As I prepare for my first profession on All Saints’ Day, I find myself facing into an unexpected challenge: allowing people to celebrate God’s work in me. The response to my invitations has been far and away more exuberant than I would have imagined, and I have friends flying in from as far away as London and Los Angeles. I say this exuberance is a challenge for me, because I notice in myself the urge to tell these friends, “don’t come all that way just for me!” I’d feel so much more comfortable if these friends had a conference in the area and just happened to have that Tuesday free to be with me and our community.
I’ve never known a person who doesn’t struggle with intimacy in some way, and many in the same way that I do. It’s difficult to allow others to care about us, and it’s difficult to allow ourselves to care about others. We all have our ways of defending against unwanted emotional proximity. And when we begin to engage and consciously to dismantle the barriers that separate us from others, the process becomes painful. It hurts to allow others to love us.
Why should this be so? On one level it makes no sense. We all want to love and be loved, to know and be known, don’t we? Well, yes and no. It’s like Jesus asking the man lying at the Sheep Gate “do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6) Jesus is asking that man–and us–a real question. Our answer is generally ambivalent. Do we truly want to be made whole? Do we truly want intimacy?
When we begin to answer yes to that question, and to move more closely to the deepest desires of our heart, we first have to encounter all the ways that we have resisted the movement of love in our lives. This process is as much one of grieving as anything else. In order to heal from our resistance to love, we have to see all the opportunities to love and be loved that we were unable to take because of our own hurt. We have to face into all the times we chose isolation over real relationships with real human beings.
Only honest, deep self-disclosure paired with the acceptance and love of another can begin to satisfy the gnawing emptiness inside us. Self-disclosure and the letting in of other people must first be founded on the encounter with Christ within us. The movement inward through prayer and the revelation of God in scripture and spiritual practice exposes our true identity, held in the heart of Christ, hidden in God. As Jeremiah writes, God writes his Word on the tablets of our hearts (cf. Jer. 31:33), literally inscribing our godly identity at the core of our being.
When we allow Christ to reveal to us our true identity in God, the life that wells up within us overflows its bounds. We then have too much life not to share it and celebrate it with others. Life fosters life, just as love fosters love. It really is a wanton denial of God’s abundant grace not to share our Christ-selves with one another. After all, we are ordained at our baptism to be food for the world, to ignite the whole creation with the fire of longing for God, and to share the Good News of God’s abundant life in Jesus Christ. There is enough hurt and hardship in this world. When it’s time to celebrate, we owe it to ourselves to celebrate and joyfully to invite others to join us.