There are so many kinds of love. There’s the love of pets and the love for them, the love of a favorite TV show about to begin its series finale, the love of your favorite baseball team when they’re down by one in the bottom of the ninth. There is the love of family and of friends, and the love of people you met for five minutes in an office years ago but have never left your memory. There’s also a love of each and every day, every moment ticking away on the clock. A love of time, of place, and of being.
Deus caritas est. (God is love)
- 1 John 4:16
Theologians talk about caritas, or agapē, when they talk about God’s love for us. It’s an overwhelming, pure, unlimited kindness that goes beyond romance or want or even need. It is what first Corinthians talks about when it says it isn’t boastful, it isn’t proud. It’s the type of love, in particular, that religious are to seek in their relationships with, well, everyone.
It’s still hard for me to find that type of love, even (or especially) in relationships I’ve had for a long time. Maybe that makes it harder, though. When I have a certain type of love for someone already, it is so much more difficult to shift that into caritas, into charity. Romantic love, especially, screams at me saying that it is more important, or deeper than charity, that it deserves to be respected and explored. I know in my mind that’s not all true, that it gets a part of its strength from its self-serving nature. Still, the difficulty remains. It’s a struggle I don’t foresee becoming any easier with time.
It may not be easy, but when it comes I feel it more strongly than anything else. I know that if any of my tiny loves compare to it, it is only as a shadow cast along a wall in passing. God’s love is enormous and subtle, and it provokes such awe and clarity that it wakes us up from our petty dreams to point us in a direction and say with the clear clarion only available to angels, “Here it is! Here I am!”
Still, even with the experience in my pocket, there are days when I fall for the old habits. I want love, not just to love. It’s inescapable, even if it weren’t broadcast across our culture in blazing lights. That want is human as well, and I don’t think I can necessarily call it wrong. Though the selfless love may be altruistic and divine, and thus qualitatively better, that doesn’t diminish the greatness that comes from being loved by another person. Just because one thing is infinitely good, infinity minus one is still increasing without bounds. (There’s a cardinality vs. cardinals joke in there somewhere, but my math nerd skills aren’t up to it)
I know what I should do. I know that I need to bridge those gaps and put things in the right perspective. Times will come in the future where I’ll experience this same dilemma and I should put in the practice now at developing those relationships into a love that is healthy for celibacy. Based on what I’m experiencing so far, I’d say it’s a slow process.
Of course, I can’t turn a blind eye to romantic relationships. Even though it’s not the path I’m headed down, I already find myself counseling other people on theirs. I typically take the position of offering up my mistakes as a guide for things they might want to avoid, but that’s only really appropriate for surface level advice. So many friends are coming to me these days with worries about finding a love in which to share their life. I guess with all of us hitting our 30s, they’re beginning to wonder why life hasn’t fallen into place like they expected. But that’s the key, isn’t it? Life is never what we expected. How many of us can look back at our 8th grade yearbook, slide our finger down to the “What do you want to do when you grow up?” line, read off our grand plans and say honestly, “Yup, I nailed it.” How many of us planned out our futures when we left for college? How many of us are even in the same career as when we began? These are just the mechanical things of the day to day. They are jobs, homes, cars. How much more complex and unpredictable is love!
Even though it’s unpredictable, and life takes us on twists, that doesn’t help people who feel left behind, who feel alone. I want to say, “of course you’ll find someone!” I want to tell them that it will work out better than they could have planned, but that’s not the way of life, and it’s not the way of God. He challenges us at every turn. The better we are at things, the more skilled or talented, the more the challenges become. He never abandons us, but he doesn’t make it easy.
It’s tempting to take a break from your life and look to the side, at the lives of others passing by like cars on a highway. It’s tempting to look and say, “look how easy they have it! They’re in the carpool lane and it’s moving so quick.” We so rarely see their challenges, though. We trick ourselves into simple habits, like pretending that if we could only have this one thing, all of life would be okay. That’s never the case, though, is it?
More often than not, I think my friends will find the love they’re looking for. It might happen soon, or not for many years. Most will find it. There is another group, though, who may not. That’s the big conspiracy of our modern world. That’s the horror movie too scary for the big screen. What happens to the people who never find a romance to last the rest of their lives?
They live and love anyway.
That’s the big secret. God doesn’t call us all to married life! Just as he doesn’t call everyone to religious life, just as he doesn’t give us all the same gifts and passions. And that’s okay.
I know we all want it, but the wanting isn’t love in itself. The wanting is just the self crying out at the outrage of not having what others have. There is still love available for everyone, even if it isn’t romantic love. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s anything less than romance, either. It is far more grace-filled and awe-inspiring. It is the love that creates worlds!
Whether you’re one of those people who has already found your special love, one who is still looking and will discover it soon, or one of us who will live by the love of charity and fill your life with the friendship of many, God’s love is there for every single person, without exception. It’s even there for us screw-ups who misuse it, abuse it, and fail to spot it when we should be on our knees thanking heaven. It’s there for sinners and saints alike.
Let all that you do be done in love.
- 1 Corinthians 16:14