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Saint of the Day: Sts Cosmas and Damian
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You don’t have to love Jesus unconditionally (yet)

LOOKING AT CROSS

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Anna O'Neil - published on 05/21/17

He's OK with using my own childish selfishness to show me who he is.

It’s a huge pet peeve of mine when characters in a romantic comedy profess transparently selfish love for one another. He says something like “I love you because you make me feel like I can do anything!” And I am just wishing she would shoot back “Um, I’m pretty sure you can get the same feeling from coffee or a shot of whiskey. Can you do any better?”

Or there’s that annoying pop song, “Cheerleader,” where Omi is basically admitting he likes this girl because she feeds his ego, and because “she is always right there when I need her.” I want to tell that poor imaginary girl to run while she still can, because “she grants my wishes like a genie in a bottle” isn’t what love is supposed to look like.

Of course, to my horror, I couldn’t escape the fact that that’s my exact reason to love God. Because he does really, really nice things for me. My love for him is all about what he does for me, and not really at all about who he is, in and of himself.

Could that possibly be okay? I’ve been agonizing about this a little bit. If you asked me “Why do you love Jesus,” I wouldn’t start talking about who he is, I’d start talking about what he’s done for me. My answer would boil down to something that’s essentially selfish. I love Jesus because of what he does for me.

I’d be really angry, though, if it turned out my husband only loves me because of how I make him feel. I want to be loved for who I am, not just what I have to offer.

I am sure that the saints, and people whose faith is mature and deep, have that kind of relationship with God, and love him for who he is, not just for what he gives them. I badly want to be able to do that too, but the fact is, I’m just not there yet. So I thought, “Fine. I might as well work with my own impoverished relationship with him, and see what is there.” I started listing all the conditional, selfish ways that I love him.

“Jesus, I love you because you don’t go away when I’m a jerk, and you’re always ready to take me back when I’m ready to come back. Jesus, I love you because I can ask you to take care of the people I love, and that is the only way I can help them. Jesus, I love you because I can only make sense of the world with you in it. I have a lot of questions, but I’d have more if I didn’t know about you. I love you because sometimes you make me feel safe and confident and loved. I love you because when I don’t think you love me, I at least know that I’m wrong, and you actually do. I love you because when I am mad at you, you aren’t mad at me back.”

It’s an undeniably selfish list. I hope it will change. But it might not actually be a bad place to start, since we’ve got to start somewhere.

You don’t just start loving somebody out of the blue. You love them more, the more you learn about them. The closer they get to you, and the more you understand them, the more real and more lovable they become to you.

All of my reasons for loving Jesus have to do with what he does for me. But selfish as they are, it is through those reasons that I am learning who God is. He seems to be using my own childish selfishness to show me who he is, so that, I hope one day, I will be able to love him for himself, and himself alone.

I have a long, long way to go. But I did find a kind of peace in this. God is willing to work with my own severe limitations, and willing to accept my deeply self-centered love of him, so that it can grow into something of substance. God is patient, and he has no problem with us taking baby steps, as long as we’re moving at all.

So don’t feel too bad about yourself if you don’t love God as the saints do. As selfish as your love might be, if it is love of any sort, God will use it to bring you right to his arms, no matter how long it takes.

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