The Need for a Faithful Other
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6).
All of us need a faithful other. As infants and toddlers, we reached for mother, father, or caretaker for holding and security. Our minds remember the faces, our bodies the embraces, and we carry those impressions deep within, returning to them as we must.
We grow up but never fully grow out of our need for faithful others, present or remembered. With maturity we learn ways to soothe ourselves with exercise, prayer, pastimes, creative outlets, and more, but the need for the faithful other remains. It draws us to intimacy and the most touching moments of our lives.
But inadequate inner resources leave some so desperate for another’s faithfulness that they invest all their need in that other person. More precisely, they throw themselves at an ideal of that other person, making of them a savior no mortal can be. The transformation of the need for a faithful other into a demand for a perfect other twists and distorts love into hate as the chosen savior shows warts, commits human error, and falls from the pedestal.
Sigmund Freud declared analysis successful when the patient saw the analyst as a human being rather than an unrealistic ideal. Marriages move through comical and painful chapters of removing perfect veils from one another and learning to love anyway. Children finish growing up when they can love their parents as children.
Hunger and thirst for right relationships entails loving others as they are and receiving love as we are. That requires keeping an eye on the ideals we project and letting them go. Since those ideals express our anxieties and insecurities, we must begin with an honest and compassionate rapport with the self. The more basic righteousness is right relationship with ourselves.
But through our relationship with ourselves, we move into the most basic righteousness, our relationship with God, the transcendent One we find waiting for us in the wedding chamber of our hearts. In her classic work on prayer, The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila said we must first evade the “snakes and vipers and poisonous creatures” that threaten us. But as we persevere on the journey, drawn by love for the Groom who awaits us in our center, the threats get less ominous.
We have to drop ideals about God too. God’s perfection is mercy, and we spend our lives groping in the dark for a clear view of that. When we can’t stand the dark, we project our ideals onto God, ideals that express our fears and insecurities. Atheism like Freud’s reduces God to nothing but that, a projection. Contemplative faith like Teresa’s holds loosely ideals of God and waits for God’s disclosure of who God is, the Spouse we know better and love more as the ideals fall away.
We don’t love ideals. We use them for our own purposes. Rather, we love mysteries, the mysteries of a faithful God, self, and other. When we do that, we finally become faithful ourselves.
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