We look for signs of love in flowers, red roses, and sweet words. But the real sign of Love can be found in her tears, and her callused hands, and her tired sighs…
“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, wanders into your one stupid life. You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like ‘maybe we should just be friends’ turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.” – Neil Gaiman
(Quote taken from Random Thoughts)
Filial love is the most misunderstood degree of Love. It has been collectively hated, denounced, and criticized. Many people will be lead to “do we have to go through this?” And the answer will almost universally be unwanted. In this modern age, people search for meaning and to belong. They work towards the pursuit of happiness, and self-fulfillment. They work towards the pursuit of Love. What they don’t realize is that sometimes, they’re tearing themselves apart while reaching for things that are in the extreme opposite of each other.
Filia is the obligation of Love. It is the collective hurts, pains, sufferings, indifference, apathy, and antagonism that will begin to descend on one’s life at one point in time. One could look wistfully at the child-like innocence of Eros, but that is only something to be inspired at, not to dwell in. Even Mother Teresa, in the midst of her saintly life, entered a period in her life called the “Dark Night of the Soul”. While in her prayers, and seeking divine guidance, suddenly she realized that the inspiration of God had left her. She entered into a spiritual drought that lasted many years. And yes, she might have looked back to a time when God struck her in a profound way.
But even with her prayers, acts of charity, and great efforts, God remained silent. She turned to despair, and she could vividly describe that there was darkness, only darkness. She prayed to God, and needed to know if she was in the right path. Finally, God appeared before her, and told her, “You’re in the right path.” And then, He disappeared. He never appeared again. Mother Teresa later described that the period that followed was the most suffering she ever experienced. She was asked then, “What made you go on?” And, with a tired voice, she replied, “Because I love Him.”
Saintly virtues like these are everywhere around us. They are ignored, often criticized. We are often asked, “Why are you wasting your time with them? Are they worth all your efforts?” The answer has been consistently yes. And it would sound incredible. Nowadays, the sentiment is “saints are admirable, and a nice role model. But nobody wants to be a saint. People have needs, and people need to belong.” Saints are nowhere near as superhuman as one would think. They’re ordinary men who’ve devoted themselves to the suffering for Christ.
One would look anywhere, and they would see pain and suffering. In the realm of relationships, friends will often chide one of their own, as she drowns in tears: “Why do you put up with him? He has done nothing but to abuse you, betray you, and hurt you. Is he really worth it?” And they will try to talk you out of suffering for it, and acting like a martyr. “You’re a patsy. He’s using you.” No, you’re laboring in Love for him. Relationships are not strengthened in its happiest moments. It takes solid shape and definition from the most painful ones. A healthy relationship is in fact one that has never ended in conflict. And, inversely, a relationship that has never experienced anguish or hardship is a disjointed one, or not at all a relationship.
Suffering and pain is more than building character. It is more than the test of fidelity. We like to think that when we face hardship, God is only testing us. “He never really meant to hurt us.” No. He did mean to hurt you. He wants you to suffer in Love for Him. This is the same in relationships. For the popular view that relationships should share in the joys, tranquility and harmony is not the correct one. From time, to time, yes, relationships should share this goodness. However, most of the time, relationships should suffer for the sake of Love. Because a relationship that has never experienced pain, and only exists to share in the happiness, is not a relationship. It is a business venture. A business venture is nothing more than an artificial partnership of gains. It’s not a human one.
To love pain may sound masochistic, to inflict pain, sadistic. Masochists seek pleasure in abusing their body through numerous forms of physical torture. Sadists seek pleasure in inflicting these physical tortures on another person. But you don’t take pleasure in seeing someone in pain. You don’t take pleasure in being in pain. It’s not natural. Christian “masochists” flagellate themselves or subject themselves to physical degradation, most especially in times of Lent. However, he only needs to take a look around. There’s enough pain, anguish and suffering out there to experience in everyday Life.
And that’s not all. There are two types of pain: the sharp, and the blunt. In Christian teaching, we are taught about the sharp ones. These we can easily identify—the physical impact of breaking bones or battered muscles, or the emotional ones of acts of hatred and contempt. These, at least, are sharp enough to constantly remind us of our obligations and our responsibilities to the ones we love. In relationships, this can take the form of disagreements about work, or even acts of infidelity. The more dangerous type of pain is the blunt one. You almost feel nothing. And that’s it. It’s the inertia of rest, and physical, mental and emotional fatigue. You simply are tired. No sharp pain might have triggered it; it just happened. Suddenly, you wake up, and you’re tired of the same person beside you. You walk to the classroom, and you’re tired of those smug, cheery, insulting young faces. You become tired of the poor, the poor, the endless poor who can’t seem to get themselves up, and always depending on you. This is the pain that you will need endless prayer to endure. And prayers have a two-fold effect: your appeal to God to soften the pain, which He might, and at the same time, disciplining yourself to face the suffering.
Pain also has two purposes: afflictive and corrective. Afflictive pain is the pain that you suffer because you love a person. This is the kind of pain that I have explained so far. However, there is another purpose for pain: corrective. “Only through this pain can I straighten you. I am hurting you for your own good.” Not only do we have to suffer the pain from others, but we must also give pain for Love.
To a casual observer, all of this may not make sense. How can there be Love, when there is so much pain? Halfway through writing this, it seemed confusing, and so contradictory to Christian thought. It dawned on me again, and slowly, why: we feel pain because we are still tied to the needs of our selves. We feel pain because we still have not shorn ourselves in our act of Love.
It will still not make sense. The answer is clear-cut, and is right there before you. And you will still not understand. Many will say that you’re only trying to justify your misery. You might be seeking comfort in the misery of others. Misery loves company, so they say. Yet, your pain is not yours alone to bear. In Love, people will suffer for you. In Love, people will suffer with you. You will share each other’s pain, until you have forgotten yourselves, and what is left is the object of your affection—each other.
It’s understandable to shake your head and say, “I can’t do that.” The love we see everyday in media is the Love that enjoys in pleasures of the world. Natural desires are magnified a hundred-fold, until the true object of Love is obscured and what is left is its corrupted sense. Seeing a relationship as a partnership of gains is an incomplete viewpoint. It’s not unnatural, but it’s incomplete. This is where the philosophy of your relationship is “What can you do for me?” rather than “I want to suffer for you”. Let’s face it; it’s mutual parasitism.
This is the mutual parasitism that afflicts one-night-stands and relationships that are loosely grounded, at best. The latter wants to retain a sort of connection, but is noncommittal about taking the next step, because not only is that next step about responsibility, it is about discord. And pain. Christianity is so unappealing to people, because it doesn’t hide the pain. It magnifies it, more so in relationships. Didn’t Christ say, “I did not come to bring peace, but discord! I will set you against each other, Father against Son, Mother against Daughter”? Again, it’s understandable to shake one’s head and say, I can’t do it. You’re not ready for this degree of Love. But at some point, you will have to.
So don’t discourage the man who, after seeing the promise of greater rewards, though not completely understanding, would risk the prospects of suffering and responsibilities. Don’t tell him “you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’ll only regret it.” Love is not a regrettable act. Even if he begins to regret it, this is only because he is finally experiencing the filial purification. Why should we discourage such idealism? We should encourage them to make the leap, and take the responsibility, albeit with the gentle chide, “you don’t know it yet, but you will suffer. But when you do, you should hang in there. You’re in the right path.”
On a final, lighter note, I remember that phrase from the movie As Good As It Gets. “You make me want to be a better man.” Flowers, red roses, and sweet words are tokens of willingness to Love. The real sign of Love can be found in her tears, and her callused hands, and her tired sighs. Yes, it’s true. Love hurts.