One of the saddest things (for me, as a priest) is to see an unrepairable relationship. Yes, we deal with a lot of pastoral guidance and counseling for couples or families that have relationship problems. Yes, relationships are messy. And yes, for one reason or another, we as human beings tend to not to pay enough attention, and at times, hurt those whom we love the most. However, personal, honest, and genuine relationships are important cornerstones of our society because, without good people who will to trust, care, and love one another, everything we know about civilization would cease to exist.
As life gets busy, it is so easy to lose focus on what is truly important as we try to deal with the daily busyness and its agenda items. A typical family nowadays tend to be very divided with their time to be with one another as spouses try their best to be at their children’s school, sports, or extracurricular activities. They talk to each other about what needs to be done but seldom have enough time to have a heart to heart session. Many come home too tired from work and extra activities that they do not have enough energy to open up and have a loving conversation with each other. This is the reason why many couples begin to grow apart from each other at a much faster pace.
Both sides get frustrated when they feel that the other side is not pulling the weight or not doing what is needed to be done. They feel the pressures build up from work as well as everything else that they no longer can positively give empathy and affection to one another. It is easier to talk at each other, tell the other side what needs to be done or what they have not done. Frustration, anger, and resentment begin to build up toward the point that they simply feel like they are coming back to a house or living in a hotel that they check in and out as needed. They no longer feel at home with one another, only as partners who live under one roof. Life is no longer joyful nor relationship life-giving, but simply as something burdensome. Life becomes hellish as their original love for one another is lost in the midst of all the things that need to be done or have not been done.
Facing all these self or socially created pressures and busyness, the temptation to walk away is very tempting and real.
As a matter of fact, many couples tend to seek divorce or have a fall out with their lived-in relationships earlier than expected. Not going into the deeper issue of the lack of commitment and what it truly means to truly live by one’s marriage vow “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, now and for the rest of my life,” the loss of priority, attention, and affection in one’s relationship and marriage have become the contention point of many fallouts. It is very normal now to live with each other and work on some compromises and reconciliations until they hit a wall then leave to find something else more attractive, less hurtful, or workable. Pragmatic and utilitarian thoughts seem to drive one’s decision to end the relationship that deems to be unsalvagable.
In his vision to the church in Ephesus, Saint John wrote the the Lord’s words to the community who had underwent a lot of persecutions and turmoils as believers, but who also somewhere along the way had forgotten their original purpose and calling: “Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4)
Just like the Ephesian community, it is very easy for us to get ourselves so busy to do all the right things exteriorly but lose focus on nourishing and deepening our first love. When we get too bogged down and distracted by what needs to be done, we have unjustly allowed ourselves, our loved ones, and our relationships to be defined by what we are doing and not doing instead of focusing on what we are truly called to be. When we choose to define relationships with the scale based on quantifiable productivity and benefits, we lose the real focus and life-giving invitation to give the genuine, affectionate, personal, and intimate gift of ourselves in being who we truly are. We are called to love those who are given to us even though they might not be likable at times. We are called to forgive and reconcile just as God has forgiven us. We are called to heal and transform the present failures and hurts because God’s grace is working in and through us to heal our own failures and sins against Him. We are called to give ourselves because God has taught us how to love intimately, personally, and genuinely through the gift of Himself to us.
When a family or couple comes in to talk about their troubles, I always tend to ask them these questions:
- When was the last time you prayed for one another?
- When was the last time you looked at each other in the eyes and say that “I love you” or “I am thankful that you are in my life”?
- When was the last time that you were able to enjoy and embrace each other’s presence and company genuinely and wholeheartedly?
- When was the last time you were grateful for what the other side has done for you instead of focusing on what has not been done?
Often times, as we possess signs of being overwhelmed, burnt out, or being unhappy in a relationship, we tend to focus on the negative things and magnify them instead of looking for the small, faithful, and constant blessings throughout. It is easy to throw out all the good things that the other person had done for the sake of justifying what they have not done in our eyes. Yet, all these matters can be reconciled as we learn to appreciate, love, and give ourselves to one another. We stopped loving each other because we stopped caring or giving each other the intimate and personal love and time needed. A relationship cannot exist if we have not learned to give ourselves in a relational and personal way. Intimacy is not possible if we are too scared of opening up ourselves to really listen and talk from the bottom of our heart — beyond the resentful or apparent hurts and frustrations.
It is challenging to have a long-lasting and life-giving relationship in our post-modern world because we are too subconsciously tied to the consumeristic and throw-away mentality. Just as we throw away something that is broken or no longer deem as a beneficial or productive and buy a new one in our consumeristic society, it is easy to treat relationship in the same way when it is no longer good for us or our apparent, sentimental standards. We have seen — and sometimes, jealous of — old people with their friendships and marriages. They are far from being perfect as they bicker and struggle with many recurring problems. Yet, they are with one another because they meant what they said, and especially when people and relationship are important for them. Unlike our post-modern throw-away culture, many grew up in hard times with little to nothing. They had to learn to be creative and appreciative with the little that they had. They do not throw away something if it is imperfect or broken but learned to fix or find the best use out of them. Perhaps we can learn much from the older generations as we try to mend, reconcile, and salvage broken relationships so we can learn to love and embrace the person behind the apparent imperfections.
The responsory after the second reading from the Office of Reading for the Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Lent said:
(v1) Lord, what anguish I would suffer if I knew nothing of your mercy! But you have said: I do not desire the sinner’s death but that he comes back to me and live.
(v2) When my heart is full of anxiety, you give me comfort and joy.
— You called back to your love the Canaanite woman, and the publican to repentance.
And with this, I would like to invite you to take some time to reflect on your own relationships as we learn to be merciful as the Lord has been merciful to us. May we not end something that can still be reconciled and mended with patience, forgiveness, and true love. May we make efforts to rise above anxieties in order to love and appreciate those who are around us with the personal, intimate, and life-giving relationship. Let us take the time to truly comfort and enjoy the presence of one another without having to worry about what needs to be done. Let us not lose focus but set our eyes on — and return as needed — on the first, original love that we have for one another. Simply put, let us learn to forgive, reconcile, and love as the Lord has loved us.