The Risk of Love

Dawn Schurter


The person who cares less has more power in the relationship, because they’re the one who is willing to walk away from it.

People and systems will take advantage of our love for others, forcing us to do more with less because we are unwilling to walk away from our clients. The only way to win is to stop caring.

Love is a weakness because it makes you vulnerable to harm.

I consciously and unconsciously carry this suitcase of dysfunctional conceptions into my relationships. Understand that ensuring my own security became a cornerstone to my thought patterns very early in life, so most of these stem from that. This suitcase didn’t keep me from being gifted with many incredible, life-changing relationships throughout the years, but it does bring a constant element of risk analysis to relationships. This is a tiring way to live.

My work with angry, hurt, and unstable teenage boys in residential treatment over the past five years only supported my beliefs about self-protection from the harmful intentions of others. However, our philosophy is that the damage was done in relationship, and so must the healing be. That means that if I truly believed in our theory of change, then I would need to make myself vulnerable to some measure of inevitable hurt as I helped walk the boys towards healing through genuine relationship with them. I must confess that most of the time, my risk analysis would conclude that real relationship was too risky and costly with most of these clients; I would be a positive, consistent, affirming adult figure for them, but no more. I would risk nothing.

In January of this year, I moved to Cebu, Philippines to help bring children out of sex trafficking with International Justice Mission (IJM). Since my move, though, I have begun slowly unwinding the many tangled threads of my old job. I find that I’m having trouble putting those relationships down now. The two or three clients that I can’t stop thinking about were the few I really invested in.

When I speak with my counselor, I tell her it was hard to see someone I love like that — and she draws attention my choice of the word “love.” I realize that I really do love them, and begin wondering if this trouble moving on is just another negative consequence of loving others. Then, I remember that in the most horrible moments with those clients - sitting for hours with them on floors splattered with spit, sweat, blood, disgusting slurs, fear, hatred, and self-loathing, when that prefrontal cortex has stopped sending signals — that that was when the most authentic of loves was played out with them. All I had left in those moments was to sit with them in their darkness, and to stay until they were ready to move back into the light.

My choice about how I will respond to them at their absolute lowest holds more power than almost anything else in the world. My choice to love and offer connection, while costing me a great deal, holds so much power. That love is not a liability; it is a strength. Conversely, the most courageous and powerful thing that they can do in those moments is to challenge everything they know about themselves and the world, and to believe the story that I choose to tell them. My story says that who they are is not what they have done or what has been done to them, that they deserve good things in life, and that their story does not stop here. No amount of strength or control has the power to reach them or change them; the greatest strength they can show in that moment is to accept my offer of love and connection.

Maybe I’ve been focusing on the wrong things in my risk analyses. Maybe you would be willing to join me in rifling through that little suitcase and re-evaluating what once may have served a purpose, but no longer fits.

Dawn is a 29-year-old girl who is currently living in the Philippines trying out her dream job, but missing long drives in the open country more than most anything else — that and playing piano. She enjoys nature, reading, and breakfasts with her grandma. This week’s jams are “Daniel in the Den” by Bastille, “Arrival of the Birds” on piano by Johann Johannsson, and “Come Hang Out” by AJR. She just paid an exorbitant amount for Reese’s she found at the grocery store, so tonight, life is good.

Christina Hite