The Labors of Love
Love is like a garden. All of us are called to till its soil, some in the area of roses and others in the orchids. But all of us are equally called to work on it. Wherever we may be, we will all be lead beyond our comforts, into thankless, often hateful tasks. And that’s the hard part of this love…
Let’s get things straight: we are all called to love. It is not exclusive to some persons, and all are entitled to be loved. We are called to love, the way the landlord calls us to work in his vast fields. Sometimes, he reserves a special task to people—for example, he asks some of his workers to work on his rose garden, or a field of orchids. This is romantic love: an invitation to an exclusive love with a significant other. There will be envious glances from workers on the fields, across those given the task of tending to the gardens. We are all, called the same way—to love. We are invited to till and work on the vast field of love, and there is no discrimination, or prejudice, or special privileges.
Maybe, we were meant to venerate God, through the vocations of the priesthood or monastic life. We could have been called to leave our lives behind and serve the community, in charity work, or in building institutions. Or we could be called to remain where we are, and work our love with those around us—family, friends, superiors, and strangers. Whatever the case may be, we will all be lead beyond our comforts, into a greater degree of love. And there’s the hard part.
Let’s go back to the Mexican Proverb: “if you truly love each other, when do you say enough is enough?” When confronted with that question, Julia Roberts’ character unleashed a plethora of grievances, conditions, and a profound, yet confusing, answer. The real answer stupefied her, because it was right, and she never thought about it. “Never.” A myriad thoughts must have gone through her head: “if you really loved someone, you should commit to him no matter what”, “all these pains and sufferings are a test of your love”, and “if you really loved someone, you should try to smoothen the relationship and try to work it out.” All these answers may be right, but she would be missing one element.
She was enjoying the company of her boyfriend. They were expressing deep love for each other, through small gestures. They might have even gone to the point where they were already acting responsible for each other, trying their best to care for the other. Suddenly, as the movie progresses, conflicts arise. And, as what Julia Roberts’ character said, a “host of plagues” are unleashed upon a relationship. It tests the mettle of a relationship. Sometimes, and needlessly, the relationship reaches breaking point. That breaking point, that “host of plagues” is actually a sign that their love had evolved.
Every one of us will reach that breaking point, when we want to quit. Everything seems to be going for us, and somehow we have begun to change people, but suddenly everything goes wrong. Or we are led to the question—what are you doing it for? You’re getting nothing in return. No spiritual enlightenment, no emotional gratification, and you are persecuted and spat on. Guess what? Mother Teresa suffered the same despair. All of the saints have entered the so-called “Dark Night of the Soul”, where God suddenly becomes “silent”, and “unresponsive”. There are times that special pains are inflicted on us, but often everything around us remains the same, and we live life just the same. And because we have changed nothing, we call out to God—what is the point?
This is the same reaction of first-time farmers, when they’re tilling the field. After many, many months of patience and great care, their crops begin to grow. The roses begin to bloom… but then a storm comes in and uproots them. Insects infest and ruin the crops. Animals claw and play with the roses, ruining them. And these farmers will have different reactions. Some will curse the insects, and find ways to drive away the animals. They will resort to pesticides, and all sorts of chemicals. A few will charge to their master, and tender (no, throw down) their resignation.
Then, there are the seasoned farmers who, at the sight of the devastated crops, will heave a sigh of wistful sadness, uproot the ruined plants, and, with a song, begin anew. Because, that is how you labor. You are never expected to have a magnificent garden overnight. You are expected to work your whole life in that garden, and in that love.
This is a more committed love. Beyond the enjoyment of romantic love, is the hard, thankless work of commitment. You are called to Love—not despite the pains and sufferings, but through the pains and sufferings. The Greek definition of it traces its roots to family love; indeed, there are times when the family faces great hardship caring for one another. But, if one asks why you put up with that person, or let him make you suffer like that, you will say, “Because he’s my brother,” or “he’s my father” or “he’s my mother”. “They’re my family, and I will love them, no questions asked”.
Christ did not mince words. He spoke of that special filial love, with that essential ingredient. Thus, “I have not come here to bring peace, but discord. I will pit mother against daughter, and daughter against mother…” They, in their arguments, conflicts, and exchange of hurtful words, are actually working their way through Love. They are breaking the earth of their peace, so they could sow the seeds of their commitment, and Love. There’s more. “Who are my brothers and sisters? They who follow the will of God, they are my brothers and sisters.” Christ is not only describing our membership in the community and family of the Church, He is also commanding us to extend our filial love to everyone. Including complete strangers. Let’s look at it: God works through all of us, whatever our actions. All of us follow His will. Therefore, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, whoever and whatever we feel we belong to.
He hammers the whole point of this love. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” In our families, sometimes, we take care of our younger siblings, or our parents, regardless of ourselves. We think of them as extensions of ourselves, in fact the mirrors (though the thought of it sometimes creeps us out). Then, “Love your enemies.” This is by far the hardest part of a commitment to our love—tilling the roughest, most impossible patch of ground. Subjected to the extremes, and continuously, even the veteran farmers will take a look at it, shake their head, and say “impossible.” What do you do to a people with so much hate? You give them love. In this modern world, where one searches for self-fulfillment, and happiness, it would seem stupid to do work to achieve something opposite it. This, however, is Love. We can never truly understand why, if we don’t labor this way.
This labor of love is not foreign to the secular tradition. In the modern times, people dwell on romantic love, because the labor of a deeper commitment seems almost the extreme opposite of the former. They, however, have an idea. It’s unavoidable. Eventually, the teacher, when he has committed himself to inculcating morals and values to his students, will work with Love. The doctors and nurses will go through oftentimes-thankless jobs to care for their patients. Our labor and commitment is actually the workhorse of all relationships—and especially marriages. Though, every now and then, couples try to reignite the spirit of their romance.
In the secular tradition, it’s called “tough Love”, or “hard Love.” “I’m hurting you for your own good.” “This is the only way you will learn.” Many people will go through their whole lives, in some form of laboring love and deep commitment, and may never live to see their efforts come to fruition. So what is the reward of this thankless task?
A lot of people may be baffled by this, or depressed. But we labor because we love. We labor as an act of our deeper commitment. And what good news is borne from our works? It’s that we are expressing our utmost love in a great way.