The Challenge and Opportunity in Relationship — Center for Action and Contemplation

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The Challenge and Opportunity in Relationship

Love: Week 2

The Challenge and Opportunity in Relationship
Monday, November 5, 2018

I think most people are called to marriage because we need at least one other person to be like a mirror for us, to reflect our best self—and our worst self—in a way that we can receive. The interesting thing about a mirror is that it doesn’t change the image; it simply takes it in as it is. Our closest friends or life partner hold a mirror up to us, revealing our good side and our dark side and reminding us that we still haven’t really learned to love. That’s what every healthy relationship does. When we fall in love, we fall into an infinite mystery. That’s why Jesus gave what was symbolically an infinite number, “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22), as the number of times even good people will need to forgive each other.

Thankfully, the Gospel does give us a blessed assurance that we are operating inside of an abundant, limitless, infinite Love. So even though we will constantly fail, failure is not the final word. We also have hope that everything can be mended, healed, and restored. Where the welding takes place is normally the strongest place of all on a steel bar. It’s the breaking and the welding and the mending that creates the real beauty of relationship. This is the dance of intimacy: as we ask one another for forgiveness, as we confess to one another that once again we didn’t do it right. Don’t be surprised and don’t hate yourself for it (which we all do). Darn it, I didn’t love right again! How can I miss the point so many times?

It’s when we do it wrong that we are taught vulnerability. We finally realize we are falling ever-deeper into something we can never live up to—a sustained vulnerability, a continual risk. It’s not a vulnerability and an intimacy that we need just now and then. Eventually, it becomes second nature to apologize, to admit we are wrong, to ask for forgiveness but not to hate ourselves for it.

The dynamics for divine intimacy and human intimacy are the same. I believe one is a school for the other. Most start with human intimacy and move from there to divine intimacy. But some begin with the divine ambush, first learning how to be vulnerable before God, and then passing it on to others.

The only people who change, who are transformed, are people who feel safe, who feel their dignity, and who feel loved. When you feel loved, when you feel safe, and when you know your dignity, you just keep growing! That’s what we do for one another as loving people—offer safe relationships in which we can change. This kind of love is far from sentimental; it has real power. In general, we need a judicious combination of safety and necessary conflict to keep moving forward in life.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 149-150, 52-53.

Image credit: “Ladybug” (detail) photograph, Roderico Y. Diaz.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. —Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
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