Porcupine Love

Our younger daughter, Emmy, and I were riding in the car over the weekend, and out of nowhere, she asked,” You know what I dislike most about Whiskers [the family cat], Mommy? It’s that when I pick her up and love her, I’m always afraid she’s going to bite me.”

Do you ever feel that way about love? That, you want to engage 100 percent, but instead, you are reserved because you know there’s a chance you’ll eventually get hurt?

In The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis wrote,

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.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

You may have heard a joke that goes, “How do porcupines mate? Very carefully.” This comes from a very well-known theory on the complexity of human intimacy according to Arthur Schopenhauer. Referred to as the Porcupine’s Dilemma, it goes like this:

[The Porcupine’s Dilemma] describes a situation in which a group of porcupines seek to move close to one another to share heat during cold weather. They must remain apart, however, as they cannot avoid hurting one another with their sharp spines. Though they all share the intention of a close reciprocal relationship, this may not occur, for reasons they cannot avoid. The porcupine’s dilemma suggests that despite goodwill, human intimacy cannot occur without substantial mutual harm, and what results is cautious behavior and weak relationships. With the porcupine’s dilemma, one is recommended to use moderation in affairs with others both because of self-interest, as well as out of consideration for others.

(Source: Wikipedia)

The Bible tells us the greatest love story in world history. God Himself reunited us to the Father’s heart and saved forever all of us who believe in Him. But to do so required the ultimate loss: the sacrifice of His one and only Son, Jesus. The greatest love and the deepest suffering go hand in hand.

Every lover knows this, of course. Every parent. Every soulmate of another. Every heart for humankind. Love is not for the faint of heart. And indeed, that’s why so many of us have built a fortress around ourselves, with a moat and drawbridge and an army of trained soldiers standing guard against attack.

Fear of pain is one of the most powerful incentives for self-defense. But to love fully, with an open heart, means acknowledging the real possibility – and often, inevitability – that at some point, we will suffer as a result of loving. We will feel all there is to feel when we love. The mountaintops and the valleys are both a part of the lover’s landscape. A peak exists only in relation to a valley, and vice versa.

But is this truth something to hold us back from loving? Jesus’s example says no. Indeed, in his three short years of recorded ministry, all Jesus does is through the lens of love, acting out in human flesh what the love of the Father looks like. Touching and healing the least of us with compassion. Raising the lifeless back to life. All the while, feeling the depths of human pain and suffering, and countering that darkness with the light of His love. 

John, arguably Jesus’s closest friend, was especially beloved by Jesus. John had this to say in his writings:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:7-10 NIV

Children of God are known for their capacity to love, and it comes from a knowing that we ourselves are loved. Loving is a commandment of the Christian life. We must enter into love with the assurance that to love is powerful. Lives are transformed. Hardened hearts are softened. Wars in families can be mended and family trees changed. Humans can understand one another. Forgiveness is actualized. To love is to be Christ to another.

In the movie Shadowlands, a film that recounts C. S. Lewis’s story of love and loss with his wife Joy, during her brief remission from cancer, they are enjoying what they both realize are their last days together. He begins to express sadness, when she stops him and says, “The pain then is part of the happiness now.

After her death, in a public talk, Lewis spoke of love from the side of profound grief:

Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore. Only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.

C.S. Lewis

To love – really love – is to have reached spiritual and emotional maturity. We are aware of the costs, but the benefits – well, they are life. 

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