Finding True Love in the Gray Areas
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).
Occasionally, a deeply religious college student comes to me with this wrenching dilemma: “I love my boyfriend so much, I feel guilty. I’m afraid that my love for him will get in the way of loving God.”
She’s in good company. Ascetics through the ages faced the same dilemma and opted out of the romance. Whenever we fall in love or develop a similar passion for any person, place, or thing, we must guard our souls against idolatry.
Black-and-white thinking frames the problem as an either/or decision. At her age, she still needs time to acclimate to the gray areas of life. At my age, the gray areas seem like home. But I admire her passion for God and her boyfriend, and I honor her anguish.
Lest I interfere with her need to sort things out, I resist the urge to force a theological point: God issues no ultimatums when it comes to love. God brought this boyfriend into her orbit not to test her loyalty to God but to invite her to love God all the more amid the romance.
The question is not whether to love God or her boyfriend. The question is how to love in a way that frees her to love both God and her boyfriend. Does love for the boyfriend turn her heart gratefully and lovingly to God? Does love for God form and give direction to her love for the boyfriend?
Even those of us at peace with gray areas and gray hair unconsciously share her assumptions. We divide the sacred and profane, keeping religious passions and our other pleasures in separate, closed compartments. So we too set up an either/or between Creator and creations that forces a choice between love of God and our other loves.
Many of us avoid her guilt by drawing a line down the middle of our hearts. One side worships and prays. The other side works hard and pursues the pleasures of life. Love for God and love for others keep a separate peace. But this false harmony sells our spirits short and reduces our god to a manageable idol in a closet.
If purity of heart is to will one thing, then do we obtain it by dismissing all other objects of desire, leaving only a sanitized desire for God? Deeply religious people like my young friend often do, but one can love God by keeping it all together.
Consider the people you love most. Consider the purposes or things you love most. Does their presence or the thought of them turn your attention to God? If so, take that as the Spirit purifying your heart, preparing you to see God. If not, take that as a wakeup call. Open your eyes and see how the person, purpose, or thing intimates the divine.
God made all things and called them good. Every created being is a window to the Creator. And the light shining through is love.
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