Sunday, February 2, 2014
Why Should Anyone Love Me?
Questions which begin with the word “why” are the hardest ones to answer. Most often the answer is not a fact or something explainable in a short Tweet. And, most often, the answer requires you to stop and think. If you have the time, and really desire an answer to the above question, I invite you to do both.
Why should anyone love me? That question sounds like it might be asked by someone in despair, someone feeling unloved --- and perhaps that describes you --- but I assure you that it is a question asked by virtually everyone at some point in their life, even the happiest people in the world. And, strangely, although we ask this question in all seriousness, most of us think we know the answer.
But we don’t.
It seems that we’ve been learning the answer to this question our whole life. We want to feel loved, as even in our mother’s womb we did, and we want to stay loved. And so after we left that womb as a baby, we sought to do those things which made us feel loved. We learned to do many things as a baby, but mostly we learned that if we do certain things, we will feel loved. Our mother said: “Say mama,” and if we said “mama” she smiled and hugged us --- she loved us! We continued to learn many things as this as we grew up, but mostly we sought to do those things that made us feel loved.
We continued this lesson learned into our adulthood --- which was both a good and bad thing. Loving actions, taught, given and received in a family setting (and beyond) are a wonderful thing. We are endowed with the gift of freedom so that we might love --- otherwise it would be compulsion, which is a bad thing: if love becomes a compulsion, a mindless craving, we do it not in freedom of choice. Love is meant to be a choice, not an obligation. When we start associating love with compulsion, we confuse the very meaning of the word love.
Why should anyone love me? That word “should,” implies an obligation, as in: “They MUST love me.” And so we think: “Why MUST they love me?” and we perceive the answer we learned in our childhood; their love is a response to my actions. They should love me because I did something to make them love me. Because of what I did, they really should love me. Every time in the past when I did something “good” like this, they responded with a smile, with love.
We take that perceived obligation (to love us) on their part, and create an obligation on our part. If they should love me for my actions, “what actions should I take to make them love me?” And so we think the obligation to our being loved falls on us. “I must do something to be loved, and so if I don’t feel loved, I must have done something wrong.” It’s my fault if I don’t feel loved.
For many, this is the lesson about love we came away with in our childhood. And as we grew older, we never grew wiser, for we never thought there was anything further to learn or think about.
Before the first Scripture reading at mass this morning, the reader said these words: “This is the Word of God, wisdom from on high. Let us receive it, believe it, and obey it.” And we answered; “Amen,” meaning we agreed. But I think many of us, somewhat unintentionally, lied, for we don’t receive it, believe it, or obey it. In fact, we don’t even think about it. Scripture contains words inspired by God. Like our question “why,” it is a subject of some depth, and not just a bunch of facts. Scripture is not: “Here’s what you should do; here’s what you should not do ---- ta-da, done!” No, it’s not that simple, but I think many of us treat it that way because we don’t take the time to meditate on it, to think or to ask: “Why?” From our childhood learning, we think Scripture is explained in terms of actions and reactions: “I’ll do good; God will love me.” We think we initiate the action that gets the result we want. We think just like children.
But Jesus came to show us more depth to answer that question: “Why?” He came to re-phrase the question we started with. It is not “Why SHOULD anyone love me,” but “Why DOES anyone love me.” Jesus’ teaching was a radical change in the mindset of man: man is not in control of his being loved. Man, by his actions, cannot make himself loved; what man learned as a baby needs to be understood with the mind of an adult. Look at the adult in our childhood equation. Despite what the baby feels, the mother does not love her baby because he is good; she loves him even when he is bad! This is the key lesson Jesus sought to teach our child-like minds: God loves you --- always. And as He loves, you should love also.
Blessed Julian of Norwich prayed her whole life that God would tell her the meaning of his Passion and cross. And one day her prayers were answered. He said: “I came to earth out of love; I came to teach love; I came to give love.” All his life was for love.
Jesus went among sinners and the most outcast of society, and by his words and actions he showed that he loved them. To the understanding of the Jews, those sinners did nothing to deserve love, and so the Jews were confused. Perhaps if they knew that Jesus was God they might have perceived that God could love all his children, but Jesus took steps that they would NOT know that he was God. After the Transfiguration: He charged them (the apostles) to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of man should have risen from the dead (Mk 9:9). Jesus wanted his actions to be seen as those of a righteous man --- ones we should imitate --- not those of a God who we could never imitate. Jesus wanted it to be clear that God loves us, so that we might love, and that God’s love is not conditional on what we do, nor should our love be conditional on what others do --- or what we want in return. Love is something we freely give, not something we should focus on craving or receiving.
Why should anyone love me? For no reason that you can control; you cannot do anything that makes them, in their freedom, choose to love you. Don’t get hung up on that craving to be loved; Jesus shows us: learn to love and not count the cost.
This was a lesson which took me many years, and much grace, to understand. All my life I tried to do “good things.” I never overtly voiced that question: “What do I have to do to be loved,” but I can now see it was always in the back of my mind. And so from obeying my parents to striving to get good grades to working hard, I did those things because I thought they were “good things”, and reasons to be loved. I met a woman over the phone (in those pre-internet days), determined she was in need, helped her and then married her --- all “good things.” And I saw opportunities for me to help the poor, and the church, and my work advancement, and I did them all, all those important and “good things.” And in doing those things I expected to be loved --- and so I was greatly surprised one day when I first realized that I wasn’t loved by, of all people, my wife.
That question: “Why should anyone love me” I had answered in confidence: “Because I gave them reason to love me, and so they should.” Nowhere in my understanding was there God, nor the lessons Jesus came to import about love. I focused on the “should” part of the topic question, not the deeply complex part, the “why.” And at the point I realized I did not really know the real answer to that question, yes, I despaired. For all I thought I knew for all those years, I suddenly realized I didn’t understand how to live my life at all. Despite my considerable knowledge, I was not yet wise.
Each day I begin my Office prayers with the words: “Lord, give me the wisdom and love necessary to pray this Office with attention, reverence and devotion.” Wisdom and love! Did you know that in the Roman Empire senators had to be at least 60 years old? Even U.S. senators must be 40. Why? Because it is recognized that wisdom comes with age. And this is one of the least understood facts --- yes, facts --- among the young (as I once was), who perceive that they know answers, and so therefore are wise. As I did, they think they know what “good things” to do to lead a “good” life. But they are not wise enough to understand “why” they should, and therefore often confuse how they should. Sometimes they do the right things for the wrong reasons, the right “ends” with the wrong “means.” “The ends do not justify the means” is a very confusing saying for a young person --- even as it was for me.
I recently wrote that we must begin on a journey to change our lives --- immediately --- because it will be a long journey. I wrote those words not only for those in despair and feeling they had to make a change, but also for those happy with how they were leading their life. For therein lies the problem: if you think you are leading your life, making yourself happy, making yourself loved, you are still not yet wise --- and you don’t know it. There is an old saying that “it takes a wise man to realize that he is not wise.”
Yes, you should focus on doing good things with your life, but not in order to be loved, but rather to live out the obligation you have, that you were created for, to freely GIVE love --- to understand why God came to earth, to really love.
You still don’t get it? Don’t be sad; there is no simple answer. I can’t make you wise in these few words, or a few minutes. Wisdom --- and love --- come with age, and an effort to understand, to move beyond the understanding of a baby. Look to the Teacher who came to teach adults; He spent His life that you might understand: He came to love.