Thursday, April 12, 2012

Love and Boundaries

To love is to be vulnerable.

We see that not only when we look at the cross, we see it also in our daily lives. There is no "safe love" any more than there is "safe sex". To use psychological terms, you simply can not engage your libido in the world without getting hurt.

I use "libido" in the broader Jungian sense, psychic energy or affection. I'm also using love in the broad sense of Eros or ascending love or desire - in other words the impetus to get up in the morning and seek what we long for with an open heart - of which I've written a few things lately.

Now we all know that if you're foolish enough to love - which is to say foolish enough to live life and not play it safe - you're going to get hurt. Love is all about getting hurt.

The problem is it's easier to get hurt in the Church than in the world.

When we deal with the world - by which I mean all secular activities beyond the "domestic Church", which is our family - we all know that you've got to watch your backside. If you allow your employer to take advantage of you, he'll take advantage of you. If you date somebody who only wants to use you for sex, he or she will simply use you for sex. If you have a friend who sucks your time and energy from you and winds up borrowing money and sleeping on your couch, your friend will continue to do that until you say no or take him to Judge Judy.

So we all learn, fairly early on, that people will take advantage of us if we love "not wisely but too well", in Othello's words.

But when we deal with the Church, or even with any organizations that are para-church or overtly religious, we let down our guards, we take down our boundaries. We think, "Oh, everybody here is doing this for the love of God. Here is someplace where I can love fully and to the max. Here is a little haven where the rules of the outside world do not apply, where I can give my all as I long to do for God."

And then, eventually, we get burned.

We see examples of this most clearly in those who are victims of cults. Cults take the greatest thing in man, our religious desire, and abuse it - sometimes quite graphically. And sad to say, there are many victims of cults within the Church, such as Fr. Maciel's Legion and its affiliated organizations and the "legion" of harm they've done (just take a look at some of the websites devoted to helping former Regnum Christi members adjust to life outside the cult). Indeed, my friend Dawn Eden points out, and I think quite perceptively, that Christopher West's experience of being raised in the Mother of God cult has much to do with his twisted theology of sex (see this long article by the Washington Post in which West and his mother are both quite blunt about the damage the cult caused in their lives).

And, more recently, another good friend of mine is struggling mightily with his disappointing experiences with a group within the Church that has been developing some cult-like characteristics, a group that did what bad people in the Church will always do - take your love and devotion and suck you dry vampire-like, leaving nothing in return and making you feel guilty, making you feel as if you're abandoning God Himself if you decide to stop putting up with it and leave.

And lately I myself have been growing increasingly aware of both a Catholic friend who was "playing me" - taking advantage of my willingness to love, not reciprocating and using it for this person's selfish ends - as well as a Catholic organization's proclivity to do the same. It is so tempting to say when we give to the Church or a Church affiliated group, "Hey, this group is composed of super-Catholics, of individuals who one and all are devoted to God. There's no need to watch my backside or keep up my boundaries around them. I have finally found a place where it's safe to love!" And then next thing you know, you're, well to be blunt, see the cartoon below.

I also think it's our proclivity as sinners to invest our Eros in artificial places. Rather than being true to our vocations and loving our neighbors - which is to say those people we deal with day in and day out who are almost never "lovable" - and loving our families - and God knows our families are the most annoying of all! - instead we find Church groups or Facebook friends or trust-fall buddies where we feel we can invest our love without receiving pain and suffering in return.

But this, of course, is mistaken.

We must love those we are most immediately called to love - our spouses and our children - with a sacrificial love that gives all and seeks nothing. But our love that does seek, our Eros, our longing which is ultimately a longing for God and His love - this we need to steward, not setting what is sacred before dogs, not casting what are pearls before swine, which have a tendency to turn and trample us. For if we don't steward this Eros, if we don't channel it into the forms and boundaries God gives us, we will waste it, Onan like, and the pains we suffer - the pains we are bound to suffer any time we love - will be for nought.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The greatest challenge of this is usually by the time you realize your love is not being reciprocated or wasted, it is too late and the pain resides in your heart.