I recently chatted with a young woman who survived growing up in a dangerous home with an evil father. Oh, he looked normal enough to outsiders—kept a job, paid the bills, went to church, and played the part for the public—but in private, he was a cruel, sadistic beast who preyed upon the insecurities of his wife and children.
How did she survive? She became a runner. She learned how to outdistance the problem, literally and emotionally.
In junior and senior high school, she ran track. She was a fierce competitor. She’d had lots of practice. Putting distance between herself and a threatening adversary became second nature not only on the track, but also off the track in her relationships.
Now that she’s found a good man who—unlike her dad—can be trusted, she’s discovered that she just can’t stop running. She readily admits the undeniable longing for love deeply embedded in her heart. But while that desire entices her, it terrifies her even more!
Why? Because she’s realizing that running has become a way of life.
The truth is, all relationships are risky and have the potential for both pain and pleasure. Running is her way to manage that potential for pain in her relationships. Admittedly, it helped her survive an abusive situation, but now it’s sabotaging her potential for joy in a relationship with a man who truly loves her.
It’s her fear of love that’s paralyzing her from moving forward.
John Eldredge wrote in Wild at Heart, “The only thing more tragic than the tragedy that happens to us is the way we handle it” (p. 106).
Oddly enough, for many it’s the fear of losing love that shuts love down before it even has a chance to take root and grow.
This young woman’s fear of intimacy, of getting close, of finally being loved paralyzes her heart, preventing her from exchanging her running shoes for a pair of dancing shoes.
For many who have suffered the torment of growing up in an abusive home, their capacity to trust others to deeply love and care for them and not leave them is greatly diminished. They find it next to impossible to believe anyone will stay in their lives for an extended time, much less for a lifetime. They are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, dashing their hopes for a meaningful relationship yet again.
The solution for many is, “Just don’t get close to anyone. Outdistance the pain. Never commit. Keep moving, and you’ll never feel the pain of abandonment or abuse again.”
Unfortunately it works for a while . . . with some of the pain. But it’s a thief. It steals. It kills. And it destroys one’s opportunity to playfully splash around in the refreshing waters of committed love.
But there is hope. The antidote to our fear is perfect love. The problem is we are not perfectly loved. Or are we?
John, the apostle of love, said it best: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18 NIV). It’s God’s perfect love for us that can infuse us with the courage necessary to take the risk of loving others. And that’s the antidote that can transform any of us from “runners” to “lovers.” John’s words are a necessary reminder when we panic and start lacing up our running shoes. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
So, what shoes are you wearing these days? Running shoes or dancing shoes? I love to hear your thoughts and stories.