When I was a teenager I had a sign on the inside of my bedroom door that said, “Fear of what you might lose, hope of what you might gain, or love of what you might give?” It was a reminder to me as I left my room each day that I could choose the motivation that fueled my day and my life. Even then, I desired more than anything to live in, for, and with love.
Years later friends began to joke with me that I was a “love hubber.” Meaning that I loved everyone without distinction. Which, of course, isn’t exactly true–there are some I love more than others. But, yes, in a general sense, I do love everyone. I was always taken aback by this little joke, because I felt like it was a way of saying that I lacked discernment. Yet, I am discerning. I know people can be false or have impure motives. I know people (including myself) are weird and neurotic. I know there are people who want to use others or have unrealistic expectations for me. All this I know to be true. But that is their choice. My choice is love.
This was difficult to describe until I met St. Therese, ironically while I was still Protestant. I read Heather King’s Shirt of Flame and I felt like I met my best friend in this beautiful saint and also learned my vocation: To love. I wanted to offer myself to love and for love.
“Kindness is my only guiding star. In its light, I sail a straight route, I have my motto written on my sail: ‘To live in love.'”St. Therese of the Child Jesus
In no small way, St. Therese led me gently into the Church and into the meaning of love. She showed me that love was my vocation and with that love came sacrifice. It also would mean embracing being misunderstood, a reality with which I have become more comfortable each new day. As it has been said of Gerard Manley Hopkins, he “fulfilled the vocation of being misunderstood.” I think because I do share so much of myself with others there are often assumptions about me that are wrong–or just odd. Also, some people think they know me better than they actually do. What is strange about writing for strangers is that it fosters a one-sided relationship.
Case in point, recently a couple came up to me to introduce themselves. The conversation went like this:
Man: I saw you four years ago at __________.
Me: Oh, that’s right. How are you?
Man: I have been wanting to meet you again and tell you that we have been through what you are going through.
Me, thinking: what am I going through? To what is he referring?
Man: And we just want you to know that we respect what you are doing.
Me: Thank you. (also thinking, what am I doing?)
Woman: Yes, and when we googled you, we also also liked that video we saw.
Me: Oh, you mean my conversion story?
Woman: No, it was was a video where you were saying funny things about big families.
I was chuckling inside. Old videos have a way of resurfacing and old ideas don’t die–not when you put them on the internet. And I am not paranoid, people really do be talking about my strange life. This sweet couple made me smile and I loved it that they felt like we were somehow kindred spirits, although I knew nothing about them.
There is something about that feeling of not being alone in the world. It is definitely a consolation when someone offers a “Same. Same.”
Yet not everyone understands. Not everyone is meant to understand. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but it is still no match for the unutterable longings of the human heart.
In the words of St. Augustine, “Give me someone who loves, and he will understand what I am trying to say. Give me someone whose heart yearns, who feels the nostalgia of loneliness in this exile, who is athirst and sighs for a fatherland eternal, give me such a one and he will understand what I am trying to say. But if I must explain myself to ice-cold indifference, he will not understand.”
When I embraced love, I didn’t know it would mean embracing being misunderstood. But, it is fitting. God is pure love. And yet Jesus was (and is) so misunderstood. He walked around telling his beloved disciples that they were blessed when they were hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed. (Luke 6:22) And today we walk around telling people not to judge us. He asked James and John if they were willing to share his cup. (Mark 10) They just wanted to know if they could sit on his right and left in his Kingdom.
Embracing Love. Embracing being misunderstood. It’s a daily, hourly sometimes, choice. It is also committing to breaking the habit of explaining oneself–especially to ice-cold indifference. It is OK if others think wrongly about me, if they don’t get the point, if the joke goes unexplained. It is also OK if I misunderstand the world around me, if I miss the point, if I am outside an inside joke.
Just give me someone who loves. Just let me be someone who loves.