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I grew up in a family that did not “do feelings.” I do not remember my parents grabbing one another in a passionate hug. I do not remember my parents fighting. Or at least, only rarely. When they did fight, when voices were raised and real feelings were expressed, I and my siblings thought the world might end. Conflicts were quickly shut down.
I converted to Christ through the ministry of Young Life at age 15. Within weeks of that change, I met Ben, a youth pastor at a local Presbyterian church. Ben was the very opposite of my family: Ben did feelings nonstop. I don’t think there is a time I ever saw him in which he did not ask, “How are you feeling?”
I remember early on, he was asking how I was feeling, and I turned to him and said—in all honesty—“What’s a ‘feeling’?” I didn’t really understand the concept.
I remember one evening in the sanctuary, Ben played the piano and sang a song he had written, about being real with others. He loved the book The Velveteen Rabbit, and the song had the same theme, but felt much more profound and vulnerable: These were Ben’s words, echoing with a simple piano in a sanctuary of God. I knew it was a prayer to God. The lyrics were simple:
I Want to Be Real
I want to be real.
Real like the young one who says he needs what he needs
He’s being straight with me.
Oh to be real!
My person flying out from within my soul
As I join up with you.
Away from all the fears that tie me up
Seal my cup
Dam up the flow in me.
Open to you with all of the hurt I hide
Oh, but it’s so hard to do!
Oh, how I want to be real.
But it’s such a risk, being real!
My Lord says, “Open up, be real!”
I’m going to let go and be real!
I learned about feelings, and about relationships, from Ben, as well as from many others at that youth group. I learned about the risk of being real with others. Because if you truly show them who you really are, and they reject you, it is very painful.
But I also learned about the hope of being real. About its glories and promise. It allows for true intimacy. The union with “a genuine ‘other.’”
And when there are two people who are real with one another, the good things of God’s given world are increased tenfold in their goodness.
I think that is what is behind The Song of Solomon.
And I think it is why Jesus had friends.