Monday, September 11, 2006

Things in 3s & the importance of Love

Do messages come in 3s? I've heard that all my life. There's a book on my list of "to read(s)" because it came to my attention 3 times in one day. The book is The Road Less Traveled. I was redoing my bookshelves and it caught my attention as something I wanted to finish reading. Then my preacher mentioned it in his sermon the next morning. Later that same Sunday the Sunday school teacher also mentioned it. So I put it where I would be reminded to read it because it seemed that it might be important to do so. I kind of figured maybe God was trying to get my attention with it.

Lately, I think I have another set of 3s. My favorite cousin has been writing me and one of the things he made sure I knew was that he loved me for who and what I am and didn't think I needed any improvement or changes to be made better. Have I mentioned that I love this cousin unreservedly? He is always good to and for me even when we don't see or hear from each other for a while. Another part of this 3-some is having finished the book The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz. It tells me that I can love myself by getting rid of nasty "agreements" to believe what my "domesticators" told me when I was growing up. It says that I am lovable, unique and beautiful just as I am and don't need to punish myself for not being something I am not. Come to think of it, my spiritual director says the same thing. (g) The third part of this 3-some is the new book I am starting to read, from a Sunday school class, called Life of the Beloved by Henri J. M. Nouwen. It tells me God loves me just as he loved Jesus and I can think of myself as "the beloved" just as God declared Christ to be beloved when John baptized him.

When I see this kind of thing happening in my life I think God must be trying to tell me something. In this case the message seems fairly obvious. I am also wondering what this will lead to. Is it just to make a better and happier me, or do I need to love myself so that I might love others better? Probably both. Seldom have I seen God do something that didn't have multiple implications or affects. Sometimes I get kind of tunnel visioned so, if you think you see something else here for me to think about please feel free to contribute it.

In the meantime there are a lot of questions surrounding this. Is it important to love yourself? How do you know you are loved? What does it feel like? Where do you hear those messages that say you are loved? Those are questions that were raised in Sunday school. I am still working on an answer to some of them. And of course, I still need to finish reading the book.

For me being loved is kind of like sudden peace. I am relieved and don't have to worry about impressing anyone or doing something to earn it. Suddenly I can breath. It is kind of ridiculous to believe that you can earn love, or so I am told. Love is supposed to be a gift. But I was raised to be grateful for gifts and to give one back. Does an obligation negate the love? Is the obligation real or just a social nicety that can be ignored if necessary? Have I ever been able to earn love? Not that I can recall. What I recall from my efforts was imperfections that destroyed any good feelings I might have gained from them. That makes me ask, what is it about love that makes us want to do something to earn it? Why do we feel unlovable? The messages that say I am loved come from God, friends and family. Yes I think it is important to love yourself. If you don't how can you know that you are beautiful to anyone including yourself and how can you love anyone else if you don't know what it feels like? I once heard a definition of how love works. Not what it is but how it works. It said that love works like this: I want loving feelings from you so I am going to change my behavior and do the things that get you to do the things that make me feel loved. I'm not sure that has any part in a philosophical discussion on love. YMMV

Obviously I'm not going to come up with any great insights here. At the moment there are more questions than answers. Do I believe that I am loved? Yes, I do. I believe because I heard God tell me when I believed. Other people tell me they love me too. Do I feel lovable? That's harder to say yes to. I wasn't raised on unconditional love even though my faith tells me it exists and it is central to my belief system. So once again I ask, how do you know you are loved? And maybe more importantly, how can you know you are lovable? And please forgive me if I seem to have been repititious here. Things just keep circling back to how we define love and how we see ourselves.



Susan Palwick said...

Good post, Lee! I'm not sure I have brilliant (or even coherent) answers to the questions, but they're important ones to ask.

I know I'm loved by other humans when people's actions match their words. If they say they love me and treat me with respect, courtesy, and as if they actually have my best interests at heart, I believe them. If they say they love me but then they repeatedly act in ways that hurt me, and don't acknowledge or respond to my requests to look at that behavior, then they don't love me.

I know God loves me because, well, you know, I've always been given what I needed, even if sometimes it wasn't clear to me how that was happening. God's consistent!

As for feeling lovable: I tend to feel most lovable when I'm loving/helping other people, but when I'm sick or weak or vulnerable or otherwise incapacitated, I tell myself that God loves me the way I love my cats, whom I adore even though they aren't conventionally "useful," and who wring my heart when they're ill or in pain.

Lee said...

Thanks Susan! No worries, I don't have any totally coherant thoughts on the subject either.

Since you say you can ascribe love from others to their actions towards you, were you always able to do that? Or did the skill come with a certain age or experience?

In my own family love was often accompanied by criticism or efforts to correct behavior. One of my university teachers assures me that what I am doing in my life, becoming a teacher, is happening because I am ready for it. Do you think there is a time when we suddenly reach a turning point or right of passage and are ready for bigger and better things, living lives that show others love and focus outward instead of inward on ourselves?