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What Only God Can Give

May 26, 2011 Length: 9:24

Fr. John reminds us that while we all seek from another person to be fully known and fully loved, this is something that only God can give.

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Let’s begin with these words from a song, written by a friend.

She would be my angel;
Fill my darkness with her light,
Chase away my sorrow
Saying it’s okay; it’s alright.

Funny how that notion,
Never quite worked out that way.
Love can leave you broken,
But it’s alright. It’s okay.

‘Cause every shattered expectation,
Every disenchanted dream,
Every hope that met frustration,
Shall be redeemed, shall be redeemed.

If there is one fundamental truth that we know intuitively, it is that each of us is born with a deep and aching need to be known and to be loved. It appears to be a yearning deeper than the yearning for life itself. And because it is a yearning for the deepest kind of acceptance, it is a yearning that requires the presence of another—one who can meet our need to be fully known and fully loved.

So every human being comes into this world incomplete. We are born looking, needing, and reaching. The problem however is that each of us is also born selfish, broken, and prone to sin, and this makes us unattractive in many ways. This sets up for us, at least in our psyche, a frustrating and terrifying dilemma. We want to be fully known and fully loved in all our repugnance and ugliness.

And where do we encounter this dilemma most acutely? Not so much in our personal reflections on ourselves, but in the way we sense other persons respond to us. We see them or we feel them approach then withdraw; approach then withdraw.

This dilemma of wanting to be loved and known, in all of our ugliness, can lead us down some painful roads. We may live in constant anxiety, hiding our ugliness as best we can, and hoping someone else will overcome it. We can become angry persons who reject others first, before we ourselves feel the pain of rejection.

Or we can enter a relationship, but as one writer put it, “attach an invisible Post-it note to every act of kindness.” Okay, I’ve done this for you. Now I have earned your love. Please accept me fully and love me. Since this ultimately doesn’t work in a relationship however, the relationship is drained over time.

Now what do all these painful roads have in common? They are roads travelled by people who suffer from relational idolatry. Relational idolatry can be defined as, “seeking in another person what only God can give.” Only in God, our Creator alone, can each human being become fully loved and fully known as we have desired it from the beginning.

What did Augustine say? “O Lord, you have created our hearts, and they are not at rest, until they rest in you.” So what precisely can God give that other persons cannot? Our Scriptures and our saints seem to tell us that only in God do we find a perfect love that does not come and go based on our behavior.

Only in God do we find a perfect forgiveness that never wears down, no matter how much it is tried. Only in God do we find a perfect peace that does not let us down when life itself does. Only in God do we find the perfect person who can help us grow from sinfulness into perfection.

This kind of perfect love and this perfect acceptance are divine and divine only. So looking for them on Earth only leads to disappointment and frustration and pain. The Church knows this, by the way. And if we are listening closely to the Divine Services, we hear the Church calling us away from in form of relational idolatry.

During Vespers, we hear that those present are “awaiting not help from men, but entreating Thy mercy and looking confidently for Thy salvation.” And during Divine Liturgy, we hear that those present “have not bowed down to flesh and blood, but to Thee, the fearful God.”

So if this perfect love and acceptance are what we have always longed for and if that longing leads us toward God, is it possible that we actually need the imperfections we find in each other? Do the imperfections we find in each other actually help us to avoid relational idolatry? If I found perfection in some person or persons here on Earth, what would that do to my search for God?

Maybe we need imperfect friends and acquaintances so that we don’t seek in another person what only God can give. Maybe we need imperfect husbands and wives so that we don’t seek in another person what only God can give. Maybe we need imperfect parents and children and relatives and teachers and leaders and coworkers and clergy so that we don’t seek in others what only God can give.

We hasten to add, of course, that none of this gives any license to flaunt or increase our imperfections. Love requires that we work on ourselves and grow for each other. Remember the man in the Gospel who had been paralyzed for 38 years, the one by the pool? For 38 years, he had been perpetually disappointed in his fellow human beings. “Sir,” he says to Christ, “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is troubled. And when I am going another steps down before me.”

For almost four decades, this man had been hoping that others would do for him what only Christ Himself could—make him whole. Finally, after every expectation had been shattered, after every dream had been disenchanted, after every hope had been frustrated, his true soul mate appears, and says, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.”

To be fully known and fully loved. We are born with this desire, aren’t we? Sometimes people, whether spouses or friends or strangers, come into our lives and bring with them waves of grace. But where can we find the perfect love and acceptance we yearn for, in a world of so much imperfection?

Maybe it begins every Sunday morning in one of the six Psalms in the service of Matins. In Psalm 63, “My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh longs for Thee, in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is, so I have looked for Thee in the sanctuary to see Thy power and Thy glory.”

We love each other; we need each other, and a life lived alone or in isolation is no life at all. But that paralytic in the Gospel learned not to hold other persons to a standard that only Christ Himself could meet.

You and I and everyone else, we are co-travelers, but Christ is our destination. We are co-laborers, but He is our peace. We are co-strugglers, but He and He only saves, heals, fulfills, redeems. That alone makes it worth all the sweat and striving and struggle needed to really begin knowing Him.

She would be my angel;
Fill my darkness with her light,
Chase away my sorrow
Saying it’s okay; it’s alright.

Funny how that notion,
Never quite worked out that way.
Love can leave you broken,
But it’s alright. It’s okay.

‘Cause every shattered expectation,
Every disenchanted dream,
Every hope that met frustration,
Shall be redeemed, shall be redeemed.


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"Ancient Faith Radio continues to be a rich source of teaching and learning about the Faith and in this and other ways a great blessing. As a Church of England priest, it helps me in my ministry week by week, for which I give thanks to God and pray for His blessing upon all who make their wisdom and insight so freely available. Thank you."

Colin from the United Kingdom

 

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