In our quest to find out what Jesus meant when he said that we must love God and neighbour, we have to be able to define love. We must also be able to stay away from those "love myths". There are many definitions of love and many volumes have been written on the subject. If you are interested in exploring love to its fullness, I’d like to suggest you begin with “The Four Loves”
by C.S. Lewis; “The Art of Loving”
by Erich Fromm and “Love”
by Leo Buscaglia. These three books where instrumental in my formation as a young adult (and they are the kind of books you want to read over and over again).
But perhaps the book that has most influenced me, not just in helping me figure out love, but in helping me figure out life (isn’t that what they say, that the meaning and purpose of life is “to love”? Probably more on that later too) is M. Scott Peck’s classic, "The Road Less Traveled".
Scott Peck equates love with the “unending journey toward spiritual growth.” Two weeks ago
we looked at the first myth about love: that love is a feeling. Scott Peck defines love by first looking at what love is not. That’s what I’d like to do today.
Part of the problem that we have with love (and with marriage) is that we have some fundamentals wrong. We have many misconceptions about love. The idea that love is a feeling is a clear example. What you feel is not love. Although love can feel good, sometimes love does not feel good at all (as in dying on the Cross). When I love my children by denying them something they want, and they suffer, it does not feel good. Then again, we can’t go around in life trying to feel good all the time (that’s for another day when we deacon-struct suffering). And, as I said two weeks ago, our job as parents is not for our children to feel good, or to be happy. It is for them to grow up healthy and holy and to be functional, contributing members of society.
What are some other myths about love according to Scott Peck?
Myth #2: “Falling in Love”
This goes right along the “love is a feeling” myth. We think that there is such a thing as “falling in love.” Whatever that experience may or may not be, it is not love. First because it is temporary – we don’t stay in that feeling of “being in love” forever. Second, it seems to me (and to Scott Peck) that this experience of falling in love is merely a sexual experience – one that is motivated by a sexual attraction (we don’t fall in love with our children or our parents, or friends, though we love them).
Psychologists explain the feeling of “falling in love” by looking at what they call “ego-boundaries”. Without going into too much detail, this term refers to our sense of where we end and another person begins. As new-born infants, we have no ego-boundaries. We “feel” that our mom is a part of ourselves. As we grow we begin to define our ego-boundaries. We know where we end and where another person begins (I mean this physically, but mostly, emotionally). At least an emotionally healthy adult has clear ego-boundaries. Until they fall in love. There is a blurring of the ego-boundaries that happens when we experience falling in love. That is why people who are “in love” cannot see each other’s faults.
While falling in love may be a healthy way to bring two people together and lead them to a mature love, perhaps married love – it is not love. We cannot sustain that kind of “love” for very long. Those of you who want a healthy marriage – by all means, try to keep that love-spark alive in your marriage – but if you are truly maturing in your love, you won’t be able to ever go back to that initial feeling of being “in love.” So – if you are struggling in your marriage, it’s not because you’ve “fallen out” of love. There’s something else.
Myth #3: “Romantic Love”
This is the stuff fairy tales are made of. The myth of romantic love says that for every young man in the world, there is a young woman in the world who was meant for him and vice versa and that this is predetermined in “the stars”. When we meet this person, everything will be perfect and we will ride into the sunset and live happily ever after: Myth.
I do believe that some people are called (by God) to Married Life and that God calls you, not just to Married Life in general, but to Married Life with one specific individual. However, the idea that when we find the person that is meant for us, all will be bliss, is to blame for many struggling marriages. There may be a person for you out there (if you are called to Married Life) and sparks may fly when you meet – but you will have to work hard to make those sparks keep flying. You will have to work hard to move from that kind of “love” into mature love. I guess the real misconception here is that love is easy. It’s not.
Myth #4: Dependency
This is a misconception that leads one to believe that “I am nothing without him/her” or “I cannot live without him/her.” Let me remind you about ego-boundaries. Two people who truly love each other maturely and in a healthy manner are two
people. In Christianity we teach that in Marriage, the “two will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24
; Mark 10:8; Matthew 19:5; Ephesians 5:31
), but this is a Trinitarian reality. We believe that God is ONE God; THREE Persons. We don’t believe that all three Persons of the Trinity are ONE Person. In the same way, in Marriage, a couple is ONE body; TWO persons (the third person being the love that they share: lover, beloved and love – in the case of God, the love is so real and life-giving that it itself becomes a Person). The best analogy for this is from another great book, “The Prophet
” by Kahlil Gibran:
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.”
If you “depend” on each other so much that you will “die” without the other; that’s not love.
Myth #5: Self-Sacrifice
This is a difficult one, because we Christians believe that love requires sacrifice. Indeed, we are called to do things out of love without expecting anything in return. (An aside: When my brother was in Grade 9 he worked on a project and asked his classmates to define love. One of his friends responded, “Love is an eternal giving without expecting anything in return.” Beautiful coming from a 15-year-old. And amazing that I remember.) However, the problem lies when this idea borders on social masochism, when people unconsciously seek suffering. This is not love. The reason is that in order to truly love another we must first love ourselves. If loving another is harmful to ourselves, it is not love.
This is why, I believe that Jesus commanded that we “Love God and love our neighbour as yourself
” (Mark 12:31
and Matthew 22:39
, emphasis my own). We cannot separate loving God from loving our neighbour or from loving ourselves. If we truly love God, then we will love our neighbour and by definition we will love ourselves. If we truly love ourselves (truly) then, by definition, we are in fact, loving God and should be moved to love our neighbour. The three are completely inter-related. Those who claim that they love God (and they go to Church all the time and pray the Rosary every day) but at the same time we are jerks to their wives - or treat our employees like garbage, or say nasty things about those "others" who are different, do not really love God at all.
I have not really gone into these in much detail, but enough to give you some food for thought. Write to me
to share your thoughts and come back next time
so we can learn what this all means in terms of defining love.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org @deaconpedrogm