Source: The Online Journal of Father John Moses
Ok, so you have to reach back for this one. There was this movie called “Love Story” which was made in 1970. Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal were the main actors. I was 18 years old and I remember thinking that it was a pretty sappy movie. One nugget of wisdom served as a hallmark of the story. Ryan did something stupid (as men are prone to do) and realizing his mistake, he apologized to Ali. She replied, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Even at 18, I thought “Oh, really? If you love someone, you never need to apologize?” It just didn’t seem right to me and many of my peers made fun of it. Even Ryan O’Neal made fun of it in a movie he made after Love Story. It’s necessary and healing to apologize. I would hate to be in a relationship where I never had a chance to check my pride and say “I’m sorry.”
If the Orthodox followed this advice, then our constant apology (confession) to God would either means that God doesn’t love us or we don’t love God. Love means never having to say you’re sorry-this axiom is foolishness, but it’s made me how much we base our love for God on a romantic model. For example, I hear often hear someone say that they have lost their passion or their zeal for God. For them, Orthodox life has become dry, boring, and routine. Such a person will even ponder if converting to Orthodoxy was the right thing to do. After all the promises made by Orthodoxy about spiritual life, where was the zeal they once had? Where is the passion of their first love?
Marriage counselors speak about a moment in all relationships when the romantic bubble pops. This is called the “domestic moment.” At this moment, you look at your wife and think, “Oh no! She’s just like her mother.” You look at your husband and think, “Oh no! He’s just like his father.” Passion has disappeared and it’s a moment of real crisis in a relationship. It can happen in a year, or two, or even in seven years. If a couple does not understand that this is a natural part of the process, they will suffer. With patience and forgiveness, eventually passion will return. Some people never figure this out and the result is divorce. Even after their third or fourth marriage, some folks can’t live beyond the domestic moment. Our poetry, music and art have convinced us that love is feeling. The Righteous Brothers warned us how terrible it is when “you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.”
If a couple passes this crisis point, the relationship will deepen and come to rest on a solid foundation of love, friendship, and commitment. The couple will discover that feelings will come and go, and that’s all right. They learn that the quality of their relationship can never judged on how they are feeling at any particular moment. Love is measured by commitment. I would say that if no feeling of love has appeared in months, then there may be a problem that needs to be addressed.
We seem to have the same problem with faith. Entering into the Faith, we are enchanted with and passionate about Holy Orthodoxy. It’s a true spiritual (romantic) bubble and it’s a wonderful place to be. Then, inevitably the bubble pops and the once beautiful Bride who seemed so exotic and enticing is now the Old Lady who tells us to stand in vigils, repeat the same prayers over and over, and fast. Surely, we didn’t sign on for this and we wonder if this is all there is or ever will be. It’s a moment of spiritual “domestic moment” and many fall away because they don’t feel anything. Rest assured that at such times our spiritual enemies are ready to parade before us all kinds of interesting and entertaining enticements to get us away from our first love so that we can feel once again.
We must learn to be patient and allow our faith and obedience, and not our feelings, to become the bedrock of our Orthodox life. Consider these words from Jesus: “He that loves Father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that love son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Ouch! Who do we love more that family? Do we really think that when Jesus talks about the love we have for family that he is speaking about our feelings? No, Jesus is putting love on a much higher plane than feelings.
Orthodox readers will forgive me, but I wanted to speak about Mother Theresa, once of the Catholic faith, now departed. In a book that appeared some time after her death, she spoke about her feelings towards God. She said that during her time as a novice (about two years), she felt many wonderful consolations from God. Then, the consolations left and never returned, not even once. Now consider the fact that she cared for the dying in streets of Calcutta for decades. How could she have embraced such a difficult life without the reward of at least some small consolation from God? I think that she knew that loving God was not about feeling. It was about faith, obedience and commitment. If this is really the case, then she loved God more than most of us.
I wish that Orthodox Christians would quickly get past their domestic moment so that they can become the true friends of God. Again the Lord told us, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” His Grace, Hierotheos Vlachos said that a Saint is someone who is a friend of God. Friendship with God is the hallmark of holiness. We might have thought that being a saint meant that you are swept up by a mighty wave of passion about the Lord that carries you to the Kingdom. No, the love of a friend for a friend is not Eros –burning passion and zeal. It is an abiding love that keeps the commitment strong and carries the friendship over the years ahead. Even if a friend disappoints you or belittles you, you remain committed. This is true friendship and the Lord showed his friendship even to those who abandoned him. He remained faithful and true even to the Cross.
The wonderful feelings of your First Love for God will return and leave again, return and leave, return and leave. This cycle will repeat many times because the Lord watches to see if we will stand and remain a friend of God when his consolation is absent. The Lord knows that dry times are difficult, but watches to see if we will slip away again and go running after other pleasures that promises to make us feel better, or we will remain the friends of God and trust in His love and stand on our Faith and not on our feelings.
Our relationship to God is a love story. We must deepen our understanding of what love is and how it is experienced. We need a firm conviction that God love’s us whether we feel it or not. This is how it was for all the saints. Feelings come and feelings go. So be it. I will remain a committed friend of God no matter what I feel.
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