Week 5: The Law of the Gift

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!

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2 Responses to “Week 5: The Law of the Gift”

  1. Week 6: Love… and Responsibility? « Theology of Swing Says:

    […] Theology of Swing Reconnecting mind, body, and spirit through dance. « Week 5: The Law of the Gift […]

  2. Juan Carlos Says:

    Thanks!
    is very nice and detailed summary of my learning in love and responsibility.

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