Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance. -- Prov.1:5
Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do and he will direct your paths -- Prov.3:3-6
Last week, I wrote about wisdom, about how Socrates tried to get people to realize their own ignorance. Now it is my turn to recognize my own ignorance, and pursue a greater truth. For, if you had asked me two weeks ago, what, or who, I needed to be happy, I would have said, "God alone." Now, that may sound reasonable to some faithful people. But let me clarify: I would not only have meant "God first, above everyone else." I would have mostly meant, "I don't need anyone else."
Maybe you understand what I'm talking about. Perhaps, you too have reached a low point in your relations with other people, such that you have felt that God alone was your life-line. Once, a few years ago, I felt completely and absolutely alone in the world. I turned to God for help, and God answered me. From this, I believed that I could only trust in God completely. And though God has taught me how to love my neighbor better, with greater and greater charity, this lesson of essential trust has been reaffirmed repeatedly, especially in my closest relationships. For, inevitably, there are conflicts, disagreements, misunderstandings, and/or hurt feelings, which create distance, if they do not break relationships entirely.
My solution was to put more trust in God, and less trust in other people. The result was that I was becoming very fatalistic about many of my relationships, especially friendships. I was beginning to wonder whether it was even possible to maintain lasting relationships with those I hold dear. I knew I was beginning to place barriers between myself and other people, but I thought this is what I needed to learn: that God alone was sufficient for me. These were my thoughts of a few weeks ago.
Then, over Christmas, my brother, who was staying with us, had a tonic-clonic seizure. I had never seen such an event before, and it scared me so much that I did something I had never done. I sent out a prayer request via email to everyone I knew who would care. The thought crossed my mind beforehand that God knew my concerns for Steve, and that that would be sufficient. But I not only wanted people to pray for my brother, I needed to know that I was being held in their thoughts as well. It was a blessing to me to know both these things. That support helped me help my brother get the proper care he needed. And he did get amazing care from everyone we went to.
A few days later, looking for one particular movie at a Redbox kiosk, I was offered a second movie for half the price. I chose the one at the beginning of their list of recent releases, a movie I had never heard of before, called "The Art of Getting By". The movie is about a young man, named George, whose life's philosophy is "You're born alone, you die alone, and everything else is an illusion." I could relate, though I would include God in my solitariness. It may sound depressing, but this philosophy is actually self-preserving. For it insulates George from feeling the pain of his father's abandonment, and his mother's distance. That's life, c'est la vie, so to speak. With this philosophy, George becomes a self-sufficient loner who "gets by" on his own intelligence. The movie, by David Weisen, tells the story of how this young man's world is turned around by friendship and love. It is an awakening for George, who slowly learns that when you allow yourself to love, you are no longer alone, and when you live honestly, even vulnerably, life is very real, no longer an illusion. I found it very thought-provoking in light of my recent thoughts about friendships.
At the same time, I was finishing up a book titled, "Spiritual Friendship". I had picked the book up at the bookstore because it was written by Aeldred of Rievaulx. When we lived in England, Rievaulx Abbey was one of our favorite places to visit. I thought the book was going to be about building a friendship with God, but it turned out to be about building deep and lasting friendships with other people, which Aeldred describes as God's gift to us, through which we grow in spiritual awareness and happiness. Aeldred's words at the end of the book struck a particular chord: "How advantageous is it then to grieve for one another, to toil for one another, to bear one another's burdens, while each considers it sweet to forget himself for the sake of the other... Added to this there is prayer for one another, which, coming from a friend, is the more efficacious in proportion as it is more lovingly sent to God." (pg.128). I was reminded with gratitude of the recent prayers of my friends.
Two other books followed in quick succession which also spoke about friendship and love. In a book about soul mates (which, though classified as a Relationships/Self-Help book, I found in the theology section of my favorite used bookstore), I read, "we most often come to know ourselves through our relationships with other people. Whether it is through learning about love in the face of someone we hold dear or growing in patience through a lifetime of challenges, ... we grow in our awareness of our true identity and our ultimate connection to God." ("Edgar Cayce on Soul Mates," Todeshi, pg. xiv, xvii)
And last night, reading a little more from the book I started with my oldest son a couple months ago ("The Alchemist", by Paulo Coelho), we came to the place in the story where the boy talks to the Sun about love. The Sun thinks the world would have been a "symphony of peace if the hand that wrote all this had stopped on the fifth day of creation." The boy replies, "You are wise, because you observe everything from a distance. But you don't know about love. If there hadn't been a sixth day, man would not exist; copper would always be copper, and lead just lead. ... each thing has to transform itself into something better. ... it's not love to be static like the desert, nor is it love to roam the world like the wind. And it's not love to see everything from a distance, like you do. Love is a force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World." (pg 149-151).
I sometimes wonder if God will continue to put the same message before my eyes indefinitely until I finally get it, until I finally see the light. For this message is growing in force with each passing day. There is no way I can simply ignore it.
God is love. God not only wants us to love him, deeply, he also wants us to love each other, deeply. Not simply from a distance, with great charity. But more deeply, in ways that stretch us and help us learn about love itself, "steadfastly and faithfully", with those whom God sends our way. Love of God and love of neighbor: they are in essence the same thing. They are both equally essential for our eternal happiness. And so I must not forsake one for the other. That is not God's desire. I must try to stay connected to other people with steadfast love and charity. I trust that with God's help, I will be able to.
Dear God, you amaze me. Thank you for your great love for me. I am humbled. May I learn to love those closest to me as you love me. Always, Pam