More Like Falling in Love Part 1: Why Love Frightens Us

2674195162_78b6ecac32(Last year I wrote this series of posts in response to questions about the meaning of my song, “More Like Falling In Love”. With the re-release of the song on my current remix project, Song Cycles, I thought it was reason enough to revisit, revise, and repost them.)

It ought to be
More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out, come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling in love…

When I first got the idea for this song, it seemed like an obvious enough truth that God prefers passionate devotion to cool intellectual assent; that he desires the kind of worshipful obedience that overflows from a relationship with him instead of the obligatory obedience based on fear and our misguided attempts at self-sufficiency.

It seemed like Christianity 101 to me, maybe almost too obvious if anything. And yet I’ve been surprised to receive more push back on this song than any other I’ve written. Since its release there’s been a steady stream of criticism that the song is, as one person said, “based too much on love” (which is a remarkable statement in my opinion, but that’s probably a topic for another post).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily bothered or threatened by any of this – by and large the majority of listeners have embraced the song and I’m grateful – but I’ve been perplexed by the number of people who have expressed concern over it since it seemed like one of the “safest” songs I’ve ever written. I never saw it coming.

I know that I’m not infallible and that of course there may have been another way I could have written the song that might have been more clear, so I don’t mean this as a defensive missive to silence critics. But everything being equal, it’s given me an opportunity to be curious about the different reasons it may have sparked the response that it has.

For starters, I suppose a lot depends on the predisposition a person brings to the song based on what the words “falling in love” mean to them. I can understand their concern if they assume that the kind of love I’m talking about is based on emotionalism – warm, fuzzy feelings about God, reducing Him to a cosmic boyfriend/girlfriend. Maybe they think what I’m talking about here is the same kind of thing our culture tries to pass off as “love”: self-centered, hormone induced, emotionally driven romantic Hollywood “love” that is soft on commitment, sacrifice, or backbone.

Somebody recently asked my wife in casual conversation if she still felt I was her “soul mate” or if she wanted to “switch it up” and see if there was someone else out there for her. I don’t think this person was maliciously trying to undermine our marriage, but the question revealed how much our culture has distorted the meaning of “love”, reducing it to a matter of selfish fulfillment instead of a life-long bond meant to daily ask of two people to die to themselves and serve the one they have chosen to be bound to.

Our very own Andrew Peterson once said that marriage is God’s way of helping husbands die a little each day to our wives because He knows we aren’t man enough to do it all at once. The same could be said for wives, perhaps (I wouldn’t want to disregard their sacrifices). When we allow ourselves to fall in love with someone, we are in a sense choosing the person that we will die for. Of course that means more than simply taking a bullet for them. As heroic as that may be, it is in some ways easier than the more difficult business of a lifetime of hourly dying to our own selfishness and pride, our need to be right, to have the upper hand, and even the instinct to withdraw and protect ourselves from hurt instead of living open-heartedly toward another.

All this to say that if the word “love” conjures up images of sappy Hollywood rom-coms instead of the idea of a call to radically give ourselves away, I can see why some might be troubled by a song that champions salvation and discipleship as something more akin to “falling in love” than anything else. But I can’t help but think that if these same people were to give me the benefit of the doubt and consider that I’m reading the same bible they are, they might just as easily assume that I’m talking about love as scripture defines it, where, among other things, we are told that there is no greater love than the kind that would move someone to lay down their life for another.

Assuming this context, we might understand “falling in love” as the ignition of a fire that will consume our whole life while it lights up the dark, a wonder as terrifying as it is beautiful.

But there were some who, even if they didn’t have an issue with the word “love”, still took me to task for the decidedly romantic language of phrases like “falling in love” and the image of being “swept off my feet”. I get it, I really do, but c’mon – it’s a pop song. We’re already stretching the medium by asking it to convey theological assertions. Besides, the language still works for me – it serves the breezy light-hearted nature of a pop song about love, but it’s also theologically meaningful for me. “Falling in love” and being “swept off our feet”, in my mind at least, imply a loss of control, a sense of being overcome by love.

And I wonder if this is closer to the heart of the issue for some who have taken offense with the song. Many of us (myself included), though we long for it, are threatened by love and have found a thousand little ways to flee from it. For love – rightly understood – is dangerous. Like no other force, love will cut us to our core and peel back even the thorniest of our self-protective layers – exposing the depths of our hearts, revealing what it wants to heal, all the while asking us to trust, and drawing us out of our hiding places. We are defenseless against a Love that won’t stop until it sets us free. And freedom, of course, is nearly as terrifying as love.

Most of us have been prisoners so long (since the day we were born perhaps?) that we become like inmates who grow to love the predictability of the walls of their prison cell. Freedom is disruptive and represents a new way of living that is beyond our control. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if control is what’s really at stake here. In order to love and allow ourselves to be loved we must give up control, we must become vulnerable.

My wife shared a poem with me recently called “The Man Watching” by Rainer Maria Rilke about a coming storm. Here’s part of it:

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Love is the greater thing that wants to defeat us, the “magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God” as Frederick Buechner says. Could it be that by insisting on the legalistic and intellectual terms of our religious inclinations we are trying to maintain control of the relationship – making our salvation, sanctification, and redemption about what we do? Are we refusing to be defeated by Love? Are we refusing to be set free?

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Galatians 5:1-6