The Nature of Love

Love is a funny thing. I’m speaking of true unconditional love as described by St. Paul in 1 Corinithians 1:

The Gift of Love

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

When you love a person this way it is strikingly different from the way love is portrayed in modern American society. It means that you want them to win, even if it means you lose. It means you want their happiness, even if it costs you your own. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for those I love. I am devoted, loyal, supportive, and accepting of all of who they are, even when they make mistakes or do things that wound me out of fear or self protection. I can’t help myself. I look at them and I see them inside, vulnerable, lovable, beautiful and I only want to protect and love them. To comfort and hold them. I feel a sea of light inside of me that is so deep with my capacity for love… and granted it’s true the pain I suffer at rejections and losses is likewise enormous, but the sea is deep enough to absorb that agony as well. That ocean wells from my love and devotion to God and from his love for me. It is the core of who I am.

Sometimes when we love someone this way, the only gift we can give them is our absence. Occasionally we know why, but other times we don’t. And when you love and your only desire is to shower your love upon the people you adore, to never see them, to no longer share any part of their life is the worst pain. It is loss and grief and suffering. But it is a sacrifice I continue to make as needed… often with no understanding of why. I simply continue to hold my love for them in my heart, a flame that I will always keep burning and watch as they silently drift into my past.

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Loving Forward

It’s a new year and it’s time to catch up. I have spent the latter part of the year in a kind of grand experiment. In addition to adopting 2 soldiers and a marine and sending 6 letters a week through Soldier’s Angels, I decided to offer to listen to anyone who needed someone to talk to online. I did this in a limited and controlled fashion and also talked weekly with my rector about the experiences I was having.

I started this experiment for a number of reasons. The first was that I discovered a site where there were many lonely and desperate people who seemed to need someone who cared and who would just be there and be present for them. I am made to care and love so it was a perfect fit. It called to me so strongly.

I have also been considering whether to go into counseling in some form as a career once my books are published and this seemed like a way to see whether I would be able to deal with some of the emotional requirements of that role.

If I even helped one person it would be worth whatever grief I suffered.

So, did I suffer grief? What was the result of my experiment?

Well it hasn’t concluded, because when I signed on to be present for people I signed on for good or as long as they needed me. Again, that’s just part of how I’m made. Loyal and devoted to a fault.

But I have met some people who became very dear to me because of their sorrows and their triumphs. Some just needed to talk over decisions that were weighing on them and they had no one they could seek advice from. Some sought a parental relationship, guidance, support and encouragement. Some were just lonely and wanted company. Some were in crisis and because I have been there myself I was able to reach out and take their hand. Some have become friends I know I will keep because our relationship grew from me listening, to me sharing in return. Some have already said goodbye because they no longer have need of what I offer.

I think that was the hardest thing. Letting go when they are ready to. Because of course, I get attached to each person I help. I fall in love with each person a little bit. I can’t help but see the beauty in each person when they share themselves and it is captivating. The more time I spend with them, the more I care. I don’t look for anything in return of course. But to no longer see their face or hear their voice when they are ready to move on is the hardest part. To no longer be able to check on them or worry for them when for weeks they were my concern all day, every day is painful. To no longer be allowed to care. This is where the grief comes in. I knew it would happen up front and that makes it little easier to bear. I gladly pay the price for having known each person for even a short while. They were a blessing in my life as I hope I was in theirs. But it still ouches.

You know I’ve written about loss and accepting it, how it is such a natural part of life. The thing to do is stay open, accept and love anyone you feel love for. Know that it will hurt when you lose them and spend your energy on learning how to recover from loss effectively instead of building walls to protect you from caring. Walls don’t work anyway. You end up caring and hurting no matter how hard you try to keep your distance.

So I let myself have a few days watching marathons on TV and sleeping in. I stare at their pictures and talk to them through my prayers. I think of all the things I wish I could have done with them or said to them. I carry a memento of them with me that I can touch as I go through my day. These little things help me move forward. I might not “get over” people or be able to stop loving them, but I can let them go on without me. For myself, I can keep my memory of them close and honor the feelings I have by paying them forward, always ready to love again.

A Prayer for the Lovelorn

Recently I was listening to a friend describe some challenges in their love life and I was filled with empathy and sadness for them. The person they are in love with is what I refer to in my own mind as a “transactional lover.” To them love is an exchange. They provide their idea of love to get something in return. Sometimes what they are seeking is affection, rescue, financial security, comfort, friendship, even company… it can be many things. In exchange for it, they will be your lover, your partner, they will try to give you what you ask for.

The problem with these relationships is that both partners end up feeling that they are trying to earn each others love. On the one hand, the transactional lover feels obliged to give in to the partner to appease them to earn what they need from the relationship all the while resenting it. In their minds, they are earning, buying and paying for that “love” and they want whatever they feel they’ve negotiated.

The less transaction based partner who is unaware of this may just love unconditionally, gives freely and doesn’t really understand the dynamics at play. It may seem to them that no matter how much they give, reassure and love, it never seems to truly satisfy the transactional lover. They aren’t reassured, they can’t seem to really just settle down and commit to the relationship. It might feel that they always have one foot out the door. It’s true, because for the transactional person, the earning and striving to transact IS the relationship. The need to maintain the ability to walk away is how you maintain the power to renegotiate terms as needed. With a transactor, power always resides with the one who is most willing to walk away.The concept of loving unconditionally is foreign and unbelievable and the idea of willingly giving up power and being vulnerable to a loved one to demonstrate commitment seems a special kind of insanity.

The mismatch between these two styles can be incredibly painful, primarily for the person who is capable of unconditional love. Because most transactional lovers will see someone who is strong enough to love this way as weak, will view them as easily manipulated and have little respect for them. Their indifference, power games, inability to recognize the gifts they are being offered are deeply offensive to the psyche of the more open and vulnerable unconditional lover who is laying their whole heart out in a display of remarkable courage.  Unconditional lovers see this relentless manipulation and game playing by the transactional lover and often choose to overlook it and give anyway, out of love. They hope that somehow security and repeated demonstrations of acceptance, reassurance and love will eventually soothe the soul of the person they love. Alas, in my experience it doesn’t happen.

If someone doesn’t believe in unconditional love, they are not only unable to return it, which is what my friend really deserves, they are unable to see it, believe it, even accept it from someone else.

The hardest part when you are in such a situation is acknowledging that there is nothing you can do to help them see the world the way you do. If you think about real love, true love…think of your mother, father,  your children, of course they don’t have to do anything to earn your love. They just are, and that’s enough. You’ll know someone is important to you when it’s not what they do for you or how they make you feel, so much as when you think of them you are just so happy and filled with warmth and joy that you know them. Their existence is enough for you. That’s real love.

It’s hard to let go of people. It’s hard to learn how to lose. Accepting loss is one of those things I’ve written about before. It’s just a part of life that has to be faced, embraced and lived. It will hurt. It will heal. It takes time. I personally work hard to stay in a place of acceptance every day. I choose to believe that those of us who love unconditionally are blessed. I know I found my way here through many struggles and losses. I finally believe I deserve to be loved the same way in return. God loves me this way. I have him if no one else. I love people this way and that’s OK. If someday, God wills it, perhaps someone will look into me and find me that lovable as well.

I pray this for my friend. I hope they come to believe that the ability they have to love deserves that kind of love in return. I hope they come to believe that happiness and joy can be their lot in life. There is no one I know that deserves it more. They have been through so much, learned how to make good decisions from making bad ones, drawn close to God and they have one of the most generous and giving spirits of anyone I’ve ever known. I hope that they can trust that God will see them through.

So I’m sending out a special poem/prayer for my friend. It always makes me feel better, find a little peace:

Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all Your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,

For you are my Father.

prayer of abandonment – charles de foucauld

Learning to lose

Sometimes I am grateful God has given me such an open and loving heart. Often I am able to look around and feel his presence surround me. Other times it can feel like a terrible affliction. It may sound strange but unrequited love is not the worst emotional pain you can suffer when you can love intensely. It hurts, don’t  get me wrong. I think it’s just become familiar throughout my life. A far worse pain is loving so much that you are willing to relinquish your selfish desires and wish only for another’s happiness so you can maintain a friendship. Despite that you lose them completely and they slip through your fingers like sand, dust, ashes…gone completely except for the memories in your heart. That’s what hurts most of all. There must be a lesson in this for me, I’ve made this sacrifice more than once and it sucks harder every time.

Not all that long ago I figured out loss is my biggest fear. It’s important to know your biggest fear. It can drive you, make you act in ways that are counter to your character, honor or best interests. You need to be aware. My biggest fear used to be failure and for years it drove me to extreme lengths to be perfect, to succeed, to never make a mistake, to plan for every eventuality. To no avail of course, because everyone fails. In time I learned to embrace failure as a way to grow. I conquered that fear.

Now loss, another part of life has taken its place. I can’t get rid of loss. No one can. You just have to accept it. I used to try and avoid it, numb the pain away. I tried all the old familiar tactics. A shot of whiskey. Burying my feelings. Putting up an impenetrable wall around my heart. Of course none of them worked. I still experienced loss. So now when I feel myself trying to run away from situations that are going to result in loss I am always suspicious of myself. I don’t seek loss, but I don’t need fear of it to make me pass up everything I want.

When it comes I know I have to suffer through it. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? It is. It’s awful. It involves grieving. I had no idea I could cry so much. I spent so many years avoiding tears in my attempt to avoid the pain of loss, I guess I had a lot in reserve.

I cry a few times a day. The ugly kind. Sometimes I curl up in a ball and yell. I’m in pain and it helps. Afterwards I always feel better for a while. Until the next time. I bargain with God. I pray for it to stop. I try and pretend it isn’t happening or didn’t happen. I know that after a while the intensity of my grief will pass. It will become less of an open wound and more of a sore ache. This isn’t my first loss and won’t be my last. I’m learning that this is the only way to effectively deal with it. This is what I was trying so hard to avoid all those years. This.

In times like these I always wonder to myself why in the world I ever allow myself to love anyone. But the truth is I can’t help myself. People are so incredibly lovable. I know there are wicked ones. But so many people are good at heart. They are trying. They are searching. They are lost. They are flawed and still… they are breathtakingly beautiful. Yes when God made me, he designed me to love. I know how to do that better than anything else. It’s who I am. I am learning to let go and learning to lose. Despite my fear I am resolved to stay open. Despite my pain I will stay true. So many people lack love in their lives after all, surely someone out there could use some. I’ve got way too much inside to give.

Abide

Lately I have been musing on loss. When I started on this road I knew there would be some. In fact my journey began with loss. In order to follow a call you have to relinquish your identity as a member of the world we live in today. A world which tells you that success is what you achieve, own and accumulate. A world which defines you by what you do. When I fervently prayed to God to use me according to his will, I meant it with all of my heart and soul and mind. My faith has ever been as present as my pulse, as a part of me as my blood and breath.

I understood that my daughter was ready to move on to her adult life and that this freed me somewhat to be fully God’s. To take up my cross, so to speak. Along the way I have had support from unexpected places and from the ones who have always been there for me. But now, I feel that God is stripping all of those supports away. I feel him pulling me toward complete dependence on him and it is terrifying. Oh I thought I was close to there. I had stopped trying to hold on to so many worldly things. I gave up my career and my identity as a powerful person in control. But in reality, I still clung to the idea of holding onto people and places to give me strength and comfort instead of God.
I told myself I sought his face and voice in them, and I believe that is true. But part of what I sought was simply common comfort and humanity. Understanding and a feeling that I was not alone among humans.
Now as people and safe places are stripped from me, in what seems a purposeful way, my own naked need and desire to control my surroundings and relationships is exposed to me.
And I am ashamed.
Sometimes I feel like God is kneecapping me to remind me to fall to them.
Sometimes I think I need it.

I spend a lot of time praying, not so much arguing or begging or pleading as just waiting in silence with these thoughts and trying to see or hear. I can almost make out the shape of what I am supposed to understand.

I dwell on a meditation that spoke to me recently. “Abide in Me”

If I can rest in him, and let all this sound and fury fall away, let all the fear and uncertainty dispel, I will know that peace that comes with his voice.

So this is my mission and my only guide as I navigate this challenging time.

My roommate fell through and I may lose the money that I gave the person in good faith. I need a place by the end of the month and nothing seems to be coming despite my searching. My spiritual advisor is leaving in January to move to another state. I will in many ways be alone in Roanoke.
My boyfriend seems distant and like a dream.  He lives in another state, as does all of my family except my mother and she lives in another city. My daughter is so very far away. It feels like all my connections are being stretched or cut.
I am beginning to feel as if I will break from it.

All of these things and these people are so important and I am so helpless to do anything about most of them.

The agony of that is quite unnerving. I am SUCH a doer and yet that is not what I am called to be at this moment. I am simply called to BE.

To wait.

To have faith and be patient and believe.
And though it grieves me, pains me, tortures me, that is what I will do.
As I will do all that he asks of me.
Ever.

I am a giant exposed nerve

It has been a very hard week for me.

I have said goodbye to a long term friendship with someone who has meant a great deal to me. I have had to stop all communication because this friend is unable to accept me as I am now. He cannot see that I am no longer who I was when  he met me and that I will never be again. That so many events have erased and destroyed our chances at more than friendship.

At the same time, I have been troubled by my film production class. I feel overwhelmed because every story I come up with gets shot down in class and time is running out. My documentary idea, for which I had such hope, was picked apart and now I am even more terrified that I will fail at my very first effort. I feel the pressure is overwhelming. I wanted to learn and enjoy this class. I so looked forward to it, I thought I would learn to love it. Maybe I could have if it was just about learning to use the camera to capture images and use it effectively. But we are expected to do that and make a real film as well, with a beginning, middle and end. I am going to fail this class and I am so heartbroken and upset about this. I have never taken failure well. It’s my single biggest fear in life and now every class I am so full of anxiety that I can barely get through it.

Today another student started making a bunch of comments to me during class, very mean, cruel comments, saying I was kind of a know it all, instigator person. I wrote her a note saying that I was actually terrified, I guess because in my panic I have been asking these challenging, panicky questions. I told her I can be a smart-ass when I am freaking out. I told her I was afraid and she said of what? Yourself? And I said NO, of this class and the teacher. I have zero real photography experience and feel like I am out of my depth.

So at the end of class she was getting really rude…saying things like that I was a know it all…which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Exactly the opposite in fact. I am pressuring myself and my teacher to tell me more because I feel so under-prepared.

I was very surprised by her attitude, because of all the people in the class, she has the most ambitious, beautiful, moving movie idea that sounds so stunning and blows me away, so I admire this person a lot. It was incredibly devastating to feel all this hostility. I told her how much I was enjoying seeing her work and she said “I bet you are” in this sarcastic tone of voice. So I said…”what’s wrong?” and she said “I don’t like fake people!” Her voice was just dripping with contempt.

I mean, I felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart. I couldn’t move. Everybody else had left the room. I just sat there, put my sunglasses on and cried for about 10 minutes and tried to pull my pathetic ass together so I could make it to my next class.

It just hurt so much. It was so unexpected. I didn’t do anything to her that I am aware of.

It makes me want to climb in bed, put the covers over my head and never get out.