One of the saddest songs and music videos that still echos through my brain is I Want Love by Elton John. Here are the lyrics if you haven’t contemplated them lately.
I want love, but it’s impossible
A man like me, so irresponsible
A man like me is dead in places
Other men feel liberated
I can’t love, shot full of holes
Don’t feel nothing, I just feel cold
Don’t feel nothing, just old scars
Toughening up around my heart
But I want love, just a different kind
I want love, won’t break me down
Won’t brick me up, won’t fence me in
I want a love, that don’t mean a thing
That’s the love I want, I want love
I want love on my own terms
After everything I’ve ever learned
Me, I carry too much baggage
Oh man I’ve seen so much traffic
So bring it on, I’ve been bruised
Don’t give me love that’s clean and smooth
I’m ready for the rougher stuff
No sweet romance, I’ve had enough
I find this to be a brilliant song that describes the conundrum in which we find ourselves–wanting love without constraints, wanting love but feeling incapable of it, wanting love but completely misunderstanding the nature of genuine love. Is it possible to give what you have never received? If I asked you for 40 billion dollars could you give it to me? Most likely no. But that even begs the question of whether or not it would be particularly beneficial for you to give me 40 billion dollars if you had it. But the scoop on love is that it is terrible difficult for us to give love if we have not been given love.
Timothy Keller in his book, Reason for God in an Age of Skepticism says that many people have been inoculated against the Gospel. But it may be worse than we imagined. It seems to me that many of us may be inoculated against personal relationships with God and with each other that might be characterized by love. Many of us feel called on to love and yet are radically incapable of it because we have yet to experience the freedom that comes from realizing that that though we are imperfect we are lovable. I experience the temptation to masquerade as a perfect person through the performance trap and the lie that, “People who fail are unworthy of love.” Incredibly through Jesus and the Gospel of God’s love poured out through the Cross I am confronted with a God who loves me though I fail.
The confusion about love abounds around us. Last week I was confronted with how imperfectly I love and how difficult it is for others to receive kindness when their experience floods them with mistrust, doubt, suspicion, and fears of rejection and abandonment. I want love, but “I want it on my own terms.” The problem then is that the “lover” who loves well has boundaries and a healthy unwillingness to just make another person happy by doing everything the other wants.
I am not the first to write on the dilemma of loving and being loved. As you can see I have not yet sorted through the layers of this onion.