Have you ever been stopped in your tracks while realizing that your actions do not convey the values you profess? It’s a very unsettling feeling. For me, I try my hardest to refute the accusation because I simply cannot (will not) acknowledge that my character is flawed. This is such a destructive pattern. If the results you have been consistently getting throughout life — strife, arguments, superficiality, rejection, stress, etc. — are not in line with your desires — peace, happiness, wisdom. profound friendship, respect, etc. — it is time to take an honest look at what your role in these situations might be.
I was stopped dead in my tracks last night during a conversation with my husband. Once again we had found ourselves in a similar pattern, neither of us fully getting what we needed and becoming overwhelmingly frustrated about it. Literally, the conversation came to a screeching halt as I closed my eyes and prayed. I prayed for words, for clarity of thought, for a way out. And then I went to go lay our son down, giving us both a break from the intensity of the conversation and some time to reflect.
What we both desire, I daresay the goal of any profound relationship, especially marriage, is a safe respite from the world; a person to whom you can turn, during utter exasperation from the world’s chaos, to find truth, relief and peace. I needed to be able to acknowledge and reflect upon whatever I was doing — and this is the important part: whatever I am doing, not whatever he is doing — to perpetuate unwanted results.
My son was still being wide-awake, so as I waited for him to simmer down, I pulled random a book off of my bookshelf:
My favorite passage from this book is when Pope Francis expounds upon each line from the lyrical passage about love by Saint Paul about love — 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. This Bible passage is God’s exact directions on how to love well. And the fruit of loving well is what we all long for: happiness, fulfillment, peace, joy. But loving well isn’t innate. In fact, our human nature often leads us to self-centeredness, the opposite of true love! His words came in perfect timing as my heart was ready to receive them — and I would highly, HIGHLY recommend that you read Paragraphs 90-119 from Amoris Laetitia for yourself. You can read it here for free.
Here was my biggest take away, the thing that brought me running into my husband’s arms with deep contrition:
THAT is love. Letting my husband — and anyone else — be exactly who they are, especially when it’s the least convenient for me. Even though we are all flawed, and it’s particularly easy to want to fix the (particularly irritating) flaws of those around us, the relationship and the dignity of the person you are dealing with must always, always come first. If they don’t feel truly loved or respected by you it is an asinine assumption that they will take any advice you have to offer them anyway, which is a waste of both your and their time and energy. That was my fatal flaw while trying to tell me husband what I needed (me, me, me).
You can gently teach people what you want from them, or how you wanted to be treated by them, by modeling it. You’ve probably heard “actions speak louder than words”, or “talk is cheap”, or “preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” I had heard these things but never actually applied them to my life. I would constantly, stupidly, fall in the same trap of using assertive language peppered with suggestions or even admonishments. And every time I would leave these conversations with a bad taste in my mouth, like the person I spoke to didn’t enjoy our conversation or like I had won a Pyrrhic victory. It didn’t feel like the happy labor of planting seeds. Because I wasn’t. What I was doing was trying to steal their free will and force them into what I thought was right for them, which ultimately assaults not only their intelligence but their dignity. The better path, I have found, is one of meekness.
The thing is, we can all agree with and profess these sort of niceties spoken by Mother Teresa and St. Francis of Assisi when we’re not in the heat of the moment. But these very things were meant to be applied precisely when it’s the hardest to apply them… when everything in you wants to lash out, or shut down, or hide, or scream. Everything about those (most natural) reactions is about you and what you think you need. It is not others-focused, or on the consequences of how those actions will make the person on the receiving end feel. And ultimately, all of those reactions are destructive. Creation, and all that is good, comes from the Creator. The Creator, by His very nature, does not destroy. If you are participating in destruction, you cannot simulateously be participating in His goodness. Even if you think you’re doing it for a noble reason.
And let us not forget: the timetable upon which people grow and change is not ours to control. We are not the convictor. Only God can restore the blind to sight. It is pure ego to think that through argument and persuasion we can forcibly pry someone’s heart and mind open. What foolishness. And yet I have fallen into this trap so many times. What might actually lead them there is the love you can give to them that they may not yet have experienced. You know they know hatred, condescension, criticism, etc. You have the golden opportunity to show them harmony, empathy, and hope. Wow!
I am not saying to grin and bear every offense from every person. We are also called to prudence and discernment; are have the right to defend our own dignity. You, by your inherent nature, not by any merit or status or beauty or anything worldly, have profound value. You are worthy of honor and respect. So when someone has crossed that line — like in my last post where I was dealing with someone who laughed derisively at me, or used profanity, and spoke accusations and untruths into my heart — that is a time to step away from that conversation and probably away from that relationship, at least until safe boundaries are established and/or respected. But in the case of a person that earnestly attempts to consistently love you well, is not doing harm but just not living up to what you expect of them… that is a time for selfless abandon. That is a time for true love.
It is not the easy road, my friends. Many tears are shed as God refines all of the ugliness that is within me. But I’d rather suffer with Him, trusting in this transformative process, than stay the way I am, getting the same results that leave me perpetually unhappy. Truly, His peace is other worldly. His way IS the way. If you ask for guidance, He will guide you. And without His guidance you will stay lost.
You might be asking, what about all the times you selflessly laid yourself out there just to be trodden upon? The time you apologized and it got you no where? The humiliation you experienced when you exposed your vulnerabilities just to betrayed or hurt or mocked? I give you these words of consolation:
You live for an audience of One. If you strive to live and love the best that you possibly can to please God, you cannot fail. Your successes might not look like the world’s traditional definition of success… they might be subtle victories of the heart. Those are the victories that come with a trophy of true happiness and sustaining peace.
No one did it perfectly except God-made-man himself, therefore do not to despair when you fail! But do make honest reparations where reparations are due. When I was gently reminded about true love and patience in that book last night, I knew immediately that I had wronged my husband (and a few other people! Oh the shame!), and knew immediately that I had to — tail between my legs — make it right. It was in the power of my husband’s will to reject me. He could have said he didn’t forgive me. That would’ve hurt me to the core! But you cannot control the reactions of others. You can only listen to your conscience (mine is in the process of being formed, so if you, neither, got that as a child, come join the bandwagon!) and do what’s right, even when it hurts or it’s unfair and even when it’s scary or lonely.
For any of you secularists, the Christian verbiage I use might make you roll your eyes, but there really isn’t another way to talk about it without sounding hokey, so just bear with me. The great part about relying upon Jesus is that I know any hurt or injustice I am feeling, He has suffered through first. He was a real, living person. Not a fairy tale. Not a fiction character. A historical figure who suffered deep injustices, persecution, selflessness and rejection. He was murdered by the very people He wanted to be most loved by, the people He most wanted to teach and lead to happiness. I can apologize to someone, even in the face of potential rejection or derision, because He was rejected first. The Truth supports me. I did what I could do, and let the other person have their own free will, with which they can do irreparable harm to my heart. But I do it fearlessly because they cannot kill the supernatural love that I have within me. It will be painful, but I will survive it and most likely be all the better for it. He knows how to sit with me during these trials because he knows them better than anyone. His presence is true consolation. No human on earth could offer me the same comfort.
Lastly, I will leave you with a fantastic quote by one of my most favorite thinkers of all time, G.K. Chesterton. I rely on these amazing people of antiquity who have fought the good battle because they too whisper “you’re not alone. You can do this. You’re right, it’s not easy. But it’s also not wrong.”: