Archive for July 16th, 2008
An earlier form of this article appeared in 2007.
Our first child was born over 27 years ago. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed by the event – staggered at the seriousness of what had happened in my life. Evey aspect of her coming into our life was new – and I felt completely unprepared. On her first night home from the hospital, I slept on the floor next to the crib fearing that I would not hear her if she woke (I got over that real fast).
Two years later our second child was born. Again, it was overwhelming, but in a new way. Like many young parents I wondered secretly, “Will we be able to love two children like we have loved one? It was a silly question.
By the time our third was born I was beginning to understand. There is something about the human heart that allows it to expand. Love is not something you run out of. The more you love the more you love. Today I have four children, three of whom are married, one of whom has presented me with my first grandchild. Love is not diminished.
Fr. Sophrony Sakharov, in his writings about St. Silouan of Mt. Athos and the spiritual life, notes that “man as persona becomes infinite, despite his ‘creaturehood’.” (In I Love Therefore I Am, page 80)
Fr. Sophrony understands that, created in the image of God, the human person has a capacity for infinity, an ability to love, to be in relationship that is without limit. In such a sense, it truly becomes possible to pray for the whole world.
None of this is possible, of course, except for the healing grace of God at work in us, completing us and bringing us to the fullness of life for which we were created.
It seems to me important somehow that my vision for what is possible be stretched by such an understanding, just as my reality was stretched with the adding of children. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Can we love our enemies? Of course we can or God would not have commanded it. As difficult as it may seem, it holds the key to the great mystery for the infinite capacity God has placed within us. It is this infinite capacity for love that truly makes us persons in the image of God. Thus we should never treat the commandment to love as a mere ethical suggestion: it is a commandment that goes to the heart of the nature of our existence. To not love our enemies is to have diminished ourselves as human beings. It is as though we brought a child into the world and declared that we cannot love more than we already have. Love of all things, all mankind and every person, is part of the true fullness. Why settle for less?
A Hermit said, “We fail to make progress because we do not comprehend our capacity. We weary of the work we have started. We want to be good without making any effort.”
From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers
There is a popular cultural statement, “I’m only human,” that serves to make excuse for our failings. In truth, I would that we were only human. Our sin lies in our failure to be what we were created to be. Christ alone is the one “fully human,” and it is to His image we seek to be conformed.
Of course, we cannot be conformed to His image except by a gift of grace – but grace is not the same thing as magic. God does not snap His fingers and make us to be something we are not. Just as our disobedience got us into this mess, so our obedience must play its part in our extraction. God means to heal our will as well as the rest of us.
Some years ago one of my young children (pre-school at the time) declared that they were going to “give up their blanket and sucking their thumb for Lent.” We discussed it at length and I blessed the effort. I recall one Saturday evening watching my child watch television with the family – and was fully aware of the struggle that was being endured. As a father and an adult Christian, the courage and fortitude of a child put me to shame. For the story’s sake I will add that the Lenten discipline was completed with success.
This was not the only occasion I have had to marvel at the good undertakings of others. Too many Christians (and most of our culture) have too few heroes – too few examples to follow as we seek “the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.”
I am also aware of the curse of various neuroses in our culture – psychological damage that makes some strive amiss only to come to a sense of failure and the inability to ever please anyone. This, too, is a matter to be healed, and perhaps healed long before other things are attempted. But even this healing will require our cooperation.
We cannot be saved by our own effort – but God means to save our effort – and this is good.