For me, historically, it's one of the worst days of the calendar year and is quite antithetical to the true meaning of love and charity. It's a day of personal tragedy for me and one I wish I could avoid...every year.
Yet, even in my avoidance of the day, God revealed His love for me, and did so again today, through a messenger I would not have expected.
Yesterday, I received an invitation to visit a cloistered community, free from pressure, all focused on what God wants of me, and with assurances of prayers from that community for my ongoing discernment. It was a nice message and I replied, accepting the invitation albeit I won't be making the visit for months!
Today, though, revealed another facet.
This afternoon I went to a local restaurant to pick up my dinner. I am a fairly regular customer there, and go there because it is a Mom & Pop shop, the owners belong to a local Christian church and clearly run their business upon Christian values. They get to know their customers and allow their customers to get to know them. Last summer I learned of Mrs. Owner's pregnancy, I learned of the new addition to their family a couple months ago, complete with cute baby pictures, and today, I walked in and greeted the little darling and thanked him for "helping" his daddy at work!
The owner and I chatted a little while he proudly cradled his very cute, smiling infant son, and the man asked me if I had children.
"No", I replied, wiggling my ring-free fingers. "I'm not married. I like children, but I don't believe God is calling me to marriage."
The man seemed to be a bit taken aback by such a statement. It's a reaction I expected; I find that many non-Catholics have the same reaction to it, as they don't really have the same teaching or concept of "Vocation" as do we Catholics. It's either Marriage or.....what? Because of this, usually when a non-Catholic asks me about marriage and children, I just smile and change the subject.
But this man had something to say, and it bears repeating. He understood the reference to God's call of course, and that God is the center of all that we do and believe. But he couldn't let it go.He clearly didn't understand my statement of not sensing a call, from God, to Marriage. Looking me directly in the eye, he said, "Well, if you ever find that one person who just....ENJOYS YOU, who just enjoys you for who you are, just...really ENJOYS YOU....he's probably the one."
He didn't break eye contact.
In that moment, I heard the voice of God speaking through him. It was John Paul II's Theology of the Body coming through a man who has probably never even heard of it.
I found the man's comment particularly compelling because, well, he wasn't telling me to focus on what I WANTED but rather to look beyond myself to the OTHER, and the reaction of the OTHER towards me as a woman, deserving of love. This man looked at me through the eyes of one who saw my dignity as a woman worthy of being loved, and one who could not comprehend that anyone would ever NOT recognize that dignity inherent within themselves.
I realized also that he was speaking of his own experience of love for his wife, there, while holding their son, their third child. But rather than telling me to focus on MY enjoyment of another, he was asking me to look beyond and to recognize the true enjoyment of ANOTHER...of....ME.
And....it didn't sound like selfishness.
It was a juxtaposition I didn't expect..He wasn't speaking of lust. He is a decent man, and was speaking of something far deeper than the secular idea of lust in the place of love. He was looking through the eyes of self-sacrifice and getting to the heart of marriage and what it is. The "Enjoyment" of which he was speaking was a love that transcends, a love that looks to the other as something, someone, worth obtaining through great sacrifice.
He didn't say all of this, but it was right there in his expression, in what I know of him and his family, in the very obvious love he has for them, and in the sincere respect he has for everyone who walks through the doors to his business.
This man has given me something to consider, that being the true ENJOYMENT of the Other in the relationship. We all know that in marriage, one enjoys the other and wills their good.
What is Vocation?
Today's random conversation goes back to maybe one of my own personal hangups, for I always tend to approach Vocation from the perspective of sacrifice, yet knowing I should be delighting in God, which I do. Yet I always seem to forget that He delights in ME as well! I tend to forget that in a true human relationship, the man delights in the woman and vice versa. It's not a one way street.
Yet I always seem to make it so, ESPECIALLY when the object of my love is God. I find it impossible that the Creator of the Universe the One who called me into being, would actually delight in.....me.
As I focus on discernment of my Vocation, I constantly seek to be what God wants me to be. I am looking to holiness, to "measuring up", to being everything a Bride of Christ SHOULD be. I focus on the objective standard of the Mother of God, and of Christ Himself. I focus on finding my joy in HIM, and as selfish as I am as a human being, I have never taken the time to really meditate on how, well....I am worthy of delight.
I don't think in all my years of dating that any man has ever "delighted in" me. I know I have been the object of lust, and that's all I was, and I thought it was love. I don't know that I was EVER introduced to the idea of the chaste "delight" in the beloved, one for another.
I knew that sex was sacred, was to be ordered within the Sacrament of Marriage, and that love was a driving force. But the actual idea of "enjoyment" of one for another...that was an absent connection. It SHOULD be natural, yet in our culture, we miss that chaste enjoyment in favor of lust or focusing on the purpose of marriage. In all the dichotomy of our current culture of extremes, we tend to miss out on the simplicity, the most basic and natural part of the love of man and woman; the simple delight in the very person of another, in their very humanity, a delight that demands nothing, asks nothing...simply revels in mere existence.
Thanks to this simple encounter this afternoon, I have something more to consider. I may never forget the comment directed directly TO me, something I never even thought to ASK for or recognize, for it was never on my radar screen. Yet, I agree, it's important and I suspect ever married couple, every religious sister, at some point recognized the same truth in their relationship: The Bridegroom DELIGHTS IN the Beloved! He ENJOYS her!
I confess...I don't know what that means. I've NEVER experienced it! Ever! This lack in my own life is what I recognized in friends years ago, and which drove me to break up with the man I thought I loved; for I saw that he did not love me.
But I've never been the "target" of that loving gaze of pure enjoyment. Ever. I don't know what it looks like. I don't know what it's like to be the focus of such delight, and if I do experience it, I don't know how to recognize or respond to it.
I don't want anyone to feel "sorry" for me...I'm not writing this post for that purpose. Rather, I am trying to explain a part of discernment that may be absent for many of us, through experience or understanding, for even if it lacks on the natural end, we should be able to seek to understand it through the supernatural. Yet, if it has never been defined, or a part of what we know, how can we recognize it?
Perhaps this Lent, I should meditate on the pure enjoyment of Our Lord for His Beloved, such that He would sacrifice so much to ensure our Union with Him. Perhaps I should make it more personal and recognize my own personal involvement, that it's not about how much I love...but about how much HE loves...and enjoys, not just us...but me.
I pray for the courage not just to understand...but to accept...and respond.