Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Loved and Lost (What I've learned about love part 3)

"I hold it true, whate'er befall;
         I feel it, when I sorrow most;
         'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."
(Alfred Lord Tennyson,  In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 27)

Love is never a mistake. I do not believe in a God who limits himself when he loves, so I should not limit myself when I love.  Love, the real kind, is infinite because it has as its source the infinite God. There is no way, in any situation, to love someone "too much."  But often I'm tempted to beat myself up for loving someone who didn't love me back, or loving someone more than they love me.  When you love and you lose, you not only have to get over the heartbreak.  Sometimes you feel a sickening guilt as well.  Those sickening feelings usually make me suspicious.  When God is behind something, there's a certain element of peace or conviction, even if you feel guilty.  The kind of guilt I'm talking about is the other kind, the wrong and unnecessary kind. 

First off I would like to address the misleading concept of emotional chastity, as captured by many Catholic bloggers.  If you've never heard of it, it's basically the idea that sharing too much of your heart or emotions with another person is unholy- like revealing too much of your body before you're married to someone is sinful because it doesn't reflect the sacredness of and respect due to your body and your whole person.  The argument is that physical chastity is important for guys because they're very visual, but that girls are more tempted to get closer emotionally to someone than they should.

I've read and thought a lot about it...and I don't buy it.  It's one of the few things I'd argue with Jackie Francois and the Everts on.  At least, I don't buy it as it is often presented, with the catch phrase "Guard your heart!"  In my fight against fear, the ultimate destroyer of love, I've realized that to be vulnerable with others is a requirement for becoming more like Christ.  I don't believe in building a wall around myself and saving all the deeper truths that God wants me to explore for a few select people.  We aren't supposed to bury our talents, hide our light under a bushel basket, or build walls around our hearts to separate ourselves from the unworthy.  We're all unworthy, and yet God desires that all of us be loved anyway. And notice God doesn't worry about whether He's loved back or whether He gets rejected and hurt...

I DO believe in the virtue of prudence.  I believe that you should expose your heart to people gradually, yes- but not for the sake of "guarding" it.  The real danger of pouring out your dark secrets and your hopes and dreams is doing so with the expectation of getting something.  You can't claim to be loving people if your goal in forming a connection with them is emotional gratification for yourself.  Love means to want the good of the other, and the false motive of self-gratification is certainly to be avoided.  Rather, love is a gift.  Before you pour out your heart then, ask if you're truly trying to give love (which never runs out or becomes diminished because its source is the infinite Lover) or if you're hoping to receive affirmation and affection to fill your longing or fix your wounds.  If it's the second...you're going to the wrong place.  Look up. The answer is something, Someone too great for the earth that scarred you. Don't be afraid of Him; His heart is never guarded but always open.

I also believe that love needs to be proportional.  We are commanded by Love to put aside idols.  Loving anyone more than God is an issue, and the self-gratifying "love" can be a distraction from the real thing.  But that means we must increase our love for God, not diminish our love for his precious children.  In fact, when we recognize the image of God in serving our beloved brothers and sisters, He tells us that whatever we do to them, "You did it to Me." Example: Mother Teresa.  Did she love the poor too much? Of course not!

I still admit that "emotional chastity" is a lot safer for people who don't want to get hurt.  No matter how hard you try to love without expecting a return, rejection is still going to hurt.  This is where the guilt will try to get you.  People will throw you very non-comforting phrases like "You should have known better," or only slightly less despicable,"You deserve better!"  There are some cases when these have truth to them, but often they are far from relevant.  Sometimes, you SHOULDN'T have known better- because love isn't a mistake to avoid.  You were right to take risks, to be vulnerable, and to forgive.  All of these are the marks of Christlike love.  I think it's important to remember that you can be hurt by the way someone treated you without having to regret the way you treated them.  Seeing beyond what someone deserves and offering them more is a portrayal of grace, and it's powerful.  Sometimes it actually will move people who looked like hopeless bums.  Sometimes it won't.  The possibility of failure is NOT a good reason to give up the fight before it begins, just as the possibility of success isn't good enough reason to assume you'll win and can expect a beautiful ending.  In everything you are called to try your best at love and trust God to fill in for your insufficiency.  And you can't expect Him to do that the way you want.  Sometimes you lose.  Sometimes it hurts.  And sometimes that makes you doubt Love Himself.

Doubting Love can take the form of anger at God or fear of trusting Him and others, or many other things.  But I suspect that at the root these struggles all stem from the myth that suffering is meant to be punishment.  We feel divided from God because we see the pain as a sign that we did something wrong.  We feel that no matter how hard we try, God is disappointed with us.  We could deal with our human heartbreaks with so much more courage if they didn't make us call divine love into question...but they do.  When we view love as a mistake, we risk thinking that Love can make mistakes and that He regrets us and wants to make our shortcomings clear to us by emphasizing them with the worst aches and sufferings we've ever experienced.

If you only remember one thing from this post, I want it to be that the punishment theory we all succumb to is a lie.  Losing at love and feeling that pain does not mean that you are being pushed away to learn some hard, cruel lesson.  No, Jesus is drawing you close to Him...all the way to Calvary.  He will teach you many lessons, but revoking His love is and always will be out of the question, even if you think it's what you deserve.  He does not agree. We all have friends who we can have fun and laugh with, but the best friends are the ones willing to share your suffering.  Jesus wants you to be that best friend.  He's inviting you to take your love for Him to the next level, and each struggle you go through will not disappoint Him but make His heart burn with love for you like it always has, whether you won or lost. 

True love always mimics the love of God.  That means painful is part of the deal.  But so is the infinite, the unconditional, the beautiful...and ultimately the victorious. 

 


The Forgiveness Myth

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