Tuesday, January 14, 2014

True Love - The Integrity Project

Hello Ladies,

You may have been wondering why I repeat (over and over and over) God's love for you. The answer is simple: If God is the center of your life then your life makes sense. Without God as the center even the most beautiful relationships become warped. Think this is an exaggeration? Read on.

Ever hear a husband or wife say "We'll never get divorced because we don't believe in it?" How about a mother angrily saying "I'm pretending this is my son's face" while pounding out meat for dinner.  Or "I cannot possibly have this baby. There isn't enough love in the world." "We used to be in love but we just lost it. Isn't that the way it goes? Better to split up now than have things drag out." "The Christian model of marriage is for the woman to stay in the home. She finds joy in the success of her husband and children." We are so willing to conform our thoughts to our worst nightmares. "We have to keep our children safe!" instead of "Our society needs to teach that rape, shooting children (or anybody) is unacceptable." What are we thinking??

We have downgraded love, the greatest power in the universe, to an emotion, a finite, dwindling resource. We know that we cannot maintain even the most basic human relationships on our own. We question the existence of God and the purpose of our own creation: to be loved by God and to love in return.

Let's take a look at the Catholic view of what a loving relationship looks like. For reasons of convenience I will start with marriage. The most obvious Christian view of marriage is: man plus woman equals children. This is true. It is the most stable building block of society. But when have I ever taken the simplest answer?

We are not created simply to do as we are told. We are created to be in relationship with God. What is your ideal, healthy relationship? It is one of mutual respect, trust, and support. It is a relationship in which one draws life from the other and gives it back again. It honors vulnerability as a gift, not as an excuse to victimize or berate. It is the ultimate "I've got your back" so that you can walk on your journey to heaven together.

Let me tell you a story before you think I'm deluding myself. My mother had some severe mental problems which resulted in various addictions. My father didn't realize the full extent of the damage to the family (mental illness can be hidden and tricky) but when he did, he made moves to protect his children and help his wife. She did get medical help and she was able to give up some of her addictions and attain some stability. They separated (her idea). He was told, over and over, even by me, to divorce his wife. If she had ever asked for a divorce he would have granted it. But she never did. He paid her bills and forgave her for her nastiness. Why? Not because of church doctrine. Not because he believed that he deserved to be abused (though he felt extreme guilt for not catching on earlier). He did it because he knew that she was incapable of caring for herself. She would have ended up on the street and would have died alone, a bitter woman.

One day, a few years ago, my mother called my father asking if they could meet for dinner. (This was unheard of.) My father said that she was always welcome, she need not even ask! Just show up! He was surprised and thrilled. So they met at a restaurant for dinner. My mother was gratified at the love and forgiveness that had always been there. My father was grateful to be able to show his love and respect for her. And then she died. Literally. She had a heart attack right in front of him. She was pronounced dead at the hospital but the restaurant had to fill out "death on premises" paperwork.

It was only at my mom's funeral that I truly began to understand my dad. God is the center of his life. He did not simply accept the situation; he prayed daily for strength and guidance. He knew that if he gave up on his wife that she would give up on herself. As he told me once: "I promised her. I promised to be there for her in sickness. How is this different? Would you want me to treat you that way?"

God's love is fulfilling but it can also be difficult. Jesus died for us. But even He took strength from God. Even Jesus took the time to discern God's will for him.

The Holy Family is often held up as the ideal Christian family. Yet St. Joseph wasn't Jesus' father. This caused great scandal at the time or the Bible wouldn't mention it. Catholic and Orthodox tradition clearly state that Mary and Joseph did not have children of their own. They were chaste. BUT THEY WERE OPEN TO LIFE IN THAT THEY WERE OPEN TO THE LIFE GIVING WILL OF GOD.

I'm not saying that children aren't important. I am not negating the man plus woman equals children equation. But I am saying that having a full relationship with God should shake your foundations a bit. How so? Have you ever objectified yourself or others because you were lonely?  Because you wanted to be popular? Or loved? Do you hold back from your beloved because you're afraid of getting hurt? In short, do you believe that love is a limited resource?

Loving fully is hard. It's scary. It is not to be done lightly. It takes constant care and attention. And it's totally worth it.

One of my favorite things to do is to go to adoration of the blessed sacrament. I highly recommend this even if you're not sure of the body and blood of Christ thing. What do you do? Find a church that has adoration. Go into the chapel or church and sit. Just as you are. Sit quietly for a few minutes or a few hours. Even if you're not Catholic. Nobody is going to be looking for a membership card at the door. That's it. But it is truly profound.

God calls us to love by loving us first. He is not asking us to do something which he has not already done. He walks with us during our bad times. We have to make him breakfast, keep a perfect house for him or go to bed with him to 'prove' our love or value. He simply loves us. No matter what.

May God continue to bless you.