Wednesday, August 15, 2012
If You Loved Me ...
How often have we heard those words: “If you really loved me, you would …?” If you have kids, you probably heard them often, because they didn’t really understand what love is, and what love must do. They thought they knew better, but they didn’t --- yet.
There is another common phrase: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” True love gives, without counting the cost, and true love means sometimes accepting that the one you love will not understand your loving acts. They may even interpret them as hate. That’s where the first phrase is often said, when the one we love thinks that our actions don’t seem (to them) to be the actions of one who loves them. And so they respond to our loving actions with the words: “If you REALLY loved me …” And then we’re tempted to respond with “I’m sorry,” but true love doesn’t do that. It does what it must.
And those hateful responses from our kids hurt us most, when we must take loving actions which we KNOW they will not understand, and still we take them. God must often love us that way, a “tough love,” taking loving care of us knowing that our response to His actions will be to misunderstand, and even to say words of hate to Him. And so we sometimes hurt Him, yet He still loves us.
There are two things to note about “tough love” situations. The first has to do solely with the receiver of love, and their view of self. It is one thing to think we deserve to be loved; this is a healthy view of self; God made us this way. It is another thing, however, to think that we know all that is good for us, we want it, and we deserve to have it. This attitude of super ego, selfishness, is not a healthy view of self. It turns our attitude toward love received, from something which is gratefully accepted, if given, to something that MUST be given to us. This attitude says I know what is good for me, and “if you really loved me, you’d give it to me.” This is a wrong view of self, this idea that we know everything good for us.
The second thing to note about “tough love” situations is the history between the two persons up to that point. If the lover has demonstrated his love in the past; if we’ve seen many times over and over again how much he loves us, then when he does something out of tough love which does not appear to be loving to us, we will not instinctively react as if he has now done something wrong, perhaps done something in hate. Instead, we will question our understanding of the situation. Our response will not be “IF you love me,” but rather “I KNOW you love me, so …” perhaps I don’t understand why you did this act. If we have a history of being loved by someone, we will TRUST that they continue to love us, even if we sometimes don’t understand their intents.
We can understand a healthy parent-child relationship: the child grows up knowing he is loved. So then if the parent has to discipline the child, the child knows it is done with love, for the child’s good. If the child is denied something he wants, even if he thinks it is good for him, he accepts that the parent denies him in love, although as he grows up (think teenager) the child may exhibit his coming adulthood by saying “but you just don’t understand.” But in a loving relationship, understanding can be worked out.
We can see and understand these “tough love” situations when we are the adult dealing with our children, so why is it so hard to accept these situations when we are the children, and God is the adult? Why do we equate human adulthood with spiritual adulthood? Why do we think what is good for us as human beings is also good for us as spiritual beings? Why are we so egotistical and selfish, in our relationship with God? Even though we don’t pray the words, how often are we thinking when we ask something of God: “If You really loved me, then …?” How often do we confuse what love is, and what it must do? Love is freely given, and it must be freely accepted. We deserve to be loved, yes, but we cannot DEMAND to be loved. Like a human child cannot demand things he wants from his parents, thinking he knows what is good for his human life, neither can a child of God demand things of God, thinking he knows what is good for his spiritual life.
A healthy view of our spiritual self trusts that we do not know all that is good for our spiritual health. A history of knowing and feeling God’s love enables us to develop a healthy trust in Him, even when He seems to allow unloving things to happen to us. A healthy view of self in our relationship with God doesn’t say “If You loved me …,” but rather: “I trust in You.”
A healthy view of self may sometimes be difficult to achieve in our human society. Advertisements lure us: “Get what you want, now!” And now even our government lures us: “I’ll give you what you want, now!” How can we not give in to these temptations all around us, and even let it impact our spiritual life?
It is not easy.
It helps to understand and remember that love is not about things. If someone lures us with things, it is not love they are giving us. We also need to understand that love is something which is freely given, and does not expect something in return. The company that asks for money for its products or the government that asks for votes for your “entitlements” is not a loving being. It is no different that the slave owner who gives you food --- if you work as a slave. That is not exhibiting love.
We can see the love God has for us all around us, in His creation. Even if we think our lives today are a living hell, still we can see His love in the relationships He has with others. We can read of His love in Scripture. We can understand it in the actions of Jesus, who shows us how God acts. Even as Jesus walked the earth, there were poor and sick around Him. There were people who probably thought their lives were a living hell then, too. He didn’t cure them all, make them all rich, or end all their suffering. He gave them no “things” they asked for. Yet He loved them, and they knew it.
We need to know that He loves us, too.
Sometimes when I reflect on the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, I can see the real truth of the events there. The mysteries: An unwed pregnant lady, a long journey to visit an old relative, a birth in a dirty stable, a warning that “your heart will be pierced,” and a lost child for three days. Joyous Mysteries!?! These aren’t joyous events; these are events of pain and panic. Yet, looking back at them now, we can see the Father’s love unfolding there, and they indeed were joyous events. As they happened, however, Mary likely couldn’t see joy in those events, but she trusted in God. We need to also.
Love isn’t getting all we want or think we deserve when we want it. That is the attitude of Adam and Eve to the serpent. Rather love is gratefully accepting all that is given to us, whether it be great or small. Love isn’t anxiety over whether we are being given all we want or deserve; love is peaceful, like a hug. And even if we feel we receive only little, we can feel hugged, and pass on that love on to others. That’s what being His children, made in His image, means and feels like. It is an attitude we need to develop.
I trusted, even when I said: “I am sorely afflicted.” Ps 116:10