Cousins make really good mirrors. I suppose sisters do, too, but I don’t have any so I’m just going to stick to what I know. Anywho, I have an older cousin who has a really good knack for putting me back into perspective when I seem to get a little lost or overwhelmed. That tends to happen when someone has known you your whole life. Sometimes I even get to return the favor. Because I’m blessed to have family that I can share my struggles with, more often than not they are kind enough to connect the dots from their outside perspective, and point out the bigger picture to me.
This week, it was about my vocation.
My family knows that I have been praying for God’s guidance in discerning and preparing for my vocation, and I’m lucky that they have been joining me in that prayer. But, sometimes an answered prayer goes unrecognized when it’s subtle. For me in particular, it was the ability to love as Jesus commanded.
This I command you: love one another.
Agape. Total, selfless, consuming love. Archbishop Fulton Sheen taught me about agape in one of his talks that’s hosted on YouTube. (See, I told you the Church can do awesome things with YouTube.) And although that was a nice sentiment, and I was grateful for Jesus’ love for me and for others, loving my neighbor as myself wasn’t something I quite knew how to do. I settled for being pleasant. I can be pleasant to the people around me, that seems close enough to love. I’m sure you know what I mean. Sometimes, it seems like that’s what the majority of people have settled on, too. (“Let’s be nice, but not really make any kind of deep commitment.”)
Now retrospectively amusing, at the same time I was settling for pleasantness (and maybe a hearty dose of philios on a good day), I was praying that God would prepare me for my vocation. I figured that if God is calling me to married life, I would learn agape by loving (and being loved by) my husband.
Fortunately, God had greater things planned for me. Over the past few years, God has blessed me with many very special friends. And agape for them germinated slowly. It started with love for one person, and kept on going. It wasn’t until, observing them from afar, that I had realized what had grown within me. And once I recognized what I had accomplished, I was able to consciously apply that love to everyone I came in contact with.
When that first friend left to continue the pursuit of their vocation, I moped and called my cousin. Then she whacked me on the head with a healthy dose of perspective. (Like I said, she’s good at that.) “Look at what you’ve accomplished. You didn’t need a husband to learn to love as Christ loves. God provided you with people who mean so much to you that you grew in your ability to love on your own. You don’t miss your friend, you miss the training wheels that person was. Now you’re on your own and have to carry on loving, without a safety net. But because of it, you’re so much better prepared for your vocation than you were before. Which is what you had been praying for all along.”
Oh. I hadn’t realized that being better prepared for my vocation equaled being able to love as Christ loves. Seems kind of obvious now. But isn’t that always the way it goes with connect-the-dots?
So, lesson learned. Friends have the wonderful benefit of being the training wheels we need to love all mankind as Christ commands: totally, selflessly, consumingly. But eventually they, too, have to come off. And if we trust in God, we can continue on the path of loving as He loves. It is a joyful calling and full of responsibility, but He asks no more of us than what He has already done Himself. If we love Him, how can we refuse what He has made us capable of?
And better yet, how many countless other ways does he provide the support (the training wheels) we need to be more perfect?