Alleluia! Love, Intimacy, and Easter – Part 5

For a recap of the entire series: See Part 1 here. See Part 2 here. See Part 3 here. See Part 4 here.

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 😀

Alleluia! Love, Intimacy, and Easter – Part 4

See Part 1 here. See Part 2 here. See Part 3 here.

4. “I want to live my whole life like that. I want to love with much more abandon and stop waiting for others to love me first.” – John Eldredge, Wild at Heart

I’ve made my choice. I’m tired of only seeing the two options of fight or flight. Tired of diving for cover, tired of lashing out, all for the sake of “protecting” myself.

I also don’t want to settle for being the “nice guy”: someone polite and politically correct, someone who won’t assert or initiate, someone non-confrontational. Because this too, can be a mask: by being unwilling to initiate or confront, by trying to get along to go along, I think we can end up closing ourselves off from the intimacy and the love we’re seeking. Being “nice” is not enough.

I want to live a life of truly loving and being loved, of revealing my real self to others and encouraging others to reveal themselves to me, of living to become what God made me to be and helping others become who God made them to be. To do this, I know that I have to learn to love recklessly with abandon: to live the heroic, courageous, radical kind of love that initiates relationship without regard to the possibility that love may not be returned right away, or maybe even ever! This is absolutely terrifying, because I will get hurt by some people: human nature, compounded by sin, practically guarantees this!

I’m far from perfect, far from the saint I aim to be, far from the best version of myself that God wants me to be. I’m sinful, I’m selfish, I lose patience sometimes, I get angry sometimes, I do dumb things sometimes! I’ll hurt others, sometimes without realizing it, and sometimes on purpose. Sometimes the fears can become so overwhelming that I’ll lose heart and resort to popping my quills or running away. I will screw up, I will fail: I get it when St. Paul says to the Romans when he says that he does not do the good he wants, but the evil he does not want. I get it because I do this too! And even beyond all that, I’m naturally introverted and painfully shy…that’s a lot of hurdles to leap over!

But maybe…courage is contagious. Maybe by living courageously, with God’s help we can pull others from their tombs of loneliness and isolation. Maybe taking that risk can encourage others to do the same: by putting away those quills and asking to dance, others just might put theirs away and accept that dance. 🙂

So I think I’ll take Bl. Pope JP2’s advice, straight out of Scripture, one of the most common exhortations God has for his people: “Be not afraid!” Leave the life of the chicken, and soar as the eagle!

See Part 5 here.

Alleluia! Love, Intimacy, and Easter – Part 3

See Part 1 here. See Part 2 here.

3. “We all want to get close without getting hurt. We meet neighbors, talk with coworkers, go on dates, and join church groups. We try to stay away from particularly prickly people. But the problem is not just them. It’s us. I’m someone’s porcupine. And so are you.” – Brandon Vogt, Dance of the Porcupines

So yes, despite the fact that we were made to love and be loved, we’re really afraid of intimacy, of revealing ourselves to others, because we’re afraid that if people really knew us, they wouldn’t love us anymore. As Brandon Vogt reminds us in his article (linked above), this is also true for everyone we meet, which makes this “love and be loved” business even more challenging!

The tricky thing about fear is that it generally evokes one of two responses: fight, or flight. We either hide as has been discussed, or like porcupines we pop out our quills and try to sting someone away: we might do this with sarcasm, or arrogance, or contempt, or self-righteousness, or jealousy, or selfishness, or pointed, piercing words. Sometimes we label and dismiss the people we encounter in order to convince ourselves that knowing and being known by the individual, in other words, loving him/her, is not really worth our time. However, this aggressiveness, though its forms may be deeply ingrained in us and we can easily unsheathe them for battle, is really just another form of hiding. These forms are not a fundamental part of who we are but rather are an arsenal we build up in our weakness, our sinfulness, and fears.

But despite our deepest fear, that if we reveal ourselves we will no longer be loved, we desperately long for love: we still want to get close, but without getting hurt. We want this because this is who God made us to be, to love and be loved! So how do we deal with this conflict: the fear of rejection versus our created purpose of loving and being loved?

There are two choices: you can continue to hide, cut yourself off from others, and lose yourself in loneliness. Or you can chose to rise from the tomb, and as Mr. Vogt suggests, learn to pull your quills in, take off your mask, and ask if you may have this dance. Because it’s not just other people’s quills that are the problem: our quills are also the problem.

Yes, to pull our quills in is to possibly risk getting stung. But could you also just imagine how beautifully we could dance to God’s music? I think that this image is part of what the Resurrection promises us: living as an Easter people and learning to dance with each other in this life is a foretaste of the big dance of Heaven 🙂

See Part 4 here. See Part 5 here.

Alleluia! Love, Intimacy, and Easter – Part 2

See Part 1 of the series here.

2. “Life is about love…Intimacy is self-revelation: intimacy is me revealing myself to you, and you revealing yourself to me. Intimacy is to know and be known. But very often we don’t reveal ourselves…we hide ourselves…Why?…We’re afraid that if people really knew us, they wouldn’t love us anymore. That’s our core fear…when they do come and say ‘I love you,’ in the back of our minds we’re thinking ‘no, you love the person you think I am…but if you really knew me, you wouldn’t love me anymore.’ And so even when people do love us, we’re not able to receive their love, because we haven’t revealed ourselves. What’s the opposite of intimacy? Loneliness…you can be in a crowd and be lonely, you can be in a relationship and be desperately lonely. You can be in a relationship that other people think is a great relationship, and still be desperately lonely, because you’re not known, because you either don’t have the ability or don’t have the opportunity to reveal yourself.” – Matthew Kelly, The Seven Levels of Intimacy (on CD)

So yes, we were created to love and be loved, and we know this deep in the core of our beings…but why is it so freaking hard? Why do we allow all the “urgent stuff” in our lives come before the fundamental purpose of our lives? Well, in our weaknesses, frailties, faults, flaws, scars, brokenness, and yes, sinfulness, we hide because we’re afraid to love and be loved, and Matthew Kelly nails it. We hide behind carefully constructed masks because of this fear, and in doing so we render ourselves incapable of accomplishing that fundamental purpose of love, of knowing and being known!

And not only do we do this with people in our lives, we comically and tragically try to do this with God too! It’s comical because even though God knows everything about us and is with us all the time, thought about us before beginning the work of creation, and knew us before he knit us in our mothers’ wombs, we still try to tell him that he’s unwelcome in certain aspects of our lives: when we go to Church, it’s all good with God, but when we’re at work, go out on dates, hang out with friends, watch movies/TV, go on the Internet, etc. we tell God to butt out. Or, because of bad decisions we’ve made in the past in certain aspects of our lives, we feel ashamed and we hide from Him. What’s tragic about this is he loves us perfectly; really, He does, and He wants us to experience joy and happiness in our lives, and in the new life to come!

And so, because we hide and cut ourselves off from receiving the love of God and of others, we become lonely. Mother Teresa once said that though she served among the poorest of the poor and bore witness to their poverty, those in developed nations suffer another type of poverty: a poverty of love. In my life I’ve witnessed this in people around me…and I myself have felt the desperate pain of loneliness. I know what it is to feel unworthy of love, to be hurt, to hide myself, and sink into loneliness. This experience of loneliness can drive us into despair, cause us to disbelieve in the power of Good over Evil, Love over Hate, even question the existence of real love…and that despair can have tragic consequences. We can get trapped in our loneliness and have no way out, and this experience of loneliness is the same experience Jesus went through, when he was betrayed by one of his top 12 friends, when the same people who celebrated his entrance on Jerusalem on Sunday turned around and cried out for him to be crucified, when he cried out to the Father on the Cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” Yes, this feeling of loneliness can be a brush with death, our own personal crucifixions.

So like cat in the picture, we’re afraid, so we hide…and then we can’t be seen. But if we’re invisible, we can’t love or be loved, and we begin to die inside. And not only do we start to die inside: our relationships, they too start to die.

See Part 3 here. See Part 4 here. See Part 5 here.

Alleluia! Love, Intimacy, and Easter – Part 1

I can finally say the “A-word” now: ALLELUIA! Jesus Christ is risen!

In honor of Easter, I’d like to share five quotes/paraphrases I’ve been thinking and meditating about a lot lately; these words summarize my Lenten journey this year, but I think, also my life journey. I’ll throw in my own thoughts about each one, in this and the next few posts.

1. “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself; his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This is why Christ the Redeemer fully reveals man to himself.” – Blessed Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II

As some folks in my life know, I’ve spent a lot of time lately pondering some big-picture questions: who am I? What was I made for? Where am I going in life? What is God calling me to do, to be? What is my vocation? Am I called to find, marry, and become husband to the love of my life and become a father to a few beautiful children? Am I called to the priesthood or religious life, to become a husband “in persona Christi” to the Church and become a spiritual father to many beautiful children? How is He answering me in the world around me, in my thoughts, in my feelings (crap, not the f-word…:-P)? Am I living my life in a manner that brings me closer to God, that make me more holy each day?

Sometimes searching for answers to these questions can get overwhelming, and even frustrating, but then these words of Bl. Pope JP2 settle me down: these questions, though important, are intended to help guide me to better live that purpose that we were all created for – we were created by Love itself in order to love and be loved! The love JP2 speaks of here isn’t just the emotion or the warm-and-fuzzies, but rather that deeper, fuller meaning of love known as agape: an act of the will that consists of the lover preferring the good of the beloved, even before the good of him/herself.

Christ told us that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strengths, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Then by his life, death, and resurrection, He told us “I’ll show you how to do it”: being perfectly loved by and perfectly loving the Father, and being imperfectly loved by humanity yet still choosing to perfectly love humanity – dying on the cross to wash away our sins, and rising from the dead to give us hope in new life with Him!

So I think what God’s telling me here is, yes, the questions are important, but they’re details; Love and let yourself be loved, right here, right now, and we’ll hash out the details in time. 🙂

See Part 2 here. See Part 3 here. See Part 4 here. See Part 5 here.