Reflections on Loving God #2: God Loves You through the Gift of Your Life

How God Loves You

God loves you so much, he wants you to be in heaven with him for all eternity, but God is holy. Anything that is not holy cannot be in his presence, so God gave you life on earth to grow in holiness. God is all-knowing (omniscient), so he knows everything that has and will happen to you. While still respecting your free will, he somehow uses every moment of your life for the purpose of helping you become holy and make the choice to be with him in heaven (predestination, CCC 600). God has already loved you by giving you this life and putting you on this path to holiness, but he continues to love you every moment of your life, guiding you to heaven.

You have bad times and good times in life. During bad times, you make mistakes or others treat you badly and it causes you to suffer, sometimes greatly. Whatever the case, God knows exactly where you are in holiness. He knows exactly what virtues you need to grow in or sins you need to conquer to be with him in heaven. That bad time didn’t just happen randomly. God saw the possibility for you to grow in a virtue and permitted that time of suffering so that you might be one step closer to heaven.

God is not the cause of your suffering and doesn’t want you to suffer, but God is able to use all things for his purposes. His purposes in your life, indeed all lives, all come down to teaching you to love. He wants you to love him and everyone else in your life. Growing in holiness is simply growing in your ability to love others. God wants you to give everything of yourself to the people in your life, holding nothing back.

Just when the bad times become unbearable God gives you a break with good times. God knows when it’s too much. He knows when you need rest. He gives you what you need when you need it. The good times are not just about resting though. During these times, God shows you how much he knows the deepest longings of your heart. He gives you what you need uniquely in that moment to be happy or pleased. He does this because he loves you but even more, to give you a taste of heaven. That pleasing moment is just a taste of what God has in store for you. He knows exactly what you need and will gladly give you that for all eternity. All you have to do is love him and his creation, your fellow brothers and sisters on earth.

In summary, think of every moment of your life as part of your path to being with God, the one who loves you. No matter what’s going on, God is there helping you learn the truth. The truth is the only thing that matters is love. That is what your heart desires. That is what God desires. You’ve resisted love so many times and chosen evil instead. Why not put an end to that today and commit yourself to love always?

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Reflections on Loving God #1: Love and Relationships

Definitions of Love

I. Loving relationships involve giving and receiving love.

There are many kinds of relationships from business relationships to diplomatic relationships to friendships, but not all relationships are loving relationships. A business may be a person by law, but it does not have a heart. It cannot love. The same is true for a country. However, people do have hearts, so they can form relationships based on love. In a loving relationship, people take turns giving and receiving love towards each other. In giving love, one person gives something good to the other person. In receiving love, the other person accepts the good thing from the other person and has an opportunity to respond to the gift by giving love back in some form.

A human is a person and God the Holy Trinity is three Divine Persons (CCC 253), so humans are capable of giving and receiving love in a relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Additionally, since each Divine Person is the entire Being, when a person loves one of the Divine Persons, they love the entire Being. In a similar way, when one of the Divine Persons loves a person, the entire Being loves that person.

For example, Jesus loved you by dying so that you might have eternal life. In that act, Jesus loved you but also the entire Being of God loved you because Jesus is also the entire Being. You can then say both “Jesus (the Person) loved you” and “God (the Being) loved you”. Likewise, when you love Jesus, for example by praying to him, you love both the Person of Jesus and the Being of God because Jesus also is the entire Being. You can then say “I love Jesus” and “I love God”. In short, when Jesus loves you, God loves you as well; when you love Jesus, you love God as well.

II. Loving relationships involve needs and wants for love, or a combination of the two.

Relationships where one person needs the love that another person provides are very strong. The person in need knows they cannot get by without the other person, so they will do their best to love the other person even if that person doesn’t treat them well. This is the case in relationships between parents and children. The children can’t survive without their parents, so even if they do misbehave at times, they eventually have to obey.

Relationships based on wants are much weaker. Usually, the people have common interests like a hobby, whether it be quilting or running. Relationships based on wants are the basis of most friendships. The love of a friend enriches the hobby for the person, but they have no actual need for the friend. This gives them the freedom to choose another hobby if the original one becomes boring, possibly losing the friend.

Most long-lasting relationships have a combination of needs and wants. Best friends are usually based on wants, but in difficult times they develop a need for love from each other from money to emotional support. Relationships with relatives can also have this dynamic. Marriage relationships usually start like best friends with mostly wants and the occasional need, with needs becoming a bigger part of the relationship over time as they make choices to depend on each other more.

Relationships with God are unique in that they combine elements of parent-child, friendship, and marriage relationships. As the Creator, God is each person’s divine parent. A person’s life itself is dependent on his constant grace, so they absolutely need him. Like a parent he is more knowledgeable, intelligent, and wise than they are. Just as a person’s parents taught them to how to be an adult, God teaches them how to elevate their adulthood into sainthood.

Relationships with God are also like a friendship. The person has things in common with God because they were made in his image. Their heart desires to love others just as God does. They seek order over chaos just as God does. Likewise, for justice and many other things. The person has common interests with God and they pursue those interests together.

Lastly, relationships with God are like a marriage because God calls each person to be faithful to him and not worship other gods. If a person chooses to get married (or is already married), they have to be faithful to their spouse and not love any other person romantically. In both cases, this faithfulness is for life.

Keeping these aspects of relationships with God in mind, it means you will love God different ways in each moment. In one moment, you are in desperate need and beg God for help just as you did as a child. Another moment, you are working with God as a friend to serve others or solve problems in the world. And then there are those moments when you rededicate your life to serving the one true God, much like a renewal of marriage vows. This is one reason why having a relationship with God is so important. By working on your relationship with God, you will learn about every kind of relationship, helping you love all people in your life no matter what sort of relationship it is.

III. Loving relationships begin when both people freely will to give and receive love.

If one person gives love to another person, but the other person doesn’t see it, there is no relationship. For example, a person says hello to another person while walking down the street, but the person is distracted by their cell phone and doesn’t hear it. The person was unable to receive that love because they did not know they were loved. This is the case for every person before they believe in God. They didn’t sense God’s love for them and didn’t have faith, so they had no relationship with him.

Another possibility is when the person rejects the relationship. Maybe the person on the street does hear the hello but chooses to ignore it. They have willed not to start a relationship with that person. With God this can happen when he blesses a person with the faith to believe, but they find his call to love too difficult (Mt 13:20-21) and choose to ignore it. God is all-powerful but no matter what, he will always respect a person’s free will. He will never force anyone into a relationship.

IV. Loving relationships take work to maintain.

For a relationship to last, both people must actively participate. A relationship can survive a short time with one or both people not giving and receiving love, but in time other relationships or interests can quickly fill the space the original relationship occupied.

Because we live in a changing world, all our relationships are either growing or shrinking. One of the big reasons is forgetfulness. When a person doesn’t actively give love to or receive love from another person, they quickly forget that person exists. They can’t love what they don’t know. Therefore, maintaining a relationship requires effort over time. Time and energy must be dedicated to it.

This is never an issue for God because he is not limited by time or space. He can love each person constantly all the time. People, on the other hand, stop loving God by not spending time with him in prayer or worship. The needs of each person will be different. Some people will need 2 hours of prayer or worship each day to maintain their relationship while others will need only 20 minutes. Overall, each person needs some daily time with God.

Beyond simple neglect, a great source of difficulty in relationships is sin. When one person sins against another, the other person will have a harder time loving them in return. They lose trust, fearing the person will respond to their love with more sin. Sin against another also affects the sinner themselves. It becomes easier for them to sin again and harder for them to love. Because of original sin people on earth will continually go back and forth between holiness and sinfulness (CCC 405). Every relationship struggles with times of sinfulness. Only if both people work together to improve can these trials be overcome.

In relationships with God, people never have to worry about sin from God because he is perfect and all-loving. However, people are not perfect, they sin. When that happens it becomes harder for them to love God and easier to sin more. Like human relationships, each person will have periods of sin where their relationship with God is a struggle and periods of holiness where it is easy.

V. Loving relationships end when one or both people stop giving and receiving love.

The ending of a relationship can be a deliberate act or through inaction. After a heated argument, one person might tell the other person it’s over. They have deliberately chosen to end the relationship. They will now no longer spend time with them. Much stress and uncertainty can result from sudden changes like this.

Sometimes a relationship can’t be totally ended, such as parents who separate that had children. The parents might want to end the relationship, but for the sake of their children they have to maintain some sort of relationship, at least until the children become independent.

Some relationships end through the inaction of one person slowly spending less and less time with the other person. It could be friends that have drifted apart into other interests. Even after losing interest, they might still spend time with each other out of habit for a short time, but sooner or later they stop accepting invitations to spend time together or don’t make an effort to make invitations.

Relationships with God can also be ended deliberately or through inaction. A person might get angry with God for not answering a prayer the way they wanted, saying they are done and won’t love him anymore. They deliberately ended the relationship. For inaction, they might just get distracted by something in life and forget about God, as Jesus said in the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:22).

VI. Loving relationships are usually paused not ended.

Whatever the reason two people stop spending time with each other, there is still a history between them. The memories of what once was are still there. If there comes a time where they agree on things or have enough in common again, the relationship can be resumed. Resuming a relationship can be very difficult depending on the reasons it was paused, but relationships can almost always be resumed. For clarity, I will say still say “ended” anytime I refer to this in later reflections, but as long as they live on earth, people are in a state of change, which may lead to old relationships becoming new again.

While people live on earth, their relationship with God can only ever be paused because God continues to love them even if they stop loving him. However, at the time of death their relationship with God is finalized. If they have rejected God at that point, the relationship will have truly ended. This is why it is so important to keep loving God throughout life. You never know when your time on earth will end, so you can never guarantee you will have a chance to return to relationship with God if you end it. It is better to love God and work on this relationship all the time. Jesus gave good advice on this: The servants must always watch for the master of the house, never knowing when he will return (Mk 13:35).

The “house” is all God gives to a person. He, the “master” in this parable, expects those things to be used to love others. When people, the “servants”, don’t use them to love, they will receive their just punishment, possibly eternal death or hell if their sins are evil enough. In short, you don’t want God to catch you at a bad time when he decides your earthly life is at an end.

Reflections on Loving God: Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters,
I had a good time away from writing. Now I am back and excited to write again! The past year I’ve been working on a new writing project. The inspiration for this project came from a huge transformation in my faith in the last year.

Most of my life, my motivation to practice the faith has been the reward God promises us. I generally did okay at following God’s commandments, but many times it was for selfish reasons. However, in Lent 2017 I learned to truth: the faith is about love not rewards. In following the commandments, we are loving God. God in turn loves us by giving us a reward at the end of our earthly lives. This was always there, but it went right over my head. Then I saw that God wasn’t just going to love me at my earthly death with the reward of heaven, he had already loved me for years and continued to love me in the present. The only appropriate response from me was to love him back. The problem was I didn’t know all that well how to do that.

Over the next sixth months, I studied love in relation to the faith. God revealed so much to me, it totally transformed how I saw God, the faith, and the world. I now understood how all the pieces fit together. It was no longer a struggle to avoid sin or serve others. They were just more opportunities to love God. I had a newfound sense of peace and satisfaction with life. It was then that I knew I couldn’t keep this to myself. Jesus shared everything God gave him to world, so I had to share the wisdom God gave me to the world.

I started writing in Thanksgiving 2017 but had a lot of trouble explaining love. I wanted to create a comprehensive guide, but love was just too complex. There were times I gave up on the project, but God eventually led me back by revealing to me it was okay if I didn’t know everything. He just wanted me to write what I did know. I don’t think I will ever fully understand love, but understanding some part of it has still been very helpful to me, and I think it will be very helpful to you as well.

Focusing on love is not the only way to sainthood. There are saints that went to heaven through a complete dedication to obedience. Others lived a life of penance for their sins. However, consciously or subconsciously love is always the foundation underneath. Because love is the foundation behind everything, why not focus on love?

In Reflections on Loving God each post will be a reflection on some aspect of love or loving God. God and the faith will be the focus. There are countless resources for human relationships — I don’t see a huge need for a focus there — but there are not nearly as many resources on loving God. Despite this, if you improve your relationship with God, I believe your human relationships will also improve. The same skills are used in both situations.

This project is open-ended. I will have more to write in the beginning, but love is a complex subject. God might reveal more to me, and I will have more reflections to write. The reflections will mostly fall into three groups:

  • Definitions of love – Looking at love from just one narrow angle in an attempt to understand it more
  • How God loves you – Seeing how God loves you in one aspect of your life
  • Ways to love God – Something you can do to love God more

As I wrote above, I’m really excited about this project. I really believe it will make a difference in your life. It might even be life changing. I’m sure you have things you don’t like about yourself. Why not let God work on those things? You only need to understand love more. Then you can fully receive God into your life. Do you feel lonely or unloved by others? God is here to comfort you and give you all the love you have ever wanted if you can only see his presence in your life. Do you already love God but wish to love him even more? Start practicing a new way to love him.

Note that everything I write can be found somewhere in the Bible or at least implied. Never think that God has somehow given me exclusive wisdom, not found anywhere else. The Bible is the only inspired (“God-breathed”) word of God. Anything I write is just a reinforcement or supplement to the Bible. I apologize in advance for not having extensive knowledge of the Bible to provide chapter and verse for everything. I will include them when I can remember them.

Your friend in Christ,
~Jared
All Saints Day
November 1, 2018

The Easy Yoke

I’ve written before how tough times can either make a person better and closer to God or worse and further from God. This is the decision I faced when my health went downhill. As I developed social anxiety, digestive problems, and several other health problems, I suffered more and more. My health was not looking good. Without seeing anything in the world able to help me, I made the decision to become better and focused on God.

First was the complaining:

“God, you have to help me with this. I need healing. I can’t do anything with these health problems.”

After a few years came acceptance:

“God, I don’t like my suffering, but you’re not going to heal me. My health is so bad I could die at any moment. I will follow your will and prepare myself for heaven.”

Another few years I reached gratitude:

“My God, thank you for the blessing of being able to offer my suffering as a gift for Jesus on the cross. I still don’t like suffering, but I thank you for giving me a use for it.”

Most recently I found joy:

“Glory to you, O Lord, for allowing me to do penance for the world. My God, whether you will that I suffer or not, I welcome your plan with all my heart!

As I went through these stages, I became closer to God. The big breakthrough was when I saw for the first time all the ways God loved me. God was expressing his love to me in unique ways just for me and no one else. While God had always loved me, it was only when I recognized his love that I was able to love him back and form a real relationship. I no longer cared much what others thought of me. I didn’t need anyone else’s love to be happy. God’s love for me was enough. With that the anxiety started to dissipate.

I still deal with social anxiety every time I’m around strangers. My body automatically becomes stressed even when my mind is calm and clear of worry, but most times, prayer, putting my trust in God, and offering my suffering dissipates the anxiety after a few minutes. Sometimes my anxiety does get out of control, but it’s pretty rare. I am still working on introducing myself to more stressful situations as well. It’s not over with but progress is being made. I will probably always have to deal with anxiety at the beginning of social situations, a temporary suffering before my body relaxes and I can have a good time.

Years of chronic anxiety and stress has caused permanent damage to my body though. This means my digestive problems, chronic injuries, muscle weakness, trouble sleeping, and more will not be going away, no matter how much better my anxiety gets. My suffering from these problems will continue, though I can work on treating each of them individually for some improvements. There is always the chance I could be completely cured, but I don’t expect that at this point.

My suffering rarely bothers me now. Some days I do feel pretty bad physically, but those days have their own blessing, patiently offering up my suffering for Jesus and the world. Despite the difficulty of getting through those days, this is usually when I am most close to God. As Jesus said in the Bible, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30). It’s not that my suffering is gone, but my closeness to God makes me so happy, positive, and joyful, suffering just doesn’t bother me anymore. In short, I will continue to work on treating the health problems and hope for an end to my suffering, but with God and his love, I can endure any suffering, put it to good use, and even be joyful about it.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

The Depth of the Commandments According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

While The Ten Commandments are popularly known as God’s rules for Christians to live by, there really is just one commandment: the commandment to love. All the others follow from just this one overarching commandment. The commandment to love can be split into two more specific commandments: love God and love one another. The commandments to love God and one another can then be expanded further into The Ten Commandments. The first through third commandments involve loving God. The fourth through tenth commandments involve loving one another.

Every single sin can be described by how it opposes one of these commandments. There are no sins that do not fit under a commandment. In some cases, it’s not clear why a sin fits under a commandment, but that’s where the Catechism of the Catholic Church fits in. It explains each commandment in detail including all the opposing sins.

Interesting is the fact that the ninth and tenth commandments are more extensions of the sixth and seventh commandments than entirely new commandments. The sixth commandment (“You shall not commit adultery.”) covers the sinful actions related to impurity while the ninth commandment (“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.”) covers the sinful thoughts related to impurity. The seventh and tenth commandments follow the same model except covering sinful actions (seventh) and thoughts (tenth) related to stealing.

I have summarized this information in the chart below. It starts at the top with the commandment to love, then to love God and one another, then to the ten commandments, and finally, the sins that oppose those commandments. I have made the ninth and tenth commandments extensions of the sixth and seventh commandments, all under Love One Another. The commandments are in circles with orange text while the sins are in rectangles with red text. In parentheses next to each sin is the reference number of the corresponding passage in the Catechism of the Catholic Church for further reading.

The commandments and their opposing sins.

Click image to view full screen.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared