Thursday, February 9, 2012

Relationships: At The Heart of Love is Sacrifice

I write because I am trying to understand what it means to be a human being, and in seeking that understanding I am looking at the experience of a very particular human being: myself. As anyone who reads this knows, as soon as I look at "myself" I find that what I see are relationships, concrete relationships with real other persons; relationships that take me beyond myself.

I find that I am not an impenetrable atom, an isolated individual who creates his own identity. I am not simply a thing that is "there by itself." I have never been an isolated, autonomous entity, not for a single moment. I came into existence as someone's son, and the dawn of my awareness is full of the memory of being a son, a brother, a grandson, and a nephew. I soon began to discover that I was also a "friend," and as the years have gone by I have discovered the value of this relationship on all of its many different levels.

And then I became a husband, and here I have really learned that I am nothing by myself, that I must share myself, share my life, live in communion with a someone else. I have learned this not by philosophy, but by hard human experience, not only by the joys of giving and sharing many blessings, but also through dark and difficult times, through recognition that the ugliness I found inside myself was a cause of real suffering to another human being, and that we had to give and receive and share "love" together even in these ugly, painful places. At the heart of love and of all relationships is this mysterious thing called "sacrifice." You really know that you belong to someone when you just give without expecting anything back, you just give because there is this other person who is with you and who needs you in order to keep herself together and move forward.

You know you really belong to someone when you are humbled, when another suffers and makes sacrifices for you, and carries burdens with you because you are together with her in life. You know you really belong to someone when she makes space in her life for your faults, when she treats you with patience and compassion. It can be a grubby business, like digging a trail through the woods, but some new sense arises in the midst of this struggle. You are going somewhere together, and you need each other to get there. Even more so, there is a truth that begins to emerge: you both want to get there together. You sacrifice because you really love the other person, you want her to arrive at her destiny, and it is the same destiny as your own.

And, of course, there are others on the path too.

At a certain point in my life, "I" suddenly acquired the identity of "Daddy." I tell all the amusing stories, because that is my nature and also because--by the blessing of God--we are a cheerful, endearing, open hearted bunch. But these children have heard their father's cries of pain and have seen his incapacity and his withdrawl. They have also seen that he loves them, that he struggles to be present to them, and they know that he prays for a strength that he does not possess by his own power. They also know that he and their Mommy love each other.

These are relationships that are already taking new forms, and will change throughout life. I live each day and try to respond, knowing that "the future" will bring sacrifices and suffering and also some foretaste of true joy.

God, of course, makes everything possible. It is all the story of a fundamental relationship, the one that makes me exist: my relationship with God. I dwell with God in the silent and secret places of my own heart. But in the depths of that heart I find the others that I have been called by God to love. He has brought us together to love one another and serve one another and let His mercy shine through us.