 10-year-old heart.
With his olive skin, floppy dark hair, and oversized denim jacket, he was the cutest and the coolest 14-year-old in my neighbourhood. I'd had a crush on him since the day he leaned over his garden gate, hit me with a dazzling smile and laughingly teased me about the squeaky breaks on my bicycle as I rode past his house.
I don't see the point of my crush," I wrote in my diary. (The introspection started early.) "He probably doesn't fancy me. In fact, he probably already has a girlfriend."
One day, as I was playing with Jamie's sister and her pet ferrets in the garden, one of Jamie's friends came and stood over us, twisting his baseball cap in his hands uncomfortably. "Jamie wants to know if you'll go out with him," he blurted out to me. I was stunned. My dreams were coming true! Then I thought of the wrath of my parents should they find out their innocent, 10-year-old daughter was going out with a 14-year-old "ruffian", and I shook my head. "I can't go out with him," I said, and ran away.
Jamie and his friends still hung around occasionally after that, but I would always find a reason to leave them before too long. I would hide behind my bedroom curtain and peek out to watch the object of my thwarted affection riding his BMX moodily around the block.
Fast forward fifteen years. I was having lunch at a friend's house, lazily scanning her bookshelves as I waited for the food, when the title of one book leapt out at me. "We all long to be cared for, but we prevent it by...HIDING FROM LOVE," the cover proclaimed, in huge enough print so that if you're reading the book in public, everyone can see at a glance what's wrong with you. Smaller print assured, "How to change the withdrawal patterns that isolate and imprison you."
At that moment something inside me clicked.
Since moving back to England, I'd had plenty of opportunity to consider loneliness and my attitude towards various relationships (friendships as well as romance). Although I've certainly had my share of crushes, I've never been one to jump into anything quickly or really pursue an interest, partly for good reasons and partly, as I was beginning to realize, for unhealthy reasons. I recalled my deepest love interests and realized that in spite of what good things I saw in the guys and hoped for between us, there had always been a part of me that knew a relationship wasn't likely to work out, even though I pushed those reasons into my subconscious. Then I imagined what it would be like to meet someone and pursue a serious relationship now, and to my surprise, the first thing I felt was...fear.
Perhaps I have been hiding from love -- metaphorically running away, as I literally ran away from Jamie all those years ago. I've definitely been living out withdrawal patterns. And I have been realizing that my past has a more significant impact on my present than I have always given it credit for.
There are probably many factors that play into my tendency to hide or withdraw.
One factor, I think, comes from moving around a lot as I grew up. The cross-cultural and highly mobile lifestyle of a pastor's/missionary's kid impacts your relational patterns. Some of those effects are good, but some of them are negative. As someone who travels a lot, even if you are used to making friends quickly, you become adept at avoiding deeper intimacy. As you become used to leaving and being left, you learn to minimize the pain of loss by perhaps refusing to acknowledge your true depth of care for anyone or anything, refusing to feel pain and becoming emotionally "flat", or "leaning away" from relationships -- becoming detached or withdrawn (David Pollock and Ruth van Reken). I've noticed this playing out in my life, especially in the sense of leaning away from someone, as if I'm subconsciously getting ready for the loss of a relationship.
Another factor is simply due to the hurts that accumulate from living in a broken world. Nobody has the perfect childhood or adolescence, and life leaves its wounds. I have my scars. Over the years, various experiences have imprinted a message on my heart that in one way or another, I am not enough. I have believed that if someone found out this or that about me, they would stop loving me, they would leave. It may be a lie, but it has become so deeply embedded in my way of thinking that even now I sometimes struggle to see it as anything but the truth. The resulting fear makes true vulnerability high risk and unappealing. And yet for the best relationships to flourish, particularly a serious romantic relationship, vulnerability is essential.
"The truth will set you free. Perfect love expels all fear. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us." (John 8 and 1 John 4)
I know many truths that can fight against the lies in my soul. I know that my worth ultimately comes from the God who sees me as I am and still wants to call me His friend.
"There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love for me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery can now disillusion Him about me or quench His determination to bless me." (J. I. Packer, Knowing God)
But moving something from the brain to the heart takes time. Learning to have grace for myself in my imperfection and failure, as God has grace for me, is a process.
"We are free to fail. Because of Jesus, we can be free from the cages of other people's expectations, demands, yokes, and judgements--even our own...We are loved, forgiven, embraced."(Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself)
If the saying is true -- "We accept the love we think we deserve" -- then only when I have accepted the truth about myself, the truth as God sees it, will I be free to accept love instead of hiding from it. And only then will I be free to truly give love, too.
Thankfully, I'm not on this journey by myself. Besides finding strength in my relationship with God, I have some safe people to grow with. True community, as I'm learning, is a necessary part of growth and healing.
"Relationships are portrayed as crucial in the Bible...Our need for connection extends not only to God. It also means we need each other. During the Creation, the only "not good" God mentioned in an otherwise perfect universe was that Adam was alone. God wasn't simply dealing with the benefits of marriage in this passage. He was addressing the deeper issue of our need for attachment and relationship, of which marriage is one important component...
The fact is that having relationships with God and other people is not an either-or proposition; it is a both-and necessity. The heart has a deep need for God, who placed eternity there. The same heart yearns for satisfying and safe human attachments in which we can be truly known and truly loved, that we may all be one."
(Dr. John Townsend, Hiding from Love)
Eventually I will learn not to hide from love. Eventually I will learn not just to extend grace to others, but also to myself.
And in the meantime, well, let's face it... I'm in grad school!
First written in 2016