In my work with men over the years, and now especially as a spiritual director, there is one issue that keeps surfacing. It’s not porn or infidelity. It’s not addictions or anxieties. Underneath all of these, I see something else. Here it is:
A man can come to believe in God’s love but have little experience of it. His cognitive assent to the idea of this love does not necessarily translate into gut reality. This bisected state in a man’s soul is the root of his restlessness and striving, his neuroses and phobias. What is a man to do? What can heal the divide?
The Two Choices
Let’s start here. Think about a time when you felt deeply loved by someone. What did it trigger inside of you? What did you want to do as a result?
I can still vividly recall the first time I fell in love. I was just 15, but had experienced enough of life’s turbulence to feel very unsafe. Especially at school, I felt vulnerable. But when I was with this girl, my heart opened. She was so kind and accepting, so forgiving and attentive. I felt safe and connected. But when that relationship ended, I was crushed. I had awakened to love, only to have the love disappear. I now had a choice.
Keep searching for the love or bury the longing to staunch the pain.
Here are the two choices of love. What we decide here channels us into a life of chasing or isolating. The man who chases keeps looking for that certain someone to quench the love-thirst in his soul. Often it is a father figure to admire or a woman to marry. Yet neither can carry the weight of his soul, nor slake the endless thirst. Disappointment follows him like a dreaded shadow. On the other hand, the man who isolates chooses to remain aloof and disengaged. It seems easier and cleaner this way. Why awaken something that will only disappoint? So he keeps love’s passion buried. This is the route I chose.
How God Works
Now let’s turn the tables around. I believe God is always working. So how does He reveal His love to both types of men? How does He work with the two choices of love? Of course, we are dealing with mystery here, but this is my best guess.
For the man who keeps searching for love, God allows him to keep being disappointed. The disappointments act as spurs to goad a man on. They are meant to drive him to the source of all love. Or to use another analogy, they are the bread crumbs that a man is to follow in order to find the feast. But is he following the bread crumbs? Or just staving off the gnawing hunger with the crumbs? Will a man turn and look up to the one Face that has always been shining on him?
For the man who isolates, God finds a way to awaken him again to love. He will use stories from books or movies or an even unexpected interaction. A man sees love pictured and embodied. What he thought was dead and buried suddenly resurrects with stabbing force. Again, he can fixate on the book or keep watching the movie again. Or he can ask a new question: “Is God trying to tell me something?”
What God Wants To Give Us
My own story is one of isolating, only to find God awakening me through stories. And when I realized that it was Him calling to me through those stories, I began listen to Him. Over much time, I began to understand that He wanted to give me more than just His love. He wanted to give me Himself.
One man recently told me that he had often asked God to help him feel His love. Then one day He sensed Jesus saying to him, “I am love.” There it is. However much our hunger for love feels desperate and defining, it’s not what we most need. We need His presence. We need to look up and see His face shining on us. There we will find an ocean of love of which we will never plumb the depths.
Where Are You?
Stop now and consider. Where are you? Which of the two choices of love most characterizes you? The chasing or the isolating? And if God is always working, how is He working on you here? Take a minute of quiet and ponder this.
Next week, we will explore more of God’s love during this Advent season.