Last week I took this little love blog out onto the open Internet. I was searching for an audience, so I put $25 down on Facebook and targeted people who liked Yoga to try to build a following. (I was guessing, mostly because I don’t know how to segment and target you, dear readers.)
I actually got a lot of clicks to the blog, which was exciting. I got a few likes on the Facebook post. I got a couple of positive comments. I got a LOT of comments about how I am leading people astray and mean things about homosexuality. You can’t read them though – I deleted them. My page, my rules 😊.
I recognized two big differences in how I look at the world compared to how the commenters looked at the world. One is in how we define sin and punishment, and the other issue is related to love. Someone commented something like “God is Love, not Love is God.” I don’t quite understand the point because “is” functions as an equal sign, with both sides of the equation balanced and equal. I think he was trying to tell me that I shouldn’t center human feelings of love and put them in God’s place.
I prefer Father Clay’s interpretation of Love: that God is Love AND Love is God. He tries here to give us some tools to start to believe it, to feel unconditional love. I believe at my core what Father Clay says here: “Love is the one thing that will bring about the kingdom of God.”
When I wonder about a behavior and how to evaluate it, I look for pain and suffering. Is it causing pain and suffering? Or is it bringing about more love on this earth? Loving who you love doesn’t cause suffering. Trying to change something fundamental about yourself – that causes suffering. Judging someone for being their best and truest and happiest self – that causes suffering. So does labeling natural behavior as sin.
I like this homily from Father Clay because it articulates the tension I often feel between leading with love versus using force and fear to control outcomes. This is generally within my own head, directed at my own behavior, but too often it is also directed at my children as I try to get them to get their work done. I want to rush them through things rather than letting love work in them or spending the time to coach them on their own self-talk. I know I need to teach them to turn in schoolwork on time and to clean their rooms, but I don’t want to do it at the cost of a cruel inner voice. It’s a tricky balance, and I pray about it every day.
PS please subscribe to my blog and follow it on Instagram. I’m still trying to find my audience. I think next time I’ll segment the ad by “People who like Brandi Carlisle and the Indigo Girls.” Other ideas welcome!
Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love
I’d like us to find some kind of image of how God is loving us. Here are a couple of examples. Picture a mother holding her newborn infant in her arms. Got that picture in mind? The way the mother looks at that newborn baby is a little something like the way God looks at us. Always. Even at our worst times. That is the way God is looking at each one of us, every moment of our lives. Take another image. A father takes the hand of his little child and walks across the street. The child holds tightly to his father’s hand and the father squeezes back. The father looks for cars that are coming, or anything dangerous. Imagine God holding our hand through every single thing that happens to us, whether it is good or bad.
This is the foundation of all religious, spiritual and moral growth, but it is something we really do not believe. It is no wonder that we have so much trouble, that we don’t blossom, that we don’t develop the spiritual and moral character that is possible for us.
Understandably, lots of things that happen to us keep us from believing in God’s unconditional love. Paul is trying to tell us that love is the one thing that will bring about the kingdom of God. But we don’t trust that love will do it. We still have to use force and fear. That’s understandable, too. There are lots of destructive things that happen in our lives, and people act very destructively as well. What we fail to understand is that when we act that way, we have been “unloved” into acting that way.
We don’t come into the world bad. We come into the world good, but we run into all kinds of problems and difficulties that make us twisted and distorted. And when that happens, we say we have got to use force and fear to keep people in line. We do it in our families. We do it in our church. How many people grew up being afraid of God? God sees everything you do. If you do something wrong, God will punish you. Not just with a spanking. God will send you to hell to burn forever and ever. We believe we need to use that force and fear to keep people in line. We do not believe love can do it.
The words of Paul very strongly state that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. But we do not really believe it. We fail to realize that while force and fear can control some kinds of human actions, they never will promote spiritual and moral growth. They may keep us in line, to a degree, but we will not grow inside. Only love permits that to happen.
So when we grow up with force and fear motivating us, we may develop certain kinds of inhibitions. There are consequences to the way we act, and we need to remember that. If I choose to be a very spiteful, cruel and hateful person, I will alienate everybody around me. I will grow up to be very lonely and isolated. But we need to remember that negative consequences aren’t God saying, “I don’t love you anymore, so I’m going to punish you.” We are always loved.
I would encourage all of us to try and form some kind of image of God loving us deeply that makes sense. Every day we could spend a few moments very quietly allowing that image to enter into our hearts, our minds, the depths of our soul. If we will do that, and do it faithfully, our whole insides will change. We will become very different people—not overnight, but it will happen. There is nothing of this world or the next, of principalities or death, that can ever stop our God from loving us.
God bless you.
From the homily, “Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love” in Dear People Whom God Loves by Father John Clay, © 1999