Jonny Diaz released a song on “More Beautiful You” called “Love Like You Loved.” While neither this post nor the prayer that I said early last week were inspired by his song (sorry, Jonny), it is a great theme song for the point of this reflection. If you haven’t heard the song, I encourage you to go have a listen. Honestly, there’s a lot from him that’s worth listening to, but I digress. (No, I do not work for Jonny Diaz or even know him. Save for meeting him once at one of his concerts as a lowly fan-boy, I’ve not even met the man. He is from my hometown, though, which gets him some bonus points.)
Let me give a little background on this particular entry. There have been several times in my life that I have asked God for something that’s turned out to be fulfilled in an entirely different way than I’d thought or hoped; I often refer to these in jest as stupid prayers because the way in which God fulfills them often manages to cause me pain. For example, a few years back, I prayed to understand Jesus’ suffering. When I said that prayer, I had physical pain in mind. Unfortunately (or, if I’m honest, more likely fortunately), God wanted me to more understand Jesus’ feeling of rejection and abandonment by his friends and those who followed him and the pain of being rejected by his community. In fulfilling that prayer, God saw fit to have me rejected by many (nearly all) of those closest to me and cast out of my community. My few readers already know that story, so there’s little need for me to go back into it, but, it did leave me with a deeper understanding of what Jesus must have encountered when his closest friends ran and denied even knowing him and left him alone to be persecuted by the Jews and the Romans.
Well, last week, I did it again. After reading the closing prayer for Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours last Monday, the Memorial of Saint Anthony, which said, “May we learn…to love you above all things,” I asked God to help me to understand how He loves and to let me Love like Him. I have long believed that if we love God above all things, then it will naturally extend that we will show a deep love to all those around us. I think that is part of what Jesus was saying when he identified that the two commandments that are most important are that a person should love God with everything that he is and love his neighbor. In fact, as I have often told my kids, Jesus’ only new commandment was to love.
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. (John 13:34)
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
So, from there, after reflecting on the prayer to love God above all things, I asked God to help me to know and understand his love for us, and to be able to, in loving him, reflect that love for us.
As He tends to do, he took me down a bit of a difficult path to fulfill this prayer for me. Several things came back to back over the ensuing two weeks. I received three different heart-wrenching revelations and issues from my kids. I looked around for someone to share the burden – to at least walk with me as I carried it since, on the whole, I couldn’t share the burdens. No one was to be found, so my own heart was troubled by these things for many days. We will come back to that, though.
I’m going to share a reflection I wrote in my journal related to these issues from Sunday as I tried to grapple with the feelings and thoughts that these were bringing me. Remember, this was written as it came to mind without particular thought or organization; it was just a journal entry while I was in prayer.
How do you let go and let God? How do you come to grips with the fact that you can’t help – that really all you can do is sit there and dumbly listen – and pray?
Do I love someone any less if I release them to God? How does this feeling speak to my prayer to learn God’s love? He does not (usually) directly intervene in our lives. He lets us live out the consequences of our actions – and sometimes those of others. How does God love so much and deal with that pain our pain must cause Him? I always hurt when my kids hurt. I looked at the same logic as Jesus’ assertion:
Which one of you would hand your son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him? (Matthew 7:9-11)
By that same logic, since I am human, my love for people is, by far, overshadowed by God’s love. By far, the pain that I feel for my kids is multiplied in Him. How does He deal with that?
Now, I realize that my question at the end of this reflection is silly on a certain level since God feeling pain is not a human equivalent, but this was the reflection. I realize that God is above even pain as an emotion. However, the pain of suffering with someone is part of what we do in community. It does stem from love, and God’s love for us must bring with it displeasure when we suffer. A loving God obviously does not want to see us, his beloved, suffer any more than I want to see my kids suffer. As I said, I believe this would be infinitely more the case. Indeed, Jesus suffered with those he loved in the Gospels and then took on all our suffering and died on the cross.
So that was the first part of my inkling of understanding God’s love for us. The second part began in the last few days, and God finally clued me in (or perhaps I finally listened) to the purpose of this today as I prayed the Divine Mercy. The short background, here, is that I have been a bit lonely since coming to the seminary. It’s not that there aren’t people around. I’m surrounded by my brother seminarians all day every day. Some of them have already become friends of mine, but I still have some close relationships with people back home that I maintain. Well, life has gone on for them, and most of them have little time to talk to me or reply when I contact them. Don’t think I’m trying to tell a sob story in writing that – or, if you think I’m referring to you, that you need to feel guilty. It’s necessary background to what I encountered as I prayed today, so, if nothing else, you can feel you helped God to give me some insight. I asked a few if there was something wrong or if there was a reason that we were not communicating at all, now. Invariably, I heard responses that boiled down to, “I’m just too busy right now, but I still love you.”
On to today’s revelation (which is a revelation I have known intellectually for a long time, and I expect my reader will respond with “DUH!” However, the understanding at a deeper level of the truth of it is meaningful) That is often how our relationship with God plays out, also. God is constantly calling to us, sending us messages, and reminding us that He loves us and that He is there. Our response is often, “Thanks. I’ll get right back to you.” Of course, we usually get back to Him only rarely and in little spurts. Even in seminary, it can be difficult to keep God centered in our lives with all the other responsibilities surrounding us. I’m only two weeks in, and I’m seeing that challenge. God gave me the chance to see from people I love the same response that we often give His love. My job, in loving them, if I am to reflect God’s love as I desired and desire to do, is to, when they return, accept them back without question or accusation. If God’s love is willing to accept us back without question or accusation – even though it is His right and place to do so, I – who have no right to accuse or judge – must accept and love without question.
So that’s it. In teaching me a small sample of His love for us, God has (so far) offered me two insights to His love for us that I must try to reflect: I must love through any pain it causes and be willing to suffer with those I love and I must be willing to accept that loving people does not necessarily mean that my love will be returned or that those I love will even appreciate that fact. My place is only to love, not to expect to receive love.
As Saint Francis of Assisi so beautifully put it:
O, Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.