Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Strength to Give Ourselves

I must remember every day that God loves me. This is difficult, or at least it seems difficult, for a person with the limitations of physical and especially mental illness. There is a daily struggle to break out of self-absorption.

Living with life-restricting physical and mental illness, however, has also made me sensitive to how much this is a problem for everyone. We all have suffering, and most of us don't have a very good "handle" on it. And even the healthiest people have heads full of junk; junk accumulated from incomprehensible painful experiences, from the betrayal or simply the failure of other persons, from the basic distortion of their relationship to reality that everyone has thanks to the heritage of original sin, from their own sins and self-centeredness.

Add to that the pervasive assault of the distracted and restless environment in which they live, the physical and moral oppressiveness of its inexorable stress, and even the biological toxins from the food they eat and the air they breathe that sap their vitality and engender nervous tension and emotional imbalances of every kind.

That's just "normal people."

Throw in a few genetically and/or environmentally triggered neurological disorders, or a chronic infection or an autoimmune disorder or any kind of disability--along with all the misunderstanding from others that these things generate--and it's no surprise that we're a big mess.

It's a miracle that any person can experience the fact that they are loved.

Yet it happens. We live in a world of miracles.

God loves me, yes. I would not exist in this moment if He did not love me. He is the Someone who is closer to me than I am to myself, and yet also the transcendent Mystery. I am made for Him. But how can I know this God? Or better, how is it that I do know Him, that I trust Him, that I am slowly learning to give my life over to this Mystery?

The only way I can answer this is to say that I have been loved by real people with a love that is different, a love that is a sign of God. I have seen this love. I have seen human beings embraced by a love that is right there in front of me, but also not of this world. I have myself been embraced by this love. It shows itself not so much in great demonstrations, but rather in a whole history of gestures and expressions of life, in the tenacity of a friendship that exists for a reason, that endures even with its flaws.

The only thing that can explain this love is that God has revealed Himself as Love, that God has come to dwell among us, that God is present for me in this moment, and also as Someone who has a name and a face and a history in this world. Through this love, I encounter Him, and I discover that He changes everything.

He changes all my relationships. He changes my solitude. He changes my suffering. It's not necessarily a change in "the way I feel about these things." It's not that "now I feel good all the time" (I don't). He changes the realities themselves; He has entered into the stuff of life because He claims everything for Himself. He is present. He is at work in my life and in the life of every human person.

But how are these persons to know what I'm talking about? Certainly not from my chattering about it. They need to experience the love of God. So if I really want them to know Him, I must love them. The God who is Love, and who became man, wants to use my humanity to show Himself to others first and above all by loving them, unconditionally, as they are, for who they are. He wants me to love them the way He loves them...which is to say, the way He loves me.

This is entirely different from a worldly "tolerance" that evades the person, and distances itself from the person. This is not a "relativism" that uses a superficial affirmation of the other as a pretext for remaining closed within myself, thus escaping the challenge of loving and being loved. This is not an activism that exhausts itself in a self-affirming display.

Loving means loving. It means giving what I have received. It means giving myself, in this moment, to the person or persons who have been entrusted to me. And if I'm "busy" with things--if I am speaking or writing or communicating on the internet--I must ask myself, "Why am I here? Am I here to give myself, or to build up and enrich my capacity to give? Am I here for love?" My writing is worthless unless it is an act of giving myself to those I hope will read it.

Perhaps I'm "preaching to the choir." But those who already know Jesus need to be sustained by His love. "Love one another as I have loved you" - this is the heart of the enduring grace that is "the Church." But I must resist the temptation to allow "the Church in the abstract" (however glorious and beautiful and wise I may conceive it) to replace my responsibility to give myself right now.

The world is starving for love. It is fed every day with counterfeits. It "spends its wages for what is not bread." Of course, real love entails a communication of the truth. But love addresses itself to the person, and its witness is always a gift, a humbling of one's self, a sacrifice. This is what opens the possibility for the truth to be embraced by the other person.

Still, we find ourselves afflicted with so many obstacles: we have our own daily struggles, we are sick, we are tired, we are stressed out. We must bring all of it to the One who has loved us. Perhaps we feel that our love is only a poor imitation of the love we have received, that our love is all mixed up with self-promotion and vanity. And indeed it is. Let's love anyway. Let's do what we can, and also nourish ourselves continually at the places where we find Him who has loved us.

Indeed, we must let Him love us, through the Church, through the sacraments, through prayer, through our brothers and sisters, through the very truth and goodness of the joys and the sufferings of life. It all belongs to Him, and it is all the work of His great and mysterious love for us and our destiny. In His love we will find the strength to give ourselves, and to give Him to others.