My respect for any type of relationship has grown through the years especially intimate relationships that endeavor to uphold good and godly virtues amid the maelstrom of brokenness and confusion about God’s design and purpose for male and female relationships. The word dating can harbor more feelings of anxiety, trepidation, and confusion than positive, hopeful descriptions. Even within my own relationship, after we decided to resume our relationship after a couple year of being friends, he and I decided to use the term courting instead of dating due to our desire to distance ourselves from our checkered dating pasts, wounds accumulated through the years, and concerns about falling into sinful patterns of behavior. Our informal version of courting is an attempt to break away from the pitfalls of dating and dating culture we were shackled or blind too. Courting was an attempt to illuminate our personal blind spots in our modern dating culture not as a comparative model to bludgeon others and other couples.
In many ways, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to dating and dating relationships. Many times my tendency for control hijacks God’s merciful, loving plan for my life. As a child, my parents cultivated a deep appreciation and attraction for the cardinal vocations Marriage and Holy Orders plus an appreciation for the generous, single life. Except for a brief stint in elementary school when I desired a vocation to religious life, mainly because of the dynamic Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George who taught us in our parochial school, I didn’t harbor strong convictions about my vocation as a child. I believed any vocation had pros and cons, beauty and sorrows. As I matured and aged, my life and health became increasingly complicated which negated any tangible possibility of entering religious life. I embraced how God worked in my life and accepted that religious life wasn’t where He needed me most.
I’ve never felt a strong call towards marriage despite believing the vocation beautiful and vital. I wasn’t the little girl who played with her dolls and imagined weddings, babies, and husbands. I wasn’t opposed but neither did I pursue marriage with a passion. After my pediatric stroke at age fifteen, my perception of marriage and family became more grave and serious. I shouldered the weight of high-risk pregnancy as a freshman in high school which I will carry my entire reproductive life. My already serious health concerns became more serious especially as applied to marriage and procreation. As a somewhat hyper responsible person, I struggle to reconcile my desire to participate in a child’s life and be present with the possibility of eminent demise or debilitation let alone the risks to a baby. My already complicated health became more complicated. Marriage seemed daunting and unattainable. My fear grew as I aged.
Perfect love casts out fear. Many “good”, Catholic men contributed to my fear by running away from suffering or the possibility of suffering by placing the burden of their fears on me. That is for another blog post, but these experiences almost made me despair in Catholic dating and question my place in the Catholic community as a worthy, valuable woman. In the end, an unlikely male ended up being the conduit for healing. In the five and half years I’ve known the man I’m courting, which we have been both friends and dated during those years, pieces of me have been restored and repaired similar to fine china broken into pieces and strengthened when re-glued. The cracks and imperfections are visible but the beauty and pattern remains. Our relationship is imperfect as we are as individuals and as a couple. The glue that binds us together is Divine Mercy and the Ocean of Mercy we find ourselves drowned in.
From the external perceptions of the modern, developed world, we make an unlikely couple. Our journey as friends and lovers spans almost six years. The best image of our relationship I can muster is a fiery forge where the blacksmith purifies the molten metal by pouring, pounding, pulling, sparking, and quenching the molten metal. In the fiery inferno, the metal becomes purer transformed by the craftsman into treasure beyond price. Another image that comes to mind is the potter and the potter’s wheel. The clay is pounded, shaped, wetted, and scraped. The exertion and force of a potter’s technique isn’t a delicate image. During the crafting of the clay, if the clay becomes warped or imperfect, the potter smashes the clay back into a lump preparing the clay to begin the process of transformation again. In the end, whether emerging from the fires of the forge or the heat of the kiln, a beautiful masterpiece emerges.
“Love and sacrifice are closely linked, like the sun and the light. We cannot love without suffering and we cannot suffer without love.”Saint Gianna Molla
Like faith and reason are the wings by which the spirit soars. Suffering and love are the wings by which he and I soar by the grace of God. I cannot imagine one without the other. Some days are more fruitful than others. Other days test our very metal and conviction. Some days are calm and peaceful. Other days require strength beyond either of our human capabilities. Some days we fail and sin. Other days we succeed in small and large acts of love and service. Every day requires abandonment to God. Each and every day is an invitation to Heaven or Hell. Each day we rise and fall by our openness to growth and transformation in Christ. Each day we rise and fall by our pride and selfishness or our humility and selflessness.
Through the crucible of this particular relationship, I’ve discovered the humbling reality of dying to self and being purified by the fires of humility and sacrifice. Each day in small seemingly insignificant ways to greater more noticeable ways, we face the choice to cultivate an openness to growth and a sense of abandonment in God while stripping away the parts of us we’ve collected along the way that keep us distant from God and each other. That stripping action like the fiery forge or potter’s wheel can be a painful process. Reflecting on that process of purification is humbling. It’s tempting to focus only on the many ways we’ve failed and particularly the ways I have failed. To name those temptations, habits, and sins is uncomfortable and personal but also allow for mercy, forgiveness, growth, and healing. A humble heart is a warm resting place for the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Pride only keeps us from love, keeps us from the beloved, and keeps us from The Beloved- God. By the many efficacious graces of the Sacramental life of the Church, support from loved ones and friends, the assistance of a good Catholic counselor, and our dedication to each other, the fiery forge has produced good fruits and beautiful treasures.
“Love is never something ready made, something merely ‘given’ to man and woman, it is always at the same time a ‘task’ which they are set. Love should be seen as something which in a sense never ‘is’ but is always only ‘becoming’, and what it becomes depends up on the contribution of both persons and the depth of their commitment.”St. John Paul II, Love and Responsibility
Relationships are a blessing and a responsibility. This task of love modeled in the quiet, simple, and pure love of The Holy Family help guide us especially amid the noise and distraction amid of modern times and culture. To embrace the model of The Holy Family is counter-cultural. We should acknowledge that striving for that model intricately weaves joy and sorrow, cradles and crosses, acceptance and exile, laughter and tears together. Through the crucible of my relationship, my stubborn, broken heart is slowly purified through the fiery forge of imperfect, human love that mirrors the perfect love of the Holy Trinity.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day!