Heart on Lockdown: An Introvert’s Story

C.S. Lewis said that to love at all was to be vulnerable. Here’s what an introvert learned from that.

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to 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. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

I’m an introvert and sometimes selfishly use it as an excuse not to love.

“I don’t feel like talking to anyone today. It requires too much energy,” I’ve been known to say, my heart in lockdown mode, as opportunities for even casual conversation throughout the day pass by, wasted.

From my experience, casual chitchat takes energy, and can feel pointless, boring, and … uncomfortable.

I noticed this while my husband was engaging in his usual casual chitchat with a cashier at Panera Bread.

While he was busy telling jokes, asking questions, and entertaining the cashier, I busily left the scene to “find us a seat,” choosing to avoid what I perceived as a painfully uncomfortable interaction going on.

“Can’t you just order in a normal way?” I asked in a shaming tone.

To which he replied, “I’m just being friendly.”

His vulnerability and friendliness made me uncomfortable. He was too free for me.

I was more comfortable treating a stranger like an object. It required less out of me to be task-oriented by moving through the line quickly, ignoring the person, making little eye contact, and finding a seat. I’d have to care to treat them like a person. And caring required energy and vulnerability.

Besides, what if they treat me like an object?

Or scarier, what if they treat me like a human and ask me questions too?

And so it seemed it wasn’t only the introvert’s dread of energy expended that kept me disconnected, but the vulnerability required of me.

As Lewis says, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.”

Even to love strangers.

Vulnerability requires giving time and attention, even if only for a few minutes. It requires me to stop being task-oriented and instead turning toward the “I” in front of me, allowing myself to experience the other person, instead of only myself.

Will I allow my heart to peek out and flicker a bit to a stranger? Can I be open and readily accessible on such a small level?

God’s kindness can be sensed through me in small, subtle interactions. And maybe that’s why it requires vulnerability — because it matters.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable.”

It seems that all human contact is vulnerable on some level. Living out God’s love relationally requires it.

A deep relationship isn’t necessary to treat someone with love. I can let someone behind the counter sense, “I see you. You exist” through means as subtle as eye contact.

I appreciate my introverted traits, but I also want to push myself to love when it’s uncomfortable. Within the possibility of rejection from even a stranger, there can be learning and a growing self-awareness that emerges. By avoiding the risks of rejection, I could become stagnant, bland and rotting inside from turning inward for too long.

I learn from God as I consider his vulnerability in relationship with us.

At times, we don’t love God vulnerably, our hearts on lockdown. We busy ourselves, becoming task-oriented, not having the energy to make even the smallest contact with him.

And I remember how he loves the stranger with vulnerability and openness. He risks rejection, and receives it, all the time. He is saddened by a shut-down heart, and yet continues to love.

I’m learning to chitchat a bit more, and it feels good. The energy and vulnerability are worth keeping my heart soft and accessible.

To be human is to have a tattered heart, evidence of having lived fully. The protected heart, avoiding discomfort, dies from underuse. When we give and receive love vulnerably, even in small ways, we exercise our heart, keeping it alive, healthy and strong. And with that strong heart, we learn to love in much bigger, deeper, and more uncomfortable ways. It’s how we keep our hearts out of the spiritual  and emotional grave, as we continue to learn to deepen our love for God, our friends and family, and the strangers in our midst.

This post was originally published by Heather Mather on Soulation and is part of a partnership between Soulation and Humane Pursuits.

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