The Trouble with Love

by | Mar 9, 2015

There was a time in my life when I was afraid that there was something really, really wrong with me. I never admitted it to anyone, but I had got it into my head that I was a psychopath. I know that sounds really dramatic but I was worried that it was only a matter of time before they locked me away so that I wouldn’t start dismembering strangers in the shower in dark hotels whilst I sang Ching, Ching! Ching, Ching! (Okay, Hollywood moment!) It is quite extraordinary how a child’s mind can work, and you may be wondering how I had arrived at this rather bizarre conclusion. It began with one bit of misinformation. I heard from my schoolmates that “psychos” have an inability to feel and that they were emotionally deficient. In particular that they had the inability to feel love. Let me say right up front that although the source of the information had great authority when I was a teen (the guys at school) in retrospect it probably wasn’t the most solid, scientific data. 

It wasn’t that I couldn’t feel that threw me into a panic, in fact I lived in a world of often overwhelming emotion. I lived with shame, pain, anger, fear, and longing all the time. Rather the specific trouble I had was with love. I was troubled by love. Love literally terrified me in my teen years. Not that I didn’t want to love and be loved, I did, but it was rather that I had no idea what that meant or what that was meant to look like. I grew up in a broken home with parents who did not know how to show and express love. I would sit with my best childhood friend, my older brother Bob, and we would discuss love. What does it mean to love someone. I would ask myself do I love Mum, do I love Dad? Who do I love. To try and answer the question I had developed a strategy. I asked myself the question what would I do if that person died? Would I cry if my Mum died, or my Dad. What frightened me was that I didn’t know what I felt, I could not answer the questions. The only hope I had was that I knew that I would probably be upset if Bob died. Perhaps, I concluded, I’ll be okay and it won’t be necessary to find me a padded cell somewhere.

Later when I began to date the question of love continued to plague me. In my life I had no good role models so I could see what it meant to really love someone. My parents had split when I was young,and my mother never really recovered from that. She became the most needy person in my life and seemed rather to drain love from me than pour love into me. The love I know she had for me was tainted by her own huge need and consequent manipulation of me to fill her own love vacuum.  As a result to protect myself I began to harden my heart, to become I thought self sufficient. If loving was this massive need that I saw in my mother I didn’t want it. I didn’t need it. I did not love.

So in my earliest encounters with the other sex I learnt to build fun but shallow relationships. I had friendships, sometimes friendships with benefits but the moment a girl said the “L” word, “Nigel, I LOVE you” The relationship was over because those words caused a sort of panic in me because I could just not understand what that meant, or what I was meant to feel in return and I would run. Pursued by my own fear of Love.

By my late teens I did not realise it but I had constructed for myself an emotional wall to protect my aching, longing heart. I did not feel. I had largely shut down my emotions, my need for love, affirmation, affection, if I did not have these needs I would not be hurt, I would not feel pain.

I thought I was building a defensive barrier to keep pain out. Later I realised that the wall that kept pain out trapped me inside my own dark place and what I had actually succeeded in building was a prison for myself and I did not know how to get free.

Thankfully when I was in my final year at high school I gave my life to Jesus, and Jesus personifies love and was not content to live on the periphery of my life. He immediately began to undo the damage a childhood of love deprivation had done to me.

To love well one has to give of oneself, and that is where my journey began. I gave myself away to the love of God found in the person of Jesus. At first this was largely an intellectual decision as I became convinced of the truth of the gospel but once I had prayed and asked Jesus to come into my life to be both the master and the saviour of my life things began to change. The change was not all immediate nor joyful. I began to feel again both positive and negative emotions.

If I were to think of an image I suppose that watching the land come to life after winter would be an apt picture. There was a new sense of joy and purpose in my life like flowers in the spring time, but at the same time I once again became aware of emotions that I had long since shut off and denied. Sorrow, pain, depression, loneliness like old debris once hidden safely under the snow of winter reemerged to darken many moments of joy-and then there was love. I came alive to the human need to love and be loved.

In the first few years after I gave my heart to Jesus I think I just changed my strategy to deny the ache in my soul to love and be loved. I became very zealous and committed to God and my faith the new safe love of my life. I told myself a new version of the same old lie that I did not need human love because I had God’s love. I said I was too busy serving God to get involved with someone. I know that for some people this is true, but for me at that time it was just another way to hide away from the troubling question of love. I got away with that for a few years until one day in prayer with three close friends at university God confronted me with a vision of my own heart.

On that day as I prayed I saw a picture in my imagination of my heart. I saw it hidden inside a cave in a mountain. On all sides it was surrounded by stone and the entrance to the cave was closed up with a stone wall. The image was disturbing and comforting at the same time. It was disturbing because I knew that God was not commending me for the state of my heart, but it was comforting too because I felt that in the dark safely of those stone walls my heart could not be hurt. Locked up in that cave I would not be wounded by disappointment, hurt, rejection,abandonment or failure. As I was looking at the image God spoke to me and asked me to trust him with my heart and to set my heart free. It sounds overly dramatic now years later but I remember the terror of that decision. I wept as I confessed to God that I had indeed shut up my heart and emotions, but that I was afraid to let my heart become vulnerable again. As the tears rolled down my cheeks God showed me that one of the keys to love is vulnerability. If I was ever going to love or be loved I would have to become vulnerable to all the things I had been hurt by before, and from which I was now hiding. He then asked me to trust HIM with my heart. This was the beginning of a life of love for me. This was the beginning of a lifelong love. Trusting Jesus with my heart. In my imagination I took a sledge hammer to the stone wall imprisoning my heart and I saw an image of my heart freely flying into a blue sky. It was a terrifying picture because hanging in the air without protection my heart was vulnerable to every missile life could throw at it. I remember praying “Lord, I give my heart to you, but I am afraid. Please take care of my heart.” I still did not know if I had the capacity in me to love, I did not know how to truly love another person. God was preparing me for an encounter which changed my life forever.

A few months later I was at a party when a young woman walked through the door. I know it is a cliché but I saw her across the room and immediately turned to the friend standing next to me and pointed her out. She was beautiful, radiant with eyes that stopped my heart and a smile that took my breath away. You could say she was drop dead gorgeous to me and I fell in love, immediately, completely and irreversibly! Two years later that beautiful girl became my wife.

Right now I am on the TGV speeding across the countryside of France, a country famous for love but oddly desperate to know true love. Twenty five years have gone by as fast as the countryside is whipping by my window and I am amazed at the journey God has brought me on. I love freely deeply and passionately. I am not only still crazy about my wife but loving her has produced four children who are so loved that they regularly tease their sappy Dad.  Just writing these sentences I feel my heart and my eyes welling up with emotions of love, joy and gratitude. God has done a wonderful work in my life and I am deeply grateful. He has surrounded me with his love.

So why am I putting this out there? I am calling out to all my fellow cave dwellers to set your hearts free under the care of God. Self protection is a prison, a sterile and lonely existence. Trust God with your hearts he can do a better job than you can imagine.


If you have not yet done so give yourself to God, simply close your eyes and surrender to his love by saying “Jesus I give myself to you and your love. I trust myself to you. From now on I will do my best to obey you and follow your plan for my life”


Then give your emotions, your heart, to God. Pray “Father, forgive me for locking away my emotions and my heart. I repent of that now and I give them to you. I trust you to protect my heart. Right now I choose to be vulnerable again as I trust you.”


My train is about to pull into the station and I have to make a connection and go off to another city. As I do my prayer for each of you reading this is that you will make the connection that you need, that perhaps for some of you it will be a change of direction that enables you to start a new and more beautiful journey across the countryside of a life filled with love.

Trust him!

Sending you Love.





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