In December, I watched Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth for Anime Secret Santa. I was struck by the way the main character, Yune, reaches out to those around her. She feels free to love and serve others, while her guardian, Claude, is held back by fear and social convention. Freedom and love are strong themes in Croisée, and for good reason; freedom is connected to how people relate to each other. This just as true in reality as in anime, which leads me to thoughts about Christians. We, more than anyone else, are free to love. In fact, we are commanded to love. So what holds us back? Croisée highlights three of the biggest inhibitors: fear of betrayal and rejection, fear of loss, and fear of what others may think (social convention). I focus on the first two in this post.
Fear of Betrayal and Rejection
Claude, a blacksmith and Paris native, tells Yune to be wary of strangers, lest they take advantage of her. He disapproves of her friendliness toward a little street boy. She sees a hungry child; Claude sees a thief. She sees an opportunity to serve; he sees a threat. Both are technically correct. The boy does steal from them. Yet Yune remains compassionate. She gives him bread two episodes later, much to Claude’s dismay.
When Yune becomes ill, Claude is sure that the child gave her the disease. She still defends him, explaining that she wants to understand how the boy feels. She thinks he’s searching for a place to belong. Claude dismisses the idea… but then he finds flowers the boy left for her.
Claude isn’t exactly wrong to be suspicious. When we extend kindness, people won’t always respond in kind. Sometimes, they may take advantage of us. But defensive callousness is not the answer. We are called to be compassionate, the way Yune is. Compassion is the kind of empathy that moves you to understanding and action—it’s a part of active love.
Not everyone responds by leaving flowers at our doorstep. Instead, they may take whatever we give them and run. The only way to completely avoid rejection and betrayal is to keep to ourselves. That’s not how Jesus worked, so it’s not how we should work, either. When we love others, even to a small extent, we make ourselves a little vulnerable. There are risks involved, but we proceed anyway—not carelessly, of course, but not so guarded that we miss a chance to love.
Fear of Loss
Claude and Yune begin to understand each other as the episodes go by, but Claude still tries to keep his distance. He doesn’t tell Yune much about his past, and he doesn’t ask many questions about her personal life. At the end of the eleventh episode, his grandfather, Oscar, confronts him: “You acted like you didn’t need to learn more about her out of trust, but I bet you were too afraid to.”
Claude exclaims, “Afraid? Why would I be?”
“Growing close only makes it harder when she leaves someday.” Oscar hits the nail on the head. It’s no surprise; circumstance has ended a relationship for Claude before.
I identify with Claude’s fear of loss, and I’ve struggled with it myself. Is it worth it to love someone who may leave me in just a few short years? As a teenager, my closest friends were girls I met in first grade. In high school, these girls moved away—we were still friends, but we couldn’t be involved in each other’s lives as regularly as before. I had friends at school, but no close friends—and, for various reasons, I was too insecure to pursue those friendships. My closest friends were also the friends I’d had the longest. I wasn’t sure how to approach friendship when we only had a year before graduation and college.
Now I’m in my third year of college. Each semester, I meet new people. And they teach me about what it means to love, even if it’s just for a passing moment. For example, one classmate often brought me treats. If she made cake or cookies, she’d bring some for me the next day. Even when she didn’t plan to share, I had to be careful not to complain of hunger, because she’d immediately produce a snack from her own lunch bag. We only really talked throughout one semester, her last semester before graduating. I never brought treats for her, though I wanted to. We never became close friends. But I doubt I’ll ever forget her simple demonstrations of love.
We’re in an environment that promises some level of loss within four years or less, but that doesn’t keep us from loving one another. Friends share their troubles with me, and I share mine with them. We share our hearts… even though, once we graduate, we may not see each other outside of Facebook. Why? Yes, if you care for someone, you’ll hurt when you part. But if you try to shelter yourself from that pain, you are robbing yourself and others. God has given each of us the ability to bless one another. We are meant to use and enjoy it, giving thanks to God as we do.
Here is another thing I have learned: the phrase “invest in a friendship” is too narrow. Sometimes, we need to invest in someone’s heart or in their wellbeing. They might not become our best friend forever. We might not benefit from the interaction at all—not in this world, at least. But that’s the point. Love is selfless. It is a chance to bless someone else, and the investment in their life, for their benefit, no matter how small or brief, is worth it.
Why We’re Free to Love
Yune, after talking with Claude in the fifth episode, muses, “‘Freedom’ is different in Paris and Japan. Does ‘freedom’ mean not to meddle?”
Obviously, from what I’ve said above, if we feel free to love, we will “meddle” a little. But where does that freedom come from? What can help us let go of our fear and selfishness? I find the answer in Jesus Christ and the love, example, and help he gives us.
I can love others because I know I am deeply, unconditionally, eternally loved. When I am rejected or when circumstances separate me from a loved one, it hurts. Yet I am at peace knowing that God is still with me, and that relationship, thanks to Christ’s work, will only get better from here. I know the Source of love; how can I refrain from sharing it?
Jesus was rejected countless times, and people still reject and betray him daily—including me, every time I sin. People he loved flogged him, drove nails through his hands and feet, and jeered at him while he struggled to breathe on the cross. He was just as fully man as he was fully God… I imagine the emotional pain was as awful as the physical, if not worse. But instead of becoming callous, he prayed on their behalf: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (23:33-35" href="https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+23:33-35&version=NASB">Luke 23:24). The New Testament, especially the gospels, is full of examples of Jesus’ love, both in big things and in daily life. He is the One I follow. He is the One I want to imitate. Jesus’s example gives me a better understanding of love, and understanding helps me break from ungrounded fears.
Still, I struggle to love the way I am called to. So I pray. I confess my selfishness, fears, and ignorance. God has taught me a lot about love. He lets me fail, yes, but he helps me. Since I know his Spirit is with me, I know I am not alone with I brave relationships with others. His assurance of help gives me freedom.
In Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, Yune demonstrates a drive to care for those around her that we can learn from, especially when it’s contrasted with Claude’s defensiveness. No, Yune doesn’t have a full understanding of love. Both naiveté and convention cloud her approach. But she does understand that freedom is not mere independence from people. Rather, it’s being free to relate to people, to love them, work alongside them, and to occasionally meddle. Jesus Christ gave us freedom, and part of that means being free to love, just as he commanded us.