“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quiet absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” ~ Pedro Arrupe
Let’s look, then, at five characteristics that we usually discover when two people fall in love and consider how these might also apply to our daily relationship with God.
1. Not everyone, just One … but one is enough.
@ Roberto Trombetta/Flickr
Think back to some of your “crushes” in high school. While we all naturally seek to be liked by many, it’s different when we have a crush… suddenly that one person’s attention matters more than anyone else’s. I remember being in the classroom, doing my utmost to say something intelligent or funny. I didn’t really care what the other 99% of the class thought; I only cared about her, not because the others weren’t important but because I discovered something special in her.
It’s not about the quantity of relationships, but the quality: I don’t think I have ever felt more lonely than in a crowded subway or a busy airport. It isn’t the number of likes or views, but who is “liking” and viewing. In a similar way, as one grows closer to God one begins to discover a unique love that responds to our interior desires in a particular way and living according to this gaze becomes more and the more natural. The greater our awareness of His gaze, the less we need to impress or conform ourselves to the world around us.
Have you heard the story about the journalist who encountered Mother Theresa? While the little Albanian nun was kneeling down cleaning the wounds of a very sick and physically repugnant person, the journalist commented, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” She poignantly responded, “Neither would I.” She didn’t care about what reward the world might offer; she was happy enough knowing that the one she loved saw her and was pleased with what she was doing.
Once I have discovered this gaze, what need have I to act for any other reason than his love? What need have I to “instagram” every good and interesting thing that I do? What need have I of that constant flow of likes that I often receive for those who barely know me or care little for me?
2. It frees from the fear of being myself
@ Roberto Trombetta/Flickr
The idea of “self-help” books and “confidence- building seminars” has always inspired a bit of suspicion in me. In my opinion, healthy self-love is a gift, not a prize or goal. For better or for worse, we see ourselves in many ways according to how others look upon us.
Noticing a beautiful girl for the first time happens spontaneously, many times by chance. No one, however, looks for a second time without a covert hope that she too returns the gaze. If she does, the experience is wonderful: with that gaze, one looks at oneself in the mirror differently the next day. Even if one doesn’t consider him or herself quite bedazzling, the gaze of the other encourages a second look, it affirms that there is indeed something worthy there. On the day one professes of marriage vows, the one I love says to me, “I want to be with you, to see you, because you are beautiful and worthy of loving, exclusively, for the rest of my life.” It is here that I discover the trust to be myself!
In a similar way, our time in prayer with God should become moments in which God teaches us to love ourselves. He, more than anyone else, desires ardently that we become precisely who are supposed to be. Bathed in this gaze, one stumbles upon a source of confidence, of *humble pride*. In this gaze, the fear of rejection, of abandonment, of domination disappears.
The daily exercise of the examination of conscience is nothing else but placing oneself in the gaze of God, peering upon one’s life as he does, lamenting those moments in which we allow fear to obscure our God given glory, rejoicing in those moments where we reflect the light of the Son. Prayer is nothing other than the constant caress of mercy that smooths away all fears of rejection and the discovery of one’s own incalculable beauty and worth in God’s eyes.
3. It makes me truly unique and enables me to love myself.
@ Ivana Vasilj / Flickr
Nothing “ordinary” is worthy of love, only that which is unique. Still, what is it that makes us unique? Our talents? Our creativity? Our will? Our last name? Our wealth? Our body? Our clothing?
When one falls in love, everything takes on a new meaning, not so much because of the thing in itself, but because of what it means for the other. What defines its value is its capacity to point to the beloved. A song, a picture, a bracelet, a tree, a dream…, they all become valuable because they remind us of the one we love, because they enriched our time together. Even the ugliest of places, the simplest dreams become fantastical when inserted into a relationship of love.
On an even deeper level, we too discover a new uniqueness in our own selves. Whether we be talented or not, it is the joy that we can bring to the person we love that counts the most. Whether our singing inspires admiration or bursts of laughter, it matters little. What matters, what makes us unique is, again, that gaze, that relationship with the beloved. What matters is why I sing: I sing for her. Truly, in the end, acts of love are the only authentically unique acts. Everything else is merely ordinarily.
In a similar way, the daily encounter with God teaches us and reveals us our own uniqueness. Something that we so often strive to exhibit before the world is, in reality, a gift: God is both an expert in and a lover of uniqueness, He is the foundation of it all. Under His gaze, I discover that for Him and I am truly unique, that He would be will and has indeed died not only for all, but solely for me. He knows the number of hairs on my head and loves every one of them. Why then must I flaunt? Social media is excellent, but if I look for my uniqueness in the number of likes I receive, I will most certainly inherit nothing but frustration.
What’s the point of standing out of the crowd if no one is looking? No one who that really cares for you, anyway. Here I am not prescribing conformity, rather interiority. Uniqueness is discovered within God’s gaze.
4. A constant interior presence.
© comeonandorra flickr
Most people that we encounter along our path are present only as long as our eyes can perceive them. Even when we like someone, he or she isthey are usually just “one” out of many whoand catches our attention as long as they are within earshot.
As a relationship deepens and love beings to arise, something interesting happens: one seems to perceive a more longing inner presence. Even when that presence seems to be fading, many people have a picture of their beloved with them at all times, usually a facial angle that reminds them of their gaze. When one might be tempted to betray or flirt with someone else, this kind of interior presence offers surprising strength. Or even in extreme situations, such as military deployment, lengthy separations or even disappearance – think of Tom Hank’s “Castaway” –, at simple thought or memory of the beloved supplies hope, strength, and even encouragements to act virtuously. Even at an ocean’s distance, that loving presence has its effect: “I can’t do that, she wouldn’t want me to.”
In a similar way, as one grows in his or her spiritual life, this longing and active interior presence of God increases and flourishes. There is no greater remedy to moralism, to that dry, legalistic exercise of Christian moral law, than living one’s life in God’s presence. We no longer live according to what’s “right” and “wrong,” but rather according to what would make our loved one happy or sad. Christianity begins, grows and depends on a day-to-day encounter. Ethics is like epilogue to a love story, not the other way around.
Every part of our lives, even our failures and our sins – especially our sins – must be inserted into God’s presence. Until we discover that He is with us, we can never change and live how he wants us to. Never underestimate this mystical presence. So often we tend to focus more on what we do, on both our virtues and our vices, but this bears with it a great danger: we forgeot about Christ. We forget that He is with us, loving us, teaching us, embracing us throughout our daily life… how can we ignore a love such as this?
5. It gives a mission
© Luis Sarabia/ Flickr
What’s the difference between an everyday task and a mission or a vocation? In the first case, what needs to be done is most important. In the second, who is calling or sending is most important. Just imagine if before every act we received a call from that person who we love so much, asking us to do this favor for them.
When one acts out of love, all daily tasks are transformed from being mere duties or routine necessities into opportunities to express my love for another and draw closer to him or her. The core question is no longer, “What to do?” but becomes instead, “How to love?” (And, not “how to love?” in general but how to love this individual person).
When I fall in love, a job that offers me prestige and financial security becomes a means that allows me to support (buy buy daily necessities), protect (e.g. through health insurance), and enable (dreams) the one I love. Even the greatest of sacrifices become beautiful wrapped gifts that I get to offer. There is nothing like that experience of gratitude when one that you love realizes what you have done for them.
The deeper one falls in love, the more important the reason why one works becomes than the work itself. The spouse who unnecessarily spends all his or her time at work and little at home has missed the point, and has probably lost this experience of a love- given mission. We work to love and be with the ones we love; if our work doesn’t lead us towards greater communion, then we need to find a new job.
In a similar way, as we allow God’s love to embrace our lives more and more, we begin to perceive every task, even the most menial sacrifice or act of charity, as a mission given to us by the one we love. Here are a few signs that you are living out this dynamic of mission:
• You always put the one who gave you the mission first: this means prioritizing prayer in your life and avoid falling into a whirlwind of apostolic activities that leave no space for one on time.
• The one that defines the mission is God, not you. Living one’s life vocationally means allowing God to take control and putting all of your efforts into following his voice and collaborating with him.
• You don’t consider your projects as simply “yours”. They are always a call from God and a part of God’s general call for the Church. This means you are open to critiques and don’t consider yourself to be the “superapostle” of the parish.
• You don’t value yourself according to the results. When things go well, you give thanks to God for allowing you to collaborate in such a project. When they go poorly, you feel disappointed but keep moving forward, improving what you can, because you are sure that God is asking it of you.