By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 27 April 2013 in The Madera Tribune
I went to a woman's funeral in Fresno less than two weeks ago. I did not know her well. But some of those dear to me loved her much. So I mourned with those pained by her absence.
Love shows itself in such seemingly opposite ways, from laughter to tears. But despite its many expressions it always, if true, draws us out of ourselves. Love is a kind of gravity that pulls us.
But it isn't fate.
A joke tells of a 7-year-old girl who shocked her parents by telling them a boy in her class had kissed her after school.
The father asked, "How did that happen?"
"It wasn't easy," she said, "but three girls helped me catch him."
In another joke, a kindergarten teacher at a Christian school explained the 10 Commandments. After explaining the command to "honor thy father and mother," she asked, "Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?"
One boy quickly raised his hand and answered, "Thou shall not kill."
Love cannot be forced. It must be a free choice or it is not love. We all know this, yet this freedom can frighten us. All of us fear rejection at times.
Professor Brene Brown, Ph.D., of the University of Houston has written three New York Times best-sellers based on her decade of research on shame and vulnerability. Yet her study came about unexpectedly. She had intended to study personal connection, but when she asked people about it they kept sharing about heartbreak and exclusion.
After six weeks of this, she decided to follow this common thread in people's stories. She wanted to decipher what it was that seemed to undermine relationships again and again in people's lives, and discovered it was shame -- a fear of being unworthy of connection.
So she spent the following decade trying to define and find the solution for shame.
She found that shame prevents people from being vulnerable with others, because we don't wish to be fully exposed as we are. However prudent vulnerability is necessary to connect with others.
Those who suffered least from shame were those who believed deeply in their worthiness to connect with others -- their lovableness. Because of this, they had the courage to be exposed as imperfect and had compassion, first for themselves and then likewise for others. They accepted emotional risk and vulnerability as necessary to connect with others.
There's more Brown concluded from her research, but you can pursue her words yourself if interested (www.brenebrown.com). Instead let us consider a comment left under an online video of a 2010 TEDxHouston talk of hers, "The power of vulnerability" (http://goo.gl/opQRQ).
"The problem with believing that one is unconditionally worthy of connection is the fact that people seem to like you and connect with you based on many conditions…," wrote sn3192 on Wednesday. "Believing that you're worthy of connection for simply breathing oxygen may be wonderful, but delusional."
That question returns to the uncomfortable root of the problem I think. Where does our worth and lovableness lie? If who we are is defined by what we think, say and do, then how can we be lovely despite the ugliness in some of that?
After all, shame is comfortable with partial exposure. It is only unpleasing parts of ourselves that it wishes to conceal. Yet such "invulnerability" is enough to unravel love, because it prevents us from being wholehearted with others.
Christians, I think, have an answer to this puzzle. We humans are lovable because God first loved us and loves us still. Even if we were the worst of terrorists, God would love us no less. We could be the greatest in every possible way, and God would love us no more than now. Because God loves us utterly and completely in any case.
We have worth not because we breathe oxygen, but because we humans were made in the "image" of God.
Like God, we have a higher understanding and a free will. This freedom that can unnerve us with fear of potential rejection by others is the same freedom that God reverences and respects in us. God loves us wholeheartedly while knowing we can reject him.
So what now?
"A new commandment I give unto you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)