Learning to love as God loves us

  • February 2, 2023

Sam was trying to decide if he should apologize to a high-school friend of his. They’d gone out for lunch, re-connecting after having being out of touch for a while. To Sam’s surprise, his friend Kim remarked smilingly, responding to a story he’d recounted:  “I can see how that happened to you. You always were a fool and a nuisance.”  The conversation continued, but a sick feeling in Sam’s stomach stayed with him throughout lunch and long after they’d parted.

Kim had spoken jokingly, and the conversation was friendly, but her words stung. Finally, he asked his wife whether he should apologize to Kim: he must have done something terrible for her to say such a thing. His astonished wife felt more like telling Kim off for being mean.

It’s surprisingly difficult, sometimes, to sort out whether the pain we feel inside comes from what we did to someone, or what someone did to us. To the wife, it was obvious who had hurt whom.  For Sam, it was impossible to see clearly, because it was excruciatingly painful to get anywhere near the source of the hurt. So he kept the hurt place frozen, like a dentist protecting a patient’s mouth from the pain of the drill. 

Kim had not created that terrible wound in Sam, but — whether through thoughtlessness, unawareness or malice — had certainly made it start bleeding again. And so Sam was wounded where he needed to be healed.

The good news for Sam was that he had a loving, trusted spouse to bring the pain to. She may not have understood everything perfectly, but she and Sam had learned how to care for each other. With her present, he could come closer to the frozen hurt and let it thaw a little. It’s an example of the mysterious, luminous truth that two people can help heal one another — with all their imperfections and limitations, they can share a covenant of love and fidelity that becomes a little hospital in its own right.  

Sam was fortunate to have someone close enough to help him discern. Not everyone is in a healthy marriage or couple, let alone a mature one that can give the necessary ground to heal old wounds. Yet everyone needs a relationship-hospital. The deepest hurts happen to us in relationship. Yet it’s only in relationship that we can be healed of our hurts.

A relatively good relationship allows us to grow. It helps us be humble and accept who we are, giving us a place where we don’t have to hide to feel cherished. Through the experience of human love, we learn to love as God does. A human relationship, even in its imperfection, leads us to our own paternity or maternity, which means our ability to give life.

Having someone see us as we are can help us be humble and self-accepting. They do not accuse us, but constrain us towards the good we are capable of.  

We need such a relationship — whether spiritual director, confessor, mature faith community, true friendship, or beloved spouse — to help us blossom into a maturity that can be lifegiving to others.

How do we know if a relationship leads to maturity or keeps us infantile?  

The voice of accusation keeps us in the infantile stage. Scripture names Satan ‘the Accuser’, who desires not to help us grow but to keep us forever in bondage. Sam, without understanding what was happening, automatically raised shields to protect himself from Kim’s accusations. The relationship that keeps us infantile is one that habitually accuses or excuses us.        

The opposite of accuser is not excuser, but constrainer. In a mature relationship, we mutually constrain one another to grow, humbly accepting who we are as beloved but sinful persons. In the context of imperfect human love, we can be humble and open to experiencing God’s love in our brokenness — a place to grow into Christ.  

Whatever our status in life, whether we have a richness of healthy relationships or a graveyard of broken ones, can receive the one true Valentine our Beloved Lord whispers to where we feel shattered:  “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is comely.”  (Song of Songs 2)

Only love moves our will to change.

(Marrocco can be reached at mary.marrocco@outlook.com)