Wednesday, September 6, 2017

People Disappoint Us, But We Should Love Them Anyway

Goofy cartoonish picture of the author

When we love people, sooner or later they disappoint us. This can make us feel cynical about others and inadequate within ourselves.

Too often when somebody lets us down or distances themselves from us, we feel like this somehow reflects an "objective" judgment on our value as persons. On the exterior we might get angry and defend ourselves or lash out at the other person, or we might think critically of them, but on a deeper level it eats away at our sense of self-worth. It's like "they dumped me because I'm not worth it" and then we inwardly recite the litany of all our flaws, and the anxiety and depression "switches" get flipped, and we spiral downward. Well, that's the way I have been, anyway. It took many years for me to realize that that's just not reality.

This is reality: You are a person. You are a gift. You are made to love and to be loved. Your very existence is a gift to those who encounter you, and if you give yourself in love, in friendship, in compassion, you aspire to be received by another, to be embraced, to be loved. That aspiration is not selfish. It is properly personal. It might (usually does) get mixed up with selfishness to some degree, but the foundation is real and worthy.

In daily life, we offer ourselves to other human persons. But people (every one of us) are a mysterious intersection of temperament, problems, original-sin-based-wonkiness, a thousand quirks, hidden hurts and hidden preoccupations, and FREEDOM... all under the even deeper mystery of God's infinitely discrete, clever, and relentless grace.

We can't fix one another. We offer ourselves, and it's a risk... but it's also a victory, always. Real self-giving (ordinary daily self-giving) is always constructive. Sure, we're not perfect. We have to pray and open ourselves more to God's love, to work on our faults with persistence and patience, to practice courtesy in our relationships, to benefit from what others can teach us by their counsel and their example. If people turn away from us because we really have hurt them, we should seek to make amends and ask for forgiveness.

At the same time, self-giving love requires realism and balanced judgment; it must be distinguished from a kind of emotional dependency that constantly gets defined and degraded by the violence of an unloving person. Self-giving is founded upon a proper "self-possession" and, indeed, a proper love of self. It does not mean allowing ourselves to be reduced to being someone else's punching bag.

But in ordinary (non-dysfunctional) human relationships, there is something distorted about the consistent perception that whenever we are not adequately loved, it is entirely our fault. We shouldn't think that the reason for this experience is that we are defective or somehow less than fully human persons. This is often a feature of the pathology of depression, but our freedom is involved here too, in that we must not give in to self-pity, resentment, and discouragement, and begin to block off the love that God offers to us—especially the way He gives Himself through the feeble and often disappointing love of our brothers and sisters.

We are made for love and worthy of love. The hope of being loved by another is not an illusion or a selfish flaw. Jesus says, "Give and you shall receive." The gift of self is a mysterious outpouring, a self-"emptying," a "disinterest" not because by it we devalue ourselves, but rather because in it we grow beyond the incomplete "place" of ourselves from moment to moment. But our seeking is destined to be fulfilled.

In human love we experience a sign of this fulfillment, but also something that can only fall short—if for no other reason than that even the most perfect human love is less than infinite Love. So we experience one another, and the hope for a definitive fulfillment grows, patience widens our hearts, we learn to forgive and to be forgiven, to bear with one another and to help one another.

We do "lose ourselves" when we love, but the promise is that we will find ourselves, even through pain.