My daughter looks almost entirely like my husband, except for the shape of her eyes and the freckles that dot across her cheeks and nose. She isn’t a fan of the freckles because no one else in her class has them, but I told her she got them from me and that God made her the way she is, so that makes them beautiful. She’s battling the innate Fallen need to conform to the world. It’s a new battle for her since she was homeschooled until the beginning of this year when she entered Second Grade. Now she simply wants to fit in and be like everyone else.
None of us are made to fit in and be like everyone else. We are made for communion with one another, but conformity to a worldly ideal is not the same thing. Often this desire for conformity is based on materialism, jealousy, fear, comfort, and more than anything, the desire to be loved by others. The problem is, worldly conformity isn’t love. It is a slow killing of love because it requires us to sacrifice even good aspects of ourselves for the sake of being like everyone else. Even heaven is hierarchical. The more we love in this life, the more we share in the glorious vision of the Most Holy Trinity. Being conformed to the world is a cheap counterfeit compared to our true call of conformation to Christ.
My daughter looks exactly like my husband, but her personality is alarmingly similar to my own. She’s intellectually a good balance of the two of us, which will help her later on, but she is stubborn, willful, passionate, has a strong sense of justice, and a deep capacity to love. I say this with some trepidation because I know what she’s in for in this Fallen world. I also know that she is going to have to wage some tough battles to temper the rough edges of her stubborn and willful personality. If she can harness it for good, it will serve her well on the path to holiness. She will be less likely to stay down when she falls. She will turn to Christ and begin again with each new fall, no matter how hard of a fall.
Her sense of justice will help to guide her through the great injustices of this life, but it will also be a struggle for her because there are so many injustices in this world that are not made right until the end of time. She will still have to fight for what is good and right, but know that the victory is Christ’s, even if she suffers losses on this side of eternity. It is why names have power and my husband and I knew very clearly that she was to be named after St. Michael the Archangel. He will fight by her side whenever she seeks his aid.
The place where she will struggle the most is with charity. This world constantly seeks to destroy that which comes from authentic charity. She will find out–and already has–that her great love for her friends will often not be returned, be at the same level as hers, or outright rejected. The greater the capacity for love that God gives to us, the more we will come to see why He constantly tells us not to be afraid. In our Fallen state, we are terrified of true charity. All of us.
We want things to be comfortable and easy, but we don’t grow in charity through comfort and ease. We grow by willing the good of the other and a lot of the time that means some kind of pain on our part or imposition of pain on someone else. Love is not a warm feeling. It is deeply challenging. It shows us where we are weakest, our failures, and the darkness within that needs to be purged. In this life, charity also means there will be times of utter, sometimes astonishing betrayals at the hands of others. For the Christian, we should expect this since the ultimate act of Divine Love was met with the greatest betrayal of all time. But we don’t understand, which is why we want to flee when it happens to us. It’s why the pain of the scandals has led some to leave the Church. That betrayal cuts through us like a knife and it is difficult to heal from such deep wounds.
My daughter with her great God-given capacity for charity will taste the bitterness of betrayal, but my hope is that I will be able to show her that no matter the pain, it is worth it in the end. The measure of this life is our charity. It is not her fault if others fail to love her as long as she has done what God has asked her to do. I’ve had to learn the hard way not to blame myself for the failings of others.
My hope is that God will show her that the more she opens up to Him in charity, the more He will fill her up, even in times of bitter defeat. He will require much of her, but it is much greater to live in the depths than to live in shallows. We don’t think so in this life, but in the next life all will be set to right and we will see what we fought for in our daily lives. We will see clearly why we fought to love as Christ loves, regardless of the consequences. The pain we endure in this life is temporary and the Divine Physician will bind those wounds and send us once more into the depths to where He calls us to open ourselves fully to His love and love of others. The greatest test in this life is learning to love those who do not love us or those who betray us.
When we think of loving others, we think primarily of a romantic form of love. It is what our culture is obsessed with, and the married state is a beautiful gift and vocation, but the greatest love we have is love of God and His love for us. We cannot fully live our vocations without Him at the very center. We want love to feel good all of the time. That’s one of the reasons divorce is so common. Love fades is what people say. No, emotions ebb and flow and then the work really begins. The actual love and self-emptying begins.
In reality, when we ask God to teach us to love as He loves, to love as the saints love, we are asking Him to teach us to love our enemies. It’s easy to wage battles for the people we have great affection for, but it seems almost unbearable to love someone who turns from a friend into an enemy. In this case, enemy can mean a wide variety of things, it can even mean simply someone we have a falling out with for some reason. That love is excruciating. It has to be because it is purifying. It is a true emptying of self, ego, pride, and the desire for vengeance. It is to simply bear the deep pain inflicted and still meet that person in love, regardless of if they return that love or not.
What did Christ do when He returned after the Resurrection? He appeared to the Apostles who abandoned Him in His darkest hour. He did not yell, rant, rave, or seek vengeance. He appeared in their midst and said simply: Shalom. Peace. What is done is done. He simply endured all of the agony, betrayal, and complete abandonment on the Cross and came back in forgiving love. It’s nearly impossible for us in our Fallen state, but possible with Christ. He shows us the way to love.
God has for months been building up to teaching me this lesson through a situation in my own life. In prayer He has constantly told me to “love as He loves.” Things would get harder and He would always tell me the same thing. He constantly told me that I have a choice, but what is required of me is charity, true charity. He was leading me to the Cross and telling me that I am to love as He loves. The Cross where every ounce of His blood is poured out, while knowing many will turn away from Him. Knowing that He was offering the Divine Love to those who cast lots for his clothes, and those who scourged Him, and those who mocked Him and placed a Crown of Thorns upon His head, and those who drove nails into His body. That is Love. In order to love like Christ, we must allow Him to teach us what love means and what it costs. The Cross is what love requires and it is what love costs.
My daughter will struggle to embrace the capacity for charity that God has given to her, just as I have struggled. That deep desire is God-given, but in reality it will not be fully satiated until the next life in the sense that our desire for abiding communion with others is difficult in this Fallen world. It’s rare. Spiritual friendships are rare in this life. We can be completely filled up by God and the more we grow in love of Him the more we see how that is truly what we seek. In fact, we must turn away from our desire to primarily be filled up by people and turn to God for our fulfillment. Only then can we turn back to others in authentic love. My daughter’s desire to fit in stems from her desire to be loved totally and completely. It’s a desire we all struggle with in this life. That longing can only be fulfilled by God.
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” St. Augustine
The saints came to see that self-emptying love is given regardless of how it is received by the other. St. Teresa of Calcutta did not ask herself whether or not the man dying in the street loved her in return. He may have even attempted to reject her help and screamed at her. She loved and served him anyway. It is that kind of love that we are all supposed to learn and the only way to learn it is through being hurt by others and accepting that pain, but still loving. I pray that God teaches her that lesson much sooner than I have learned it. I’m the type of person who will drop everything for someone in need, but I still struggle mightily in betrayal. May God continue to teach us to love as He loves.