I hear so many things from this tower where I live,
there is no door to let you in, from here I see your world.
There is no lock for you to find, I keep my walls secure.
I do not wish to be alone, that is I mean with you..
I like to keep you at a length, for you I do not touch.
I like my cave that I have made, it serves me when you push.
How can I show my walls to you, when all you do is search?
You try to find a way around, to be my shining knight,
When all it is I want from you is a “thanks a bunch! Goodnight!”

Space by Larissa Johnson

You don’t know me. I take that back, you know me better than most, Gentle Reader. Personally, I’ve rather enjoyed my demons. I’ve embraced them and funneled them into my art. Ironically, it’s easy as an artist to splay our souls for public consumption, to bleed for our readers. But, like with my stories, it’s easy to be vulnerable to anonymous masses: to me, from my keyboard vantage point, you are little more than a collection of electrons. In relationship, face-to-face, it’s harder. You don’t know me, you can’t know me, because I live within walls.

Our walls can take a variety of forms. We construct a life where we re-define what love is to match how we are treated that ultimately end up with us going into ourselves. Exalting our intellect, control emotions, living in/retreating to our imaginations, whatever it takes to cut ourselves off from having to deal with others (and the potential pain they bring). Living with the fear that if we expose ourselves, show people who we really are, they will no longer like or outright abandon us. Pre-emptively, we become convinced that we would rather be alone and unhurt rather than risk others in our lives. Slowly, our lives become about avoiding pain.

Self-protection isn’t all bad. It’s great at shielding us from the very real hurts in life and there are times we need to be shielded from pain. But we get used to and strive to live life on our own strength and terms. Pain avoidance, numbing ourselves from the everyday agonies of life, lays at the root of many addictions. Alcohol, drugs, movies, sex, internet, video games, many are the ways we continue to numb us from the pain of life. Life becomes about self-gratification without the complication of relationship or knowing; keeping us from dealing with life and what’s going on. But no numbing agent is perfect, no wall as solid as it seems, as our anguish may play out in other ways, seeping out of our carefully maintained pressure cookers as anger, depression, moodiness, anxiety, loneliness, or self-hate.

We grow pretty comfortable being safe and unknown. The core of your life is under a microscope with the knob adjusting the focus on it being vulnerability and transparency. Risking letting people in means when they look in your life and all they see is you. Love is a threat to our self-protection. Love reveals the lie, the reality that the scaffolding is the lie and we have to take it down.

Self-protection is easy as it is selfish. It’s easy to stay hidden. People are relationally lazy, so naturally self-focused it’s hard for them to see others in the first place. Self-protection sets the bar low into how well we can love others. There’s a well known verse in the Bible often used to discuss hypocrisy: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthrew 7:3-5). What if the overall point of the story is not so much about the hypocrisy, but about loving our brother better? That the point IS to take the speck out of our brother’s eye, but to do that, we have to first remove the plank from our own eye. And what if self-protection, our walls, are a plank in our eye?

Walls are about control. Faith and control don’t exist well together. Control asks “what do I need to do to make this situation work?” Faith asks “God, what you going to do make this work and how do I get involved with that?” We don’t see ourselves as God sees us, but rather, we come to believe a lie about ourselves. That we’re worthless, broken, and twisted in our soul; Villains in God’s story rather than created in his image. We leave out the fact that brokenness can be redeemed. When loved well, we’re taught about God. We can model for our children what God is like. We can just as easily teach things that aren’t true. And we don’t want to pass the lessons of self-protection down to our children.

The thing about walls is that you can’t live behind walls and love as you should. Feel loved like we should. People can’t experience you loving them from inside your walls. You can’t living behind them grow closer to God. But you have to come to that conclusion on your own and decide that you want to risk living life in a broken and fallen world that could hurt you. You have to risk experiencing the pain that comes with that world. And that’s a scary proposition. You have to risk knowing and being known. And the more you experience someone who knows you, especially in your sinfulness, it exposes the lie. And that’s a scary proposition.

Real love risks and offers redemption. Real love can’t operate from a place of fear. Real love can’t operate from behind walls. And loving people well is the point of why we’re here.