I get my feelings hurt a lot. It seems to come with the territory of living life in the context of genuinely meaningful relationships. In a world fraught with sin, people do things to each other that cause pain and sorrow. More to the point, Ido things to others that cause them pain and sorrow.
There is a lot of talk on US college campuses these days about “trigger events” and “safe spaces.” Apparently, some have come to believe they have a right to never be disagreed with or have their feelings hurt. As absurd as this sounds on its face, it does tap into a deep human longing we all have to be secure and out of danger.
We would do well, however, to remember that ensuring safety in this life is a difficult and dangerous prospect. Live long enough in this world and you will be both hurt by others and the hurter of others. No one, it seems, can really be safe from the dangers of existing in a world full of people—at least if you choose to have significant relationships with some of them.
The only surefire way to maintain safety, then, is to never truly love anyone or anything. As C. S. Lewis puts it in The Four Loves: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
The kind of love he means is the concrete love of caring about and caring for an actual person with all of their assets and foibles. This is not an ambiguous or abstract notion of “love in general.” As Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazovrather amusingly writes: “The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. . . . I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me.”
At least the speaker was brutally honest. Most of us want to pretend we love others until those others actually need us to really love them. It simply isn’t safe to be in real relationships with actual human beings. Stay in relationship long enough and they will hurt you every time, sometimes horrifically. No place, it would seem, can be truly safe if you take the risk to love.
Again, C. S. Lewis has a clear and clever way of pointing this out. In his children’s classic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the lion, Aslan, represents an allegory of Jesus. Young Lucy Pevensie, reflecting upon the prospect of encountering Aslan asks Mr. Beaver, “Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”. . . . “Safe?” Mr. Beaver responded. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
Herein lies the secret to finding real safety, in the arms of a good and loving God. But being in His arms is not actually intended to make us feelsafe. Sometimes it does, but at other times it feels like the most dangerous place on earth. That’s because His goal is to make us more like Jesus, and that’s often an uncomfortable and unpleasant process. It doesn’t necessarily feel fun or safe.
Before passing away from cancer, former white house press secretary and radio talk show host Tony Snow reflected on his journey with God this way: “Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith . . . draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. There’s nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue, for it is through selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we ever could give, the most we ever could offer, and the most we ever could do. God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, predictable ease, smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see, but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance; and comprehension and yet don’t. By His love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.”
There’s a deep irony in the fact that the safest place to be is in the arms of the most dangerous being in the universe. It is, after all, “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). But this same God is a good and loving God, and that’s what makes Him ultimately safe, even if He is not proximally safe in the here and now as we might desire to define it.
It’s okay to want a safe space. We all long for security and safety, but we tend to look for it in all the wrong persons and places. And as hard as we might try, it definitely won’t be found on our college campuses. There’s only one safe space and that lies in the center of God’s perfect (and often unpredictable) will.
If you’re willing to trust in God, buckle up and get ready for the ride of your life. If it hasn’t already, it’s going to get really interesting.