Recently, I was listening to the Abiding Together podcast with my women’s group. A quote jumped out at me from St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (she was a philosopher and nun who was killed during World War II). It goes like this:
“None of us is completely free of this fierce tendency to grasp and control. Every woman has something in herself inherited from Eve, and she must search for the way from Eve to Mary.”
As I listened to her words, I cringed. That was me she was describing. A tendency to grasp and control? Check. I was thinking specifically about my relationships in this regard, and realized that I am usually like Eve, not Mary. I close myself off from going deeper with people, and put up barriers to try to protect myself from potential pain or discomfort.
It turns out though, that this is a pretty selfish way to love people. And it doesn’t make for any kind of good, lasting friendship.
What does this grasping for control look like for me in my relationships? Here are 4 ways I’ve approached people and friendships in the past that I’d like to change…
Worrying about all the ways things can go wrong
What if I put in all this time and energy and then we don’t stay friends? What if this person rejects me? What if they get sick and die? What if, what if, what if?
Living in fear of what could go wrong, or trying to control everything that happens to prevent something from going wrong is pretty exhausting. I would prefer to use all of that energy towards sacrificing for someone, regardless of how long we know each other or what I get from it.
I try to figure out how I can get my own way in a situation instead of what is best for the people involved. This just puts the focus on me, feeds into my fear and pride, and doesn’t help me love selflessly. Even in little decisions, the more I focus on what I can get from a friendship, the more I revert to Eve’s mistakes—thinking I have to look out for and protect myself because I can’t believe that anyone else will.
Correcting instead of comforting
If I know you well, I will try to fix your problem rather than listen and empathize. I make your situation about me without realizing it, by giving you my simple, brilliant advice that will surely fix everything up with a neat little bow. When it comes to moral issues, a gentle correction or confrontation or correction might be necessary, but I’m talking about day to day issues, where the most loving way to approach people is to listen and seek to understand, rather than offer some quick fix advice so that I can turn the conversation back to myself.
Focusing on how things look on the outside rather than fixing what’s wrong on the inside
Do people like me? Do you like me? I want you to like me. That desire to be liked makes it easy for me to put the focus on the exterior of a relationship. Are we doing the things friends should do? Does it look like we are friends?
Instead, the most satisfying relationship moments seem to happen in the hidden sacrifices and the nitty gritty. When a friend shows up for me quietly in the messiness of life, I feel seen. When a friend gently calls me to a higher standard, I feel loved. When a friend shares part of herself with me, inviting me to be vulnerable, I feel honored.
Instead of worrying, manipulating, correcting, and keeping appearances up, I’d like to work on loving selflessly, without fear. That’s what Mary did. She accepted her role as mother of our savior despite all the pain, discomfort and rejection that would come with it. She let her trust in God and her love for God guide her relationships rather than succumbing to fear and self-interest.
Mary, help me love like you loved; bring me to Jesus!