Lately I've been reading a book called "Brave Hearts" by Sharon Hersh. And while you laugh, yes, the back cover does indeed say, "For every woman who wants more from her relationships." So it's officially a "girl book." But it has some interesting things to say, so I'm reading it anyway, and trying to paraphrase it in guy terms as necessary. I'd like to take a few moments to discuss one part of the book, where the author discusses having "passion", loving extravagantly, avoiding unhealthy control in relationships, etc. It may be hard to tie these all together sufficiently here, but I'll do my best.
On page 42 or so, the author talks about reserving our limited passions -- making choices, choosing to give our passion to one thing and not to another. This reminded me of a typical situation. Someone asks someone else on a date, and the other person politely says that he or she has no time for such things. When I recently heard such a response between two friends, I didn't think much of it to start with, but later on I thought it was sort of a copout answer. Yes, we all have limited amounts of time, and limited amounts of passion. But I think that we expend our time and our passion on what we choose to. I think that if "Jane" had really wanted to eat dinner with "John", she would have said something like, "Well, I'm really busy right now, but maybe we could work it in" -- and they could figure out some time to do something. Or if she didn't she could have said, "Um, I don't think so, weirdo" which is harsh, but I'm not so sure it's much harsher than the implication of "I'm too busy, go away", when one thinks about it. Of course, this attitude of, "You would find time if you cared" is sort of a hard-line approach, and is demanding. I guess love or whatever you call it is supposed to be infinitely patient, since it is not to be demanding...either that or it should just give up easily and move on. That is sort of the double standard of love -- don't push, but don't give up. Living out that double standard is difficult, especially for someone who doesn't like double standards and doesn't always have the blessed gift of patience (someone like me, in other words).
On page 50 the author talks about herself and another person, how she herself avoids conflict and tries to keep everyone happy, while the other person is more perfectionistic and idealistic; the author states that both mentalities are controlling. This begins a discussion of three types of goals that are controlling: independence, infatuation, and idealism. Maybe I'm not catching the full definiton of the terms, but is it bad if I'm all three at the same time? :-)
I place a fair amount of value on independence. For example, I think that guys who rely on their wives to sustain them (like some guys on the sitcoms) are kind of...not ideal. I mean, I think there has to be balance, but there is a place for independence, and I think I as a guy should be self-sufficient, at least if I had to be. And yes, this is rather hypocritical coming from me the guy who hardly ever cooks anything and doesn't worry much about groceries or bills and such...so take my words on independence with a grain of salt. The book talks about valuing tasks over relationships, and there are definitely times when I think like that (even if it's just out of bitter cynicism), times when I say, "Why can't people be more like computers, which usually either work right, or don't work for some repairable reason?" In other words, I can control computers, and I can control tasks, but I can't control people. So people annoy me because I can't control them. Oops for me.
It was also in this section (page 52) that the author says that independence keeps us from loving "with abandon" as God does. I would like to know what that means. "Loving with abandon." It sounds dangerous. It sounds extreme. It sounds like...something I'd like to find the ability to do. But in life, it seems that loving with abandon is a silly idea, and people say things like, "You're nice, go away" or "I hate love" or one of a host of other such love-killing statements. For God's part, He would seem to say, "Seek me, love me, serve me, and my love will be with you, and you will realize it and know my presence...someday." I have this issue with "knowing God," mainly because it seems to be very abstract. So people annoy me because they prevent loving with abandon directly, and God annoys me (in some hopefully God-honoring way) because the abstractness of the relationship hinders it. In either case, "loving with abandon" is a nice idea that seems to be prohibited, or at least foolish and an easy way to be disappointed. I have probably written before about low expectations and how that is my (unfortunate) goal because I'd rather be pleasantly surprised than unpleasantly disappointed; the words in this paragraph are justification for that conclusion.
Now, the author adds to this business the idea of infatuation, or controlling and clinging too tightly to relationships. She speaks of living with desire, but not demanding -- loving with abandon, I guess, without expecting too much. That seems like a fairly difficult paradox for me to live out (another double standard?). Of course it is the exact paradox that I think I *should* live out, but it's a challenge. If I have desire, it always seems to be demanding, and it's only by sheer determination that I keep the stupid irrational stuff under control at times. Then there are the times when I don't keep it under control, and people throw fits...but such is life. Love, it seems, wants to see results, wants to be requited, and loving with abandon in the absence of results -- loving without demanding more than not much -- seems difficult. Demanding, the author says, ultimately leaves us alone, and perhaps my life at times is evidence of that. How to combat this evil demanding of things in my mind? That is the question of my life, the question that perhaps someday I'll find an answer to. It's a question that part of me doesn't want to answer, because loving with abandon seems tied in to infatuation somehow, even though it probably shouldn't be. Double standards (or just confusion) once again.
On page 55, the author begins talking about a third controlling tendency: the goal of idealism. She states that an idealistic heart is not free to offer extravagant love (or love with abandon as I've been saying). Apparently this idealism lends itself easily to legalism and a host of similar things that allow us (potential extravagant lovers) to be caught up in criticizing and judging those who we're supposed to be loving. (Often it is not outright criticism that we involve ourselves in, but the just-as-harmful practice of tearing ourselves up trying to figure out why people around us act the way they do, failing to meet our wants and wishes and failing to match our idealistic goals.) There is a fine line here it seems between loving others enough to tell them when they're in the wrong in some area, and being critical of people beyond warrant. I for one value idealism, and I think in my "mind's eye" I always have some picture of "the way things should be", and I measure life based on its closeness to that perfect fake world. Remember what I said about low expectations? This is probably where this need comes from. I am caught between seeing the ideal in my mind and living out life in the world that often doesn't meet with perfection. And it's interesting and important to note that these "imperfections", these traits that are criticized, typically do not have to do with sin or anything like that -- they are simply the life that is not as I choose, the life that is a product of relating to people, who have their own goals, and I suspect their own visions of the perfect life. I suppose that in trying to live out our own perfect lives, we all have similar issues, trying to resolve the gap between what we wish for and what we have in real life. And as we go through life seeing the perceived imperfections, we have no one to blame but ourselves, because we create our dreams, and it is not a sin when others fail to fulfill our dreams...the harsh fact of life.
So after this discussion, it seems even moreso that "loving with abandon" is difficult. What is it? What does it feel like? What are its boundaries? How long? How much? When should it start? When should it stop? How does it apply to each person I meet? How do I continue in this extravagant, unconditional love without it seeming boring or fruitless? How do I know when I am acting in love, and not some other thing that only masquerades as such? What is love? What is lust? What is infatuation? What does it mean to expect too much? What does it mean to keep one's dreams in mind without using those dreams as a weapon? So many questions.... There seem to be few easy answers, and apparently it is only in the practice of living that we find some sort of answer to the questions. For me at least, it is a struggle that goes on day by day, and the answer comes in small doses in a variety of ways. I am confident that as I try to see life objectively and reach for "the beyond" both spiritually and among fellow humans, my mind and understanding are being transformed into ones capable of the right kind of love, but setbacks come easy and are often hard to see objectively. With this point and counterpoint between thinking I have it figured out and realizing that it's still a mystery, I am often tempted to assert that love is a game, a game where the rules aren't always clear, where the players sometimes change sides, and where the variables of the game change frequently. But love, with all it's mystic and mythic properties, is still my goal, since God is love and it just seems right, in God's word and in real life.
To put it simply: "God, teach me to love with abandon as you do!"