5. “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” – Fr. Pedro Arrupe S.J., former Superior General
I think what often gets left out of the search to love and be love is God who is Love itself, who is perfect unconditional love! In the first letter of St. John, he tells us that God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. The fact that we are able to love and be loved in the first place is derived from our Creator.
As a kid in Catholic school, I could never understand the story of Jesus being asked what the greatest commandment in all of the law is: He answers that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. The thing that always got me was that he was asked for one (implied in the singular use of “commandment”) but answered with two. Like, Jesus, I know you’re awesome and all, and I’mma let you finish…but do you wanna double-check that math? What I came to understand later, though, was that it really is one commandment! Love of God and love of neighbor cannot be separated: there’s two sides to this coin called love.
Loving God and hating your neighbor (especially the prickly ones!) is a contradiction. St. John tells us: “If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20-21) Pretty straight-forward right?
However, I think what’s less clear is that loving others well is very difficult without a love for God as well. In modern times, discussions of idolatry tend to circle around the “big three”: money, power, and sex, but I think we also put people ahead of God as idols as well, which is easily seen in the nature of celebrity in mainstream culture today. However, we can also make idols of the people that are closest to us, the people we love the most and whom we desire to be loved by the most! Think about it: when a family member, friend, or significant other does something to disappoint, hurt, or frustrate us, even unintentionally, we tend to feel more strongly about it than we would if say, an acquaintance or co-worker did the same thing. We feel this way because our loved ones are closer to us and more important to us, and that makes us more vulnerable. Even though we may know in our heads that they are imperfect, flawed, and yes, sinful just like everyone else (and us!), somehow we can still manage to be shocked when this comes out (and it will happen, trust). We expect perfect love from imperfect people!
Growing in a loving relationship with God gives us perspective in our relationships with our neighbors by re-aligning our expectations of love. God is perfect, unchanging, unconditional love, and if we allow God to love us perfectly, then we can have more patience to love and be loved by others in our human, imperfect ways. It’s easier to deal with people popping quills when you A) know that they have them, and B) expect they will sometimes use them. As the saying goes, if we let God be God, we can let people be human, meaning: we can stop expecting people to be perfect.
But why do we struggle to love God? One answer is that like in our human relationships, we’re afraid. We don’t trust that God loves us in that unconditional manner that we all want and need: we’re like our forebears, Adam and Eve, who ate that apple from the Tree of Knowledge, even though God told them they would die, because they were afraid that God was holding out on them. Or maybe we worry that we’ve done so much bad stuff in our lives, turned away from God so much, that we convince ourselves (or maybe, the devil convinces us?) that God couldn’t possibly love us anymore in the way he claims to love us. So despite the fact that God knows us perfectly, and wants the best for us, in our lack of faith and trust we try to separate ourselves from Him.
However, God is always with us, constantly revealing Himself to us, waiting for us to respond and accept his love and help, at any time, in any place, whether we go to Mass every week or haven’t stepped foot in church in years, whether or not we pray every day, whether we think we deserve it or not! As Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. writes in his book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, God meets us where we’re at – so where we’re at is a place where we can meet God. I don’t need to learn how to pray better or more often before God will love me; I don’t need to do more community service or learn to not get angry on the freeway before God will love me (though in Southern CA, I think accomplishing the later may qualify you for sainthood!). Love, that is, God, is here, now, and reaching out to you: all you have to do is accept 🙂
And if you do, I can promise you out of personal experience, that finding God, falling in love in that absolute, final way, is to live life the way we were meant to live it 😀