Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ramblings on Love, Being Loved, and Reciprocity

I am still reading that biography of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk.  It’s The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton, by Michael Mott.  On page 423, Mott quotes a passage from Merton’s The New Man, in which Merton states the following:

“In the mystery of social love there is found the realization of ‘the other’ not only as one to be loved by us, so that we may perfect ourselves, but also as one who can become more perfect by loving us.  The vocation to charity is a call not only to love but to be loved.  The man who does not care at all whether or not he is loved is ultimately unconcerned about the true welfare of the other and of society.  Hence we cannot love unless we consent to be loved in return.”

The book goes on to talk about a love affair that Merton had with a woman the book calls “S.”  Merton felt that he was learning about love from that experience, to the chagrin of his monk superiors!

Merton essentially says that we cannot love unless we want to be loved ourselves, or in return.  The reason that this passage stood out to me was that I was thinking about this sort of issue.  Do I need to be loved by others for me to love people?  One hindrance to me reaching out to a number of people with love is that I do not feel that there is much reciprocity.  I think: “Why should I love so-and-so—-what has he ever done for me?  He usually snubs me every chance he can get.”  In that sort of situation, I can find myself, as a Christian, concluding that perhaps I should not care about being loved, but rather loving.  It’s better to give than to receive.

On the other hand, I cannot give up my belief that I, as a human being created in God’s image, deserve to be loved.  I am not a great fan of Ayn Rand’s politics (as intriguing as I find it), but her critique of altruism has long spoken to me.  Ayn Rand essentially asked why we should sacrifice ourselves for others or believe that we do not deserve good things ourselves.  Altruism says that we should give good things to others, but why should we believe that others deserve good things, whereas we ourselves do not?  Both of us are humans!  I am not writing this post to debate the finer points of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.  Some of her bad characters whine about how they deserve love, so I doubt that Ayn Rand would say that we all deserve love regardless of what we do, but rather taught that we all have a right to pursue happiness.  I can distance myself from Ayn Rand’s rejection of altruism by saying that I support giving to others, but objectivists have said that Ayn Rand was not entirely against giving to others, and they would probably accuse me of distorting Ayn Rand’s teachings were I to make such a statement.  I am just saying that something I gleaned from Ayn Rand’s philosophy that makes sense to me and that I have incorporated into my own worldview is that it is all right for me to receive good things, not just for others to do so.

That said, in my attempts to cope with social rejection, I can easily fall into the trap of thinking others should be strong, as I try to be.  If someone rejects me or is rude to me, I can try to be strong and not allow that to bother me, and sometimes I can even succeed.  I can lean even more on God’s love, which I can tell myself is firm even when other people disappoint me.  That does not mean that I can be rude to somebody else and expect him or her to behave that way.  My attitude cannot be, “Suck it up, like I have,” or “You should not be so tender but should find strength in God’s love, so that what others say to you does not matter to you.”  I should treat others as I want to be treated, even if I am not always treated that way.  If I am looking for a motivation to do that, one motivation can be that God is love, and part of life is becoming like God.

I do think that, for me personally, God’s love for me should be a foundation and a stream for my love of others.  I can follow the rule of asking people how they are doing and showing concern for their lives even if I do not believe there is much reciprocity, and there is a place for that.  But what is to keep me from falling into bitterness and resentment?  I cannot continually think about the times that I was rejected, but I need to focus on God’s love for me.  I also need to get a life, apart from my relationship with other people, not so much to avoid the world (as I have in the past), but to have more peace so that I can engage the world and not get bent out of shape if things don’t go as I wish.  Reading is one way for me to do this.

I went to church with someone a while back whose words have been in my mind lately.   He said that he is happy because, even though he gets disappointed with people at church, he still has his own relationship with God, and he can read Spurgeon sermons online.  He also says that he does not hate people, but he hates some of their actions.  He acknowledged that he did not form deep relationships with people—-I admit that a lot of pain can come from that—-but his approach makes sense to me.  It’s better than the resentment and bitterness that I have had in the past!

I’ll stop here.

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