He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Friday, January 1, 2016

40 Days in the Heart: Meditations on True Love

Over the course of the past few years, I have spent a great deal of time learning how to live in the light of love and reflect the light of love toward others.  As I have spent more and more time contemplating the nature of love.

I have found that this exercise is very productive when I go through a 3-step process:

  1. Read a thought or short paragraph about love.
  2. Remember times when you successfully lived that kind of love.
  3. Resolve to live out that kind of love more consistently.

This is most valuable when it is followed by setting specific goals for living out that love.  You can write out a goal for the next day, and have the following components to the goal:

  1. Who - Choose a person to love in this way.
  2. When - Choose a time for this act of love.
  3. How - Choose how you will perform this act of love.

Try this for 40 days, and see where the path of love leads you.  I hope it leads you to a more wonderful life than you could ever imagine.

I have a long way to go, but I'm committed to keep walking the road of love.

Day 1 - The most important kind of strength is not of the muscles or of the mind, but the strength of love. And it’s the kind of strength we most often abuse to the detriment of ourselves and others.

Question: Am I cultivating the strength of love?  Do I exercise my heart often by opening it to others?

Day 2 - It takes incredible strength to love, to keep loving in the face of terrible tragedy, to give love even when your heart feels empty of it, to shower with love those who feel most unworthy of it. It’s a kind of strength we all need, and the only way to gain it is to love until you don’t have anything left… and then love more.

Question: Does my love stop when I am stopped by frustration with life's trials?  How can I keep loving?

Day 3 - When you love as much as you want to be loved, you will soon be loved as much as you want.

Question: Do I love others as much as I want to be loved?  If not, then how can I start?

Day 4 - The sunshine, moonlight, and starlight combined can not outshine the light of love in an unchained heart.

Question:  Is my heart chained by fears of reaching out to others and being rejected, of being ignored, of being?  How can I let my love shine more brightly?

Day 5 - Real love is what you do when the warm fuzzy feelings are gone, the pain has set in, and you have nothing left to give…so you give yourself.

Question: Do I continue to love after the emotional high of getting to know someone is gone and I am still hurting?

Day 6 - Our love is not strongest when we have warm and fuzzy feelings for others and act accordingly; our love is strongest when we have cold and hard feelings for them and act lovingly in spite of those feelings.

Question: Do I continue to love even when I have been angered by someone?

Day 7 - We do not find peace so much as make it. We do not find love so much as cultivate it. We do not find happiness so much as create it.

Question:  Do I actively cultivate habits of love, behaviors that are loving toward others?

Day 8 - It is not enough to find love. It is not enough to foster love. It is not enough to love. We are called to a radical decision to become love, to saturate our being with love, to suffuse our environment with love. Love must become our substance as much as our sustenance.

Question: Is love taking root in my very being?  Is it still something that I do sometimes, or has it become who I am at all times?

Day 9 - Sometimes the price of completing one’s obligations is a lessening of opportunities to love and be loved, and this is not a price to be paid lightly.

Question: Have I carefully considered how I spend my time in light of how it impacts time with loved ones?

Day 10 - The courage to carry on comes from love. And by love I do not mean warm and fuzzy feelings, for those will not last. By love I do not mean the infatuation with a budding relationship or a new toy. Love is much deeper than an emotional high; it is the smooth and powerful current in the ocean rather than the choppy waves of our emotions. It is a commitment and a gift rather than a sentiment or a payment.

Question:  Am I committed to being loving?  Do I love because I actively choose to every day?

Day 11 - Most people become what they truly love, but cannot truly love what they have become.

Question: What do I truly love?  What do I spend most of my time focused on?  If I became like it, then could I still love myself?

Day 12 - Love in the deepest and most meaningful sense is not something we fall into; it is not something we find; it is not merely a sensation we experience. We act our way into love by thousands of small acts of giving of ourselves to others; we become love by keeping our focus on love so strongly that we leave no room for indifference or hatred in our lives.

Question: When do I forget love?  Where do I forget love?  How can I bring love into those times and places?

Day 13 - Loving the idea of people or the abstract qualities of persons is no virtue because it is easy to love when we are blinded to the faults of others, and virtue is not an easy thing. Love requires us to meet people in their brokenness, to reach into their messy lives with a helping hand when they ask for help, to risk inconvenience and harm to ourselves for the benefit of others. A love that will not take risks for others is not a love at all.

Question: How often do I take risks with my heart or with my time or with my treasure for the love of another, even the stranger on the street?

Day 14 - Even when by any external objective measure, a sacrifice was for nothing, it is still true that a sacrifice is a gift offered in love, and thus is for everything.

Question: When I sacrifice something important to me to help someone else, do I do it grudgingly or lovingly?

Day 15 - Love is best when shared and given while it is fresh; love spoils when left hidden too long.

Question: Do I communicate with those I love consistently about how much I love them?  When do I miss the opportunity to show my love?

Day 16 - One of the terrible things about our addictions is that they are so often a barrier between us and deeper relationships.  Addictions are buffers we place between us and reality so that we can assure the temporary comfort of the ego, buffers that also frequently come between us and those we love who live in that reality.  As we make more and more space for our egos with our addictions, we have less and less space for the deeper relationships which require us to move that ego out of the way so that the relationship can flourish.

Question: Which simple pleasures that I rely on can I replace with acts of love to deepen a relationship?

Day 17 - Love isn’t a skill which we can master in this life; there is no easy technique for love that we can learn from a teacher. Love is learned through the painful process of gradually separating ourselves from the many things that separate us from acts of loving kindness.

Question:  Do I learn regularly from my attempts to love others, both from the successes and the failures?

Day 18 - Most people love as best they know how to love with the understanding of love they’ve been taught. Our problem is usually not that we are unwilling to love, but rather that we don’t yet fully understand what it is to love.

Question:  Am I understanding when others try to love me in the best way they know?

Day 19 - Love isn’t always on time, but it should be welcomed with joy at the time it arrives.

Question: Am I willing to graciously accept love even when it isn't on my schedule?  When I was hoping for it long ago?

Day 20 - If we want to learn how to love our enemies, then we should begin by learning how to love ourselves, for we are often our own worst enemies and thus the best person on which to practice the love of an enemy.

Question: Do I see how I sabotage myself and love myself anyway?  Do I treat others with the same love?

Day 21 - It’s easy to make a hasty decision because we’ve been hurt by someone or something. It’s much more difficult and much better to take a moment to slow down and reconsider that decision in light of our love and gratitude. As much as possible, our decisions should come from love rather than our wounds.

Question: Do I make my decisions in the heat of anger and the cold of hurt?  How often do I make my decisions based on love?

Day 22 - The best way to tell someone that you love them is to stop telling them and show them by your actions instead.

Question:  Do my professions of love match up with my behaviors?  Does my voice promise more love than I deliver?

Day 23 - Whether the rule is that we greet those we love with a kiss, a hug, or a handshake, the fundamental truth remains the same; the rules of our relationships are what help us to effectively communicate to one another our deep love and respect for each person. A lack of rules does precisely the opposite; it communicates to others that our personal predilections of the moment are more valuable to us than the relationship we share with others, that our needs come before theirs rather than being in balance with them. When we choose to follow the rules of love, we choose in each instance, over and over, to move gradually beyond valuing our mere passing desires toward valuing the relationship which fulfills our deep and lasting desires of the heart.

Question: Do I respect the boundaries of others out of my love for them?  Do I treat those I love with too much casualness, taking the relationship for granted?

Day 24 - When love becomes a one way street, it usually reaches a dead end pretty quickly.

Question: Do I accept love from others with no intention of reciprocating?  Has this caused the end of a relationship by hurting another?

Day 25 - I find that to truly love someone, I have to move beyond liking them; I love more deeply when the initial luster of the relationship has worn off and I choose to be with them not as a means of producing pleasant feelings, but because I will the good for both of us.

Question: Do I use new relationships to make me temporarily happy?  Am I willing to do the hard work of deepening my relationships once the rush of hormones subsides?

Day 26 - Love always breaks our hearts one way or another, and if we let it, love breaks the walls around our hearts so that we might let more love in to help us begin to heal. Love breaks our hearts so that they can be put back together stronger than ever.

Question: Do let my heart expand after it is broken by the deaths of those I love, by the rejection of those I love, or by the betrayal of those I love?  Do I keep my heart closed off for fear of being hurt again?

Day 27 - In the liturgy, we lift up our hearts in love and are lifted up in the embrace of divine love, and by this love we gradually put to death those parts of us that can not partake of divine love.

Question: Do I set aside time to show my love to God, allowing His love to transform me?  Do I build up the habits of selfless love through true worship?

Day 28 - The acts of giving birth and accepting death for the sake of others are inextricably bound up with one another by way of suffering embraced for the sake of life; this suffering so that another might have life is the suffering of love, the most worthy kind of suffering and the most worthy kind of love united in their power to separate us from all that is not of divine love and unite us with all that is of the divine Love.

Question: Do I endure suffering so that others can have life to fullest?

Day 29 - Some say that love is all you need. I think that love is beyond need, that it is far greater than a mere meeter of needs, that it can radically tranform us so that our needs fall away as a chrysalis falls away from a butterfly.

Question: Do I think of love as fulfilling a need for me?  Do I find that my needs decrease as I love more fully?

Day 30 - If I could take only one weapon into the spiritual combat, it would be a sword forged of pure humility to cut down the greatest enemy of love: my pride.

Question: Do I cultivate a spirit of humility, understanding my weaknesses, and through them, the weaknesses of others so that I might love them by lifting them up as I desire to be lifted up?

Day 31 - The road to love is not a soft and smooth one; the road to love is cracked and broken, its hard surface causing discomfort even as it supports us fully on our journey. The road to love only becomes easy to travel when we grow stronger in the will to love, when loving becomes a joyful habit rather than a reluctant concession, when each step is cushioned with the love which covers all parts of our being.

Question: Do I remember that the difficulties of life are supporting me on my journey to love's final end, that they are the friction necessary for me to move toward love?

Day 32 - Suffering is what we experience when we are torn from that to which we hold fast. It is good to undergo the suffering which occurs when we are torn from our slavery to the ego. It is better to undergo the suffering which occurs when we are torn from our reliance upon unhealthy relationships. It is best to undergo the suffering which occurs when we are torn from all that separates us from divine love.

Question: Do I cling to my daily pleasures with more strength than I love?  Do I cling to unhealthy relationships as a substitute for a challenging relationship with God?

Day 33 - If all we seek is the many small comforts of life, then that is all we will have. If what we seek is the life of radical love, then we must give up many small comforts in order to have it.

Question: Do I willingly give up my small comforts to strengthen the love I show to others?

Day 34 - Love can only enter our hearts to the extent that we make room for it by letting go of the pain we have been harboring in our hearts.

Question: Do I harbor pain in my heart?  Do I let it go so that love can grow?

Day 35 - If our hearts must break, then let them break because the walls of our heart cannot contain the force of our love for others, our love bursting forth and flooding the world with the radical self-gift of true compassion.

Question: Do I love until my heart is bursting with the sheer joy of loving others and sharing in their love?

Day 36 - Loving relationships transcend the individuals who participate in them, but not by extinguishing them as individuals; relationships of love gradually transform us by a process of removing the dark shrouds of the ego in which we are enveloped so that the light of our individual gifts can shine most brightly in the perfect freedom of loving service to others.

Question: Do I love in such a way that the other person's uniqueness and individuality can flourish?  Do my unique gifts become clearer in the light of my love for others?

Day 37 - Love is not so much a thing we do as a transformation we undergo in order to become someone new.

Question: Do I treat acts of love as mere tasks to complete?  Do I notice how love has changed me over time?

Day 38 - Love does not hide the grandest gifts in our lives so that no one can see them; love shares fearlessly all the good things it finds with the beloved so that life’s joys are doubly enjoyed, first by the beloved and then by the person who loves.

Question: Am I holding back the best parts of my life from others?  Do I share the greatest gifts I have with all those I love according to their needs?

Day 39 - If we see finding a loving relationship as a process of finding a person who won’t ask us to grow and change, then we are not engaging in a search for a loving relationship at all, but rather a stagnating relationship. Love always draws the beloved to become even more wonderful and find even greater fulfillment.

Question: Do I invite others to change so that they can love more fully?  Do I accept the invitation to change so that I can love more fully?

Day 40 - Love is rightly a personal choice, a decision to will the good of another person and act to further their good. And in our acts of love toward the person we love, our capacity to love is built up by the personal encounter as we sacrifice self-indulgence to build up the other person. What is more, the love which grows between us and other persons is a partaker in Love, the person whom of its own power deepens our own capacity to love as we grow in relationship with it. In this way, the lover, the beloved, and their love are a trinity, an icon of the divine life of ever-growing love exemplified by the Holy Trinity.

Question: Does my love build new and greater relationships?  Does my love reach out to find more opportunities to pour the love in my heart out for others?

It could be valuable to repeat as necessary and review your previous answers to the questions to see how you have changed as you have loved more deeply.

Love first.  Ask questions later.

40 Days in the Desert40 Days in the Garden - 40 Days on the Mountain

By Turgis - Turgis, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45719762

No comments:

Post a Comment