The Truth About Love Vs. Self-Preservation

By Alexander J. Lewis

“A ship is safe in harbor but that is not what ships are built for,” – John A. Shedd

This is not the first time that I’ve stumbled upon this quote during my Facebook wanderings, but the past few days have certainly become the most time I’ve spent considering its resonation to me. My heart has always found a draw to these words, but why?

As is the case with many things I take the time to mull over, I began to question what this quote meant when considered through the context of my beliefs about love.

What if the harbor of our souls, as the quote dictates, is self-preservation? It feels safe; the world tells us we’re safe for closing ourselves off from the depths and dangers of the open sea, but the reality is that we are ocean-vessels who have made our home in shallow ports by fearing the ramifications of the openness of love.

Of course, this clinging to our harbors is done with good intentions: we’ve all heard of the horrors of tall waves that look like heartbreaks. We’ve been warned of the dangerous ships and sea monsters that look a lot like those who would use, abuse, and destroy us if we gave them the chance. But with these factors in consideration, what if we let our faith and curiosity beckon us on into deeper waters, anyway? What should we find when our sails are raised to take us away from the comforts we’ve always clung to, and into the mystery we’ve wondered and been warned about all our lives?

compassionThe truth is, our self-preservation methods are far more dangerous to us than the openness of compassion. We were born to love. We are crafted after the image of Love. And it is within the expression and choice of loving others that we experience what we were created for. Love is the end of fear, while self-preservation is the fruit of it. It is dangerous insomuch as self-preservation closes us off from intimacy and true community. This is the very hiding away that spurred on the Gospel: when we had distanced our lives and made ourselves out to be enemies of the Divine, God closed every gap that we’d imagined to be a distance between ourselves and Him by putting His likeness to us on grand display. God became man for intimacy’s sake, and invited humanity to open ourselves up to Him and one another in the same way.

Love is more than empathy or mere feeling; more than poetic stories or romantic endeavors. Love is aggressive; it is powerful. It is the pursuer, the truth seer, and the defender of innocence and goodness. Love is the bold belief that people are valuable, and good, and beautiful, and innocent – even despite all of the opposing views that people have of others and themselves. Love is tender, patient, and full of endurance to outlast the deep-imbedded lies that have convinced us and others of insignificance or unacceptance.

Love only knows how to love after it has seen love in action. It is a contagious lifestyle. Be the love that stirs others ships from their ports. Be the beckoning voice calling out to others from deeper waters to say that their sails and decks were crafted to hold against the ocean waves they’ve feared all of their lives. The danger of deeper waters is certainly a reality, but it is one that compares at nothing to the fruition of our lives as we follow compassion beyond the sight of our harbors, and into the depths and waves our Creator sufficed us to withstand.

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