Archive for August, 2011

Week 6: Love… and Responsibility?

August 31, 2011

A couple of weeks ago we covered: The Law of the Gift

This week at Love & Responsibility in NYC we covered the chapter Love…and Responsibility? (Check it out online; not as extensive as the book, but handy.)

Previous chapters have discussed the framework for establishing virtuous friendships, avoiding common pitfalls during the birth of a new relationship, and understanding the dynamic of love. This chapter speaks of what should happen after the relationship (and hopefully true love) has been established. It calls us not only to love, but to be responsible about it:

  • to fully accept the gift of love,
  • to fully trust the person so that they can be free to be emotionally intimate,
  • to resist focusing on our loved one’s faults which would reduce the person to a mere sinful object instead of the human person deserving of dignity that they are
  • to accept our loved one’s shortcomings and to help them in overcoming them,
  • to love them in “good times and bad”,
  • to challenge ourselves to grow from an immature love that looks inward to our own needs, to a mature love that looks outward toward what is best for our loved one.

Ed Sri then goes on to give examples of what a marriage made of mature love looks like and what a marriage made of immature love looks like. One couple had the trial of the wife getting ill with cancer. Faced with a life that he hadn’t planned for, the husband removed himself from the trial and left his wife, rather than deal with having to take care of her through her fight with cancer. (Can you say JERK???)

The other couple Ed Sri described in the chapter experienced the trial of the wife having M.S.. The husband stayed through the trial and even though the wife lost the use of her arms and legs,  he gave up the comfort of having a larger retirement fund and chose to love his wife by caring for her physical needs.  When the going got tough, he didn’t get going.  (Yay!!!)

As a single person, it’s a scary picture. Finding a suitable or compatible spouse seems like a hard enough task and now their being faced with the fact that even though they may find that man (or woman) of their dreams, the most difficult trials of love may lie ahead of them? I can just hear them saying, “I thought the hard part was dating? now you’re telling us that the hard part is when you love someone in marriage? EEESH.”

As a married person, I can tell you – it’s true. Each state of life has it’s own adventures – it’s own challenges – it’s own opportunities to challenge one’s self to become the best version of themselves. When you’re in the dating world, generally, you can’t wait to NOT be in the dating world anymore so that you don’t have to deal with all of the ridiculousness of being IN the dating world. But when you are married, the adventures (and even some of the ridiculousness) doesn’t end there. There’s a whole new level of adventures and challenges.

The key is to move beyond the immature inward looking love to the mature outward looking love. The more you work to strive toward (or strive to increase) the mature love in your marriage the more able you are able to handle adventures with peace and confidence.

This book and this chapter specifically has been very helpful in my marriage in regards to how I handle those unforeseen adventures. There’s an “adventure” that happened late in the first year of our marriage in which I really had to implement these ideas of not focusing on my spouse’s faults and responding in a way that would help my spouse overcome his shortcomings.  It also properly conveyed that while the matter was serious, my love for my spouse did not waver.

My response must have been thanks to a heavy dose of grace from God because I distinctly remember literally taking a few steps away from the discussion, taking deep breaths, and thinking to myself over and over again, “Your spouse is not the sum of his shortcomings. Your spouse is not the sum of his shortcomings. He was designed by God and has Human Dignity. He is a son of the King.”

20110915-024141.jpg

Beware of immature love's laser eyes!

My husband and I laugh about it now because he could plainly see that at that moment,  while I was faced with this adventure, I was so angry that I was practically on the verge of having lasers shoot from my eyeballs.  But in the next moment, without saying anything, the anger quickly dissipated and was followed by a very calm, peaceful, logical explanation about how his choice had been a poor choice and how to prevent it in the future.

Some of the hardest times to love someone is going to be when we are angry or when someone is angry at us.  The challenge is to diffuse the situation and to give our loved one an opportunity to adjust their behavior from cranky to calm.  I like to think of this as a lob in tennis.

Do you know what a lob is?

It’s where you loft the ball back at your opponent with an upward arcing direction so that it either lands behind them or forces them to back up.  It can be used defensively to diffuse a powerful shot and thereby give you additional time to collect yourself to be ready for the next shot,  or offensively to win the shot by catching your opponent off guard.

Here’s a picture:

Love: Lob your response back when met with anger.

A marriage based on immature love is one where the person returns an angry remark with an angry remark to win the point.  Ewww

A marriage based on immature love might be severely weakened by one  “adventure” caused by a poor choice. A marriage based on mature love (or even simply striving toward it), however, is actually strengthened by the “adventure” as each person sees that their spouse’s interaction and reaction with them is an act of love.

I think that many people stop short in their marriage (or relationship) at this immature love.   They limit the amount that they will love their fiance or their spouse. It’s sort of an invisible pre-nup. “I’ll love him no matter what, except if he cheats on me. Then it’s over.” or “I’ll love her no matter what, unless she gains like 100 lbs. Then it’s over, because I just can’t live with someone who doesn’t take care of themselves.” That love is an icky fickle love.

We are not called to have an icky fickle love. We are called to love as God loves. God loves us when we mess up. God loves us when we’re too skinny and when we’re overweight. He loves us when we are cranky and moody and when we are being totally selfish. (Of course He doesn’t love the crankiness and selfishness – it’s us He loves, not our poor choices a.k.a. sin.)

In fact when I think about it God challenges us to love Him, not just our spouses or neighbors, in a deeper more mature way too.  He challenges us to go from an immature love where we perhaps pray about how God can just help us get out of  a sticky situation to a mature love where our prayers are less about looking at what we want and more about what God wants of us.

Ok, so we’re supposed to love our neighbors with a mature love, but what if our neighbors are creeps? 😛

What do we do when loving in a real mature way is the last thing that we want to do?  How do we treat that stinky, drunk, loud, rude, obnoxious, 7 foot tall man as a man who was created in God’s image? a man who is a son of God? a man who is a prince in God’s kingdom – but who is seriously disguised with all of his troubles and shortcomings at this point?

I came across such a man when I was on the subway about 5 years ago.  It was early in the morning.  I was on my way to work and I was really not in the mood to be faced with someone who must have been drinking throughout the night and into the dawn.  Yet what came to mind were balloons.

It's a boy! or It's a girl! helps us to remember that we are all children of God.

Balloons tied to someone’s front door or someone’s mailbox.  “It’s a boy! Congratulations!” were written on them and they were tied with blue ribbons.  One day, 30 some odd years ago a mother brought that 7 foot man, who was then just a little bundle of joy, home from the hospital.

I think that’s how God sees us.  He remembers us when we were just a little nugget of cuteness in our mother’s arms.

So when you come across someone who is being cranky or stinky or both, just think of the bouquet of balloons to help you see them as God sees them.  It’s helped me many times.

We all have intrinsic value.  We were born with it.  We can’t escape it and no one can take it away.  In fact, during the large discussion group someone asked what intrinsic value was.  Someone gave a great answer:  extrinsic things are things that can be taken from us; intrinsic things are things that cannot be taken away.

God loves us with an intrinsic love.  You.  God loves You – the unrepeatable, unprecedented you.

(That reminds me of a trailer for a movie: The Human Experience   If you haven’t seen the movie…. SEE IT! It’s awesome!)

A gentleman commented during the group discussion that “we all were created in God’s image – and that we all reveal something about God that no one else can reveal.”  We are different for a reason.

Another gentleman, Mike, reminded us:  God created us, therefore we are good because everything that God created is good.

Some more great comments from that night include:

  • Every moment that we are in is a moment for our own conversion.
  • Loving with a mature love begins with us:  We have to know our own worth in order to value someone else and then be
    responsible for them.
  • Daniela quoted C.S. Lewis, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Treat your neighbor with respect.  We can either help our spouse (or neighbor) to be a monster or an angel.
  • Selfless love doesn’t count the cost.

The last example that I want to point out is one that was given by one of the women in the group.  She told us a story that was similar to the two couples described in the book.  It was the story of her two Aunts.  Both were faced with infidelity by their spouses.  But one handled it with love, while the other handled it with anger.  The “angry” Aunt is now divorced and still angry.  The “loving” Aunt worked hard to keep her marriage together and worked hard to show her spouse that even in a time of severe trouble and distrust, she still loved her spouse.

I’m glad that JPII, Ed Sri, and even people at our discussion group agree:  there’s more to love than just love…. there’s responsibility.

It’s not easy, but it leads to true happiness.  Good luck and see you next week!

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Week 5: The Law of the Gift

August 22, 2011

Last week we covered Sense and Sentimentality.

This week at Love & Responsibility in NYC we covered The Law of the Gift: Understanding the Two Sides of Love. (Check it out online; not as extensive as the book, but handy.)

This chapter speaks about the subjective side of love and the objective side of love.  The subjective side of love is what happens inside of us (our feelings, our attraction, i.e. sentimentality, sensuality). To quote the author, Ed Sri, “In other words, on its own, the subjective aspect of love is no more than a pleasurable experience happening inside of me.”   This is the side of love that sort of  happens to us. The objective side of love is that conscious decision to love someone for who they are.  It’s not something that happens to us, it’s something that we do.

That reminds me of a country song that I used to know (I used to live in NC and country music was prolific!):

“When considering the objective aspect of love, we must discern what kind of relationship exists between me and my beloved in reality, not simply what this relationship means to me in my feelings. Does the other person truly love me more for who I am or more for the pleasure he receives from the relationship? Does my beloved understand what is truly best for me, and does she have the virtue to help me get there?” says Ed Sri.

Sadly, I have friends that have married someone who loves them subjectively, not objectively.  When I read, “Or are we really just living side by side, sharing resources and occasional good times together while we each selfishly pursue our own projects and interests in life?”, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach and it reminded me of those relationships that I’ve witnessed where the fire of (subjective) love burns brightly at first and then after a while it burns out leaving one or both persons wondering if they were really in love in the first place.

Subjective love is like PB&J

PB&J YUM!

When we were in our breakout groups, our group talked about this dynamic.  I mentioned that I had heard of couples who had been married for 30 years who seemed to stay in this subjective love phase.   “Many couples get divorced and I think that it’s because the relationship never matures into the objective side of love, it stays in the subjective side of love.  Sometimes couples can somehow survive this for 30 years, and then it takes something like a Marriage Encounter retreat weekend to expose them to the existence of objective love – this whole other level of love that is much more nourishing.   It’s like all they know is PB&J – they don’t even know that fillet minion exists!”  I love a good PB&J, but a lifetime of ONLY PB&J would get old quickly.  That’s why, in my opinion, living off of ONLY subjective love doesn’t usually work for very long.  It’s probably why most marriages that end in divorce, do so after 1 to 3 years.

The chapter also mentions that this objective side of love is given freely – it is a free choice to give of themselves.  The “Law” of that gift of self is that the person has to go outside of themselves in order to give that gift.  By forgoing their personal interests or personal freedoms for another, it enriches their loved one’s life and simultaneously their own.

Sri states, “Therefore, while the modern individualist may see self-giving love in marriage as something negative and restrictive, Christians view such limitations as liberating. What I really want to do in life is to love my God, my wife and kids, and my neighbor — for in these relationships I find my happiness.”

I’d come across that modern individualist attitude in some of the guys I dated.  It was sad because they viewed marriage as this THING that imposed a list of “can’t”s onto their life.  They didn’t want anything to do with it because they weren’t ready to give up their single -very-self revolving-lifestyle.

We commented about this in our breakout groups.  Sometimes people ask, “How much can I get out of this?” (subjective love) versus what they should be asking: “How much can I give?” (objective love).  That’s definitely a sign of subjective love, not objective love.

One woman commented: It’s freeing to hear this truth, that if we freely give of ourselves we will attain true freedom and lasting happiness.  

It’s inspiring, but intimidating. 
Another woman commented about objective love: It’s inspiring, but intimidating.  How are we supposed to accomplish this? Isn’t this impossible?

I mentioned that it does sound a bit like we’re asking someone to breath underwater.  It sounds unnatural to ask someone to go outside of themselves.  But, this is why those sentimental, sensual, subjective love aspects are actually important (as long as their within a proper proportion).  The desire for these things – the desire for love that is there innately, gives us the courage to consider it – to be open to doing that which seems impossible: giving up our freedom, to gain it.

I believe that the grace that we receive from God is like the snorkel and mask that allows us to stay immersed in the water and do what we thought was impossible.  God gives us grace which helps us to love others when it requires more that what comes naturally.

God's grace helps us to do the impossible!

The chapter also goes on to describe that objective love is a choice to love , that is freely given (e.g. one does not expect payment in return), and that one has to be free to give this gift.  If something is master of you, then you are not free to love.  That is why self mastery is so important – especially when it comes to chastity.

A woman gave the point that: while as a single person, one might wonder how you can freely give yourself completely to others.  Chastity is part of conforming one’s self as a single person to that ideal.  That one will give themselves completely (sexually) to one’s spouse.  While living as a single person, chastity is a way to achieve that self mastery so that when the situation arises after marriage, one can freely give of themselves and not be overwhelmed and mastered by sexual impulses.

Being unchaste  is a symptom of the sexual urge having mastery over one’s self.

That struggle for self mastery lies in many things, not just sexuality.  It’s important to remember that while we are striving for this self mastery, we are not yet perfect.  So we may not have every thing mastered yet, but as one person said that night, “At least we are facing the right direction” so that we can walk down the path towards that.

Natalia suggested reading a book called “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers.  She said that it gives a great example of this objective love and loving someone who has not yet reached perfection.

Read this for inspiration on Objective Love

(The Online Catholic Store describes the book as: this splendid retelling of the biblical story of Hosea, bestselling author Francine Rivers pens a heartbreaking romance between a prostitute and the upright and kind farmer who marries her; the story also functions as a reminder of God’s unconditional love for his people. Redeeming Love opens with the Gold Rush of 1850 and its rough-and-tumble atmosphere of greed and desire. Angel, who was sold into prostitution as a child, has learned to distrust all men, who see her

only as a way to satisfy their lust. When the virtuous and spiritual-minded Michael Hosea is told by God to marry this “soiled dove,” he obeys, despite his misgivings. As Angel learns to love him, she begins to hope again but is soon overwhelmed by fear and returns to her old life. )

Another woman advised that, “If you don’t know yourself, you run the risk of losing yourself in the other person.”

I wish I had a friend to tap me on the shoulder and repeatedly remind me of that while I was in the dating scene!

I commented that it was important to note that Blessed JPII had said that our desire to love, our choice to love “limits” our freedom.  It does not squash it.  It’s important to mention this because often I think people feel as if this kind of altruistic love asks them to give up their free will.  One gentleman quickly came to my rescue to help explain that “this idea of compromise or self sacrificing in order to fully love someone does not mean that we compromise who we are or who God is calling us to be.  We do not sacrifice our “non-drug”-self so that we can attend a Rave party and do cocaine.” It’s sacrificing for the betterment of the other person AND ourselves not at the cost of our dignity.

Brilliant!

Advice for men
One group of men shared the list of “how to prepare to be a man who can give themselves fully in love to another” that they came up with in the small discussion groups.  It was priceless!

Get a plant to take care of so you can learn how to love!

  1. train one’s self in forgiveness – be able to forgive others easily
  2. general discipline – be able to keep a schedule/routine and stick to it
  3. get a plant or even a dog  (this was my favorite!) -so that then, you’ll get used to taking care of something, other than themselves, that needs care on a regular basis.
  4. going to reconciliation on a regular basis.  This encourages one to go outside of one’s self, to admit to another that we “messed up” and shows a desire to be stronger in that area.

Another guy, Tom, offered that he often watches the movie “The Nativity Story” during the season of Advent.  This  love story  between Joseph and Mary really displays that objective love – that self sacrificing love- that Joseph has for Mary.  It’s a way for him to be reminded of this good manly role model of how to love rightly.

That’s all for now – see you at the next Love & Responsibility in NYC!

Week 4: Sense and Sentimentality

August 17, 2011

Last week we covered Avoiding Fatal Attractions.

This week at Love & Responsibility in NYC we covered Sense and Sentimentality. (Check it out online; not as extensive as the book, but handy.)

The chapter starts out with:  “How could Mr. Right turn out to be so wrong?”

All I have to say is: “Word.”

“How could Mr. Right turn out to be so wrong?” was my theme song of my life right up until I met and married my husband.  It seemed like I had a particular knack for finding the Mr. Wrongs of the world.  Perhaps instead of rose colored glasses, I had “Mr. Right” glasses on, preventing me from seeing what was really going on in the relationship.

Are you looking at the relationship through rose colored glasses?

I wish I had read this chapter sooner!  Then perhaps I would have noticed that I was often getting caught up in being overly sentimental about the relationship instead of looking at it in it’s reality.

This chapter explains that often one can get carried away in the idea of a relationship rather than the actual relationship between the two persons.  Sentimental feelings about someone is a good and important thing, but when the sentimental feelings take over the relationship and obscure who the person really is, it’s a bad thing.

The chapter argues (as does Blessed JPII) that women have a particular propensity to fall into this trap of being overly sentimental.  We see a guy across a crowded room and suddenly we find ourselves dreaming up a life with him, when we haven’t even met him yet! Or perhaps we’ve had a brief conversation or a momentary encounter and we think, “perhaps this is the one!”

(It’s not that men don’t do this sort of thing, because they indeed do, it’s just that women seem to be more prone to this.  Men seem to rush into the physical side of the relationship and women seem to rush into the sentimental side of the relationship.)

In a way, I think it’s nice that we as women want to think the best of a man.  Awww – aren’t we sweet?

However it’s not exactly prudent to attribute virtue to a man who doesn’t yet posses it.

It reminds me of a scenario in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  (Insert swooning from the ladies here and groans from the men here.) Elizabeth Bennet has erroneously assumed that George Wickham is an upstanding soldier.  It’s only later that she is informed of his actual character in a letter.  George Wickham is in fact, a scoundrel who has been imposing extortion on various people and has left a string of broken-hearted women trailing behind him.

wicked George Wickham

Why do we see virtues that aren’t there? Perhaps we are longing for the heavenly virtues which we are all called to.  Perhaps we are innately yearning for the union that we will have with God when we are in heaven and that yearning drives us to seek those heavenly virtues and an earthly union.  Or perhaps it’s both, and.  (Which is very Catholic…“both, and”…) Perhaps we BOTH yearn for that union AND we (as women) have a particular weakness to rush into the sentimental swooning over a relationship.

When we got together in our small groups we talked about how we as women can sometimes get carried away as our hopes for that “happily ever after” gets imposed upon someone we may have just started dating or someone we may have been recently introduced to.

One woman commented that it’s interesting that the chapter comments on this dynamic but in essence, “what do we do now? How do we prevent this?”

I commented that further chapters discuss actions and attitudes that can help prevent this over-sentimentality, but I encouraged the women in the group to provide suggestions.

Advice for women: get an accountability partner
One woman suggested having a fellow girlfriend act as an accountability partner. (What a great idea! I wish I had one when I was single).  She commented that it was important to “choose an accountability partner who you could trust and one who had the same values as you”, otherwise you would tend to dismiss their advice or their advice might be contrary to your beliefs.  This person could help ensure that you were not looking through those rose colored glasses and that you had a clearer sense of reality about the relationship.  This accountability partner would not be experiencing the relationship emotionally and would be able to give a more clear answer about whether or not the relationship was a healthy one.

Advice for men- how you can help
Once we returned to the group discussion, one of the men’s groups asked, “Well, if women are prone to this, what can we do to help prevent this?”

One woman answered that question quite succinctly:  “prayer.  Please pray for us.  Pray for us to be emotionally chaste.”  Men struggle with physical chastity in particular and women struggle with emotional chastity.  That isn’t to say that we don’t have struggles vice versa, it just means that we USUALLY have a struggle when it comes to these things.

Also, don’t be judgmental.  Yeah – it might be weird for you, as a guy, to witness a girl getting all wrapped up sentimentally with a guy (maybe even you) but don’t label us with terms like, “she’s being a psycho.” 😛 Men and women are just so different that our struggles seem “weird” to the other.

I chimed in with, Say, what you mean and mean what you say.  Don’t just say you “had a really really great time on a date and that you are going to definitely call usjust because you can’t think of a nice way to end a date.  Don’t be nice – be honest.  If you say things that lead us to think more of the relationship than there really is, then it’s no wonder that we’re thinking it!  Also – don’t talk about what particular school your children will be attending, what their names will be, or what kind of house you want unless you want US to be envisioning ourselves in that house.  Don’t talk about your dream life in detail and then expect us to NOT picture ourselves in it.

Don't describe your dream house in detail!

Words are lusty for women
Low cut blouses and short skirts are kryptonite for men; men are prone to lust after the physical attributes of a woman.  Likewise words can be kryptonite for women; women are prone to lust for the sentimental feelings she has when a man speaks to her. Of course every dress is not going to thwart the good natured man and not every word is going to impact a woman to bring her to swooning uncontrollably after a man.  But there are certain key words or subjects that are sure to trigger an emotional response.  Those are: marriage, children (like what their names are and where they will attend school in Westchester County) and house.   (When I think of more, I’ll add them.)  Words can be used for good (like poetry or compliments) but they can also be the triggers that send a woman into daydreaming about a relationship that perhaps isn’t even there yet.  A good rule of thumb is to keep your words level with what sort of relationship you are in.  If you’ve just met, it’s a good idea to avoid describing what sort of house you want to buy “someday” (and what size tv you’ll have in the living room.) If you’ve been dating a while then perhaps it’s time to venture into those conversations which include more details about the specific life you envision leading in the future.

Here’s the thing: it’s not inherently WRONG – it’s just not wise.  See, we gals are like a video game character.  Say the right word and it’s like we just gobbled up a mushroom in a secret world of plumbing pipes and now we are dooo dooo do doooo Growing in Power

SUPER SINGLE GIRL! Now we have super hero strength and are able to leap to a committed relationship – heck, maybe even marriage- in a single bound! (Sorry – I’m sort of drifting in and out of metaphors.)

Super Single Girl! Able to leap to a committed relationship in a single bound!

So – unless you WANT to be out on a date with a slightly psycho superhero, I suggest that you make sure that your words match the type of relationship that you are ready for.

Make sure that you use the “D” word.
Patrick made a great comment:  To avoid all of this, simply state what you mean.  If you want to ask a girl out say, “Hi.  Would you like to go out on a date so that I can get to know you better?”  Be sure to use the word DATE so that she OR you wont be confused about why you’re headed out to coffee.

Patrick went on to mention that he’s noticed that in the Catholic dating scene in New York City, he’s seen a a really big pressure put on dating – that somehow dating someone = marriage.  Patrick noted, “asking someone out on a date for coffee is just coffee, it’s not a proposal for marriage.”  So guys, you don’t have to discern if you are going to marry someone, you just have to ask them out for coffee.  Gals, you don’t have to discern if this guy is Mr. Right, it’s just coffee.

Another guy suggested to keep the conversation on something that is outside of yourselves. I thought that was a good point.  Often first dates we are searching for a subject to talk about and so the conversation often lands on ourselves.  First dates are sometimes like an in person resume and unfortunately sometimes they are disastrously like a police interrogation.

Talk about something outside of yourself, like this tree!

Not fun! So instead of divulging too much about one’s self too early in the relationship, one can attempt to talk about something outside of themselves.  The gentleman that night used the example of talking about a tree.  I’m not sure how long my conversation would be if it were only about trees, but I think it’s a good idea nonetheless.

Another comment was made about prayer.  Pray to God that He will allow you to see the person you are speaking to, how He sees them. Nice.  Short and sweet and much better at making sure that we see the reality of the person not the dreamed up overly sentimental version of the person.

Another suggestion was: Relax.  Dating is a learning process, not a succession of failures.  It’s about getting to know

the other person and simultaneously getting to know ourselves better.  Dating is a way of determining if the match is a complimentary fit, not, is there something inherently wrong with this person that I am interacting with- and how bad or good are they.

I wish I had an easier time remembering this when I was single.  A breakup felt like someone saying, “eww – you’re no good.”  This was probably due to the circumstances of the break up.  Towards the end of my dating career, I realized that really, it came down to whether or not we were a good fit for each other.  Sometimes the guy was a really nice, great guy, but just the wrong fit.

Great fit for someone else, but not a great fit for me.  It didn’t really make sense until I met the man who became my husband.  Each day that I interact with him, I’m reminded what a good fit he is for me.  I’m so glad that I was able to learn through the dating process, what type of person would be a good fit for me.  It helped me to not get stuck in the trap of being overly sentimental and helped me to see the relationship and my sweetheart, in reality, not in my imagination.

As, I said before and as many other women in these discussion groups have commented:  I wish I had read this book sooner!

More to look forward to in further weeks!