Friday, June 21, 2013

Purchased with Pain

I was recently reading the book "He and I" and in it there is a passage in which God asks the author if she realizes that she has been purchased with His pain.  The idea may seem strange, even off-putting at first, but it didn't to me.  It immediately resonated with me and I thought I that was strange.

Purchased with pain.

Is such a thing possible?  When watching films, I often find myself rooting for the unrequited love.  I'm a sucker for the tragic underdog (see my post on Eponine).  If in the end he doesn't get the girl, I feel a bit cheated.  Why?

Well, I feel that the answer is best illustrated with the example of the splendid story of Cyrano de Bergerac.  Cyrano is a man in love with the fair Roxanne, who in turn is love with one Christian.  Cyrano pines for Roxanne and, in his way, pours out his love for her through the eloquent words, which he lends to Christian.  Though Cyrano burns with love for Roxanne, he dares not make it know.  For him, it is enough that Roxanne knows that she is loved deeply and ardently, even if she does not know the love is from him.

Christian also loves Roxanne but his words fail him.  He is content to use Cyrano's beautiful words to woo his love rather than risk losing the lady altogether.  When Christian and Cyrano are sent to the front lines of war, Christian frequently seeks out Cyrano to help pen a letter to properly express his love.  Cyrano however, is not content with that.  He daily sneaks across enemy lines to make sure that his love is never left without a new letter to read, which reassures her of his fidelity and love.  He signs Christian's name to these letters.  Once Christian becomes aware of this, he insists that Cyrano offers his own suit to Roxanne and that the truth be known.

Christian is not a bad man, nor a coward, nor a fool, nor an unattractive fellow, yet my heart is softened towards the plight of dear Cyrano.  Why?  Why is Cyrano's suit more worthy than Christian's?  Some might argue that Cyrano loves Roxanne more than Christian and I am inclined to agree with that, but I want to press for the answer of how do we measure that love?  How do we know that Cyrano's love is greater?

I put forth the idea that it is the amount of personal loss and suffering that Cyrano endures for the sake of Roxanne.  Christian wants to put himself on the line for the sake of his love.  He is fully prepared to make the truth known to her so that she may freely choose whom to love.  His untimely death robs him of this noble sacrifice and so the only one of the two suitors suffer for his love is Cyrano, who can't bring himself to tell Roxanne the truth even after Christian's passing, for both Christian and Roxanne's sake.

It was the great suffering of Cyrano's love that enshrines him in our hearts.  How much pain he bore for the sake of his love!  He bears it without complaint or thought for himself.   What heart can resist such love?  Has he not purchased his right to love and be loved through his great suffering?

Is it not also thus with Christ?  Who can resist such self-giving love?  It is disarming, intoxicating, alluring, moving, and overwhelming.   It is a love that asks only to love and be loved.  It is a love that seeks to bring about our perfect happiness.  It is a love that selflessly seeks to give us all we desire, at the deepest level, regardless of personal cost.  If you have not found this to be so, then I invite to seek Him out and experience that love.  It will transform your life in the most beautiful way.


Additional Comments
Here are some follow up thoughts in the form of a conversation with a friend of mine who we'll call "Wesley"

  • Wesley Nice, now I don't have to comment on your blog where everything I say will be visible for as long as blogger continues to exist.
    I have a question not addressed by your post, which seemed to simply point out that oftentimes love is purchased with suffe
    ring, without saying whether this lesson has any practical implications for loving.
    I am wondering mainly whether undergoing suffering to purchase someone's love is an appropriate course of action. It's a Romantic notion, of course, and the Romantic in me is fascinated, but as we know the Romantics were often excessive and disordered. It's also noble to suffer for one you love, but is it quite as noble when your intention is to purchase? Cyrano suffered, not intending to purchase love, but in fact solely for the sake of his beloved so that she would be literally in blissful ignorance of his feelings, if I'm not mistaken.
    And of course by "love" here we mean some kind of bond specifically between two friends, in addition to the charity which one should always work for between all people. (Christ didn't say "Don't have enemies," because friendship has to be mutual and if not everybody returns your love, that's not your fault; rather, He said "Love your enemies" so I think that's not exactly the kind of love we're talking about here, though related.)
    There, now I said it. Facebookers, please read her blog, it's quite good, and I don't like half of it half as well as it deserves.

  • Therese I suppose my response must be that insomuch as all love requires self-denial there cannot be true loving without suffering. That said, love is willing the good of the other as other, so "unhealthy" or dysfunctional suffering would not be good for the lover or the other. Such things require prudence and patience

  • Wesley I'm not sure that answered my basic question (other than the admonition to patience and prudence). You already know that I believe that suffering together is like cement to true friendship.
    What I'm wondering is, can the suffering be undertaken *in or
    der to* gain another's love, or is that a mistake? because I don't think that's what Cyrano does. I'm talking more of someone who makes sacrifices for someone else and hopes to be rewarded with their love, a sort of "winning" that person over through suffering (meriting their love, if you will). Somehow I can see that being a wrong approach, though it's a fascinating idea. I understand that you might not have meant to suggest this idea at all, but it occurred to me nonetheless.

  • Therese Ah, then my answer is no. I don't think so. Unless the one being loved also happens to be a sadist

  • Wesley LOL That bad, eh? I really missed it that time.

  • Therese In other words suffering for the sake of suffering is masochism. Even the saints advise against intentionally seeking out suffering. They simply say to accept it when it comes. Cyrano does not go out of his way to be miserable, but, believing that the thorns he bears will bring about the happiness of his love, embraces the misery with joy. In the same way, Christ did not put Himself on the cross and gave Judas and Pilate the free choice to not put him there, but knowing that it would come in order to bring about our salvation, He embraced it
  • Therese When we offer our sufferings for Christ, it is not our pain that He delights in but our willingness to die to self for the sake of drawing nearer to him. Indeed, when we feel the chafing of our crosses, Christ empathizes with us, He does not take pleasure in our distress.
  • Wesley In response to part of that: one scenario I was thinking of was: lover sees difficult thing that would make beloved happy; lover undergoes difficult thing and suffers in process, but not selflessly for the beloved but rather so that she (or he) will notice the sacrifice; lover thus purchases admiration and love, not because beloved enjoys the suffering but rather admires the sacrifice...but may or may not realize that it was done with the intention of that very result!
    In response to the part about Christ, what you said makes sense to me.

  • Therese  Yes, but that's where we get into willing the good of the other. Often, when we pursue things to "make others happy" for the sake of winning them over it turns out that we become rather undiscerning in what we suffer. This turns us into a yes-man, a doormat, and also a dead weight. It becomes manipulative and the object of our affections would perceive it, even if only subconsciously, at one point or another. It leads the object of love feeling claustrophobic and burdened.

    Wesley Exactly what I was looking for. Great analysis. Thanks!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rules of Engagement

Advice from a Tomboy

This is a bit of advice that I offer from the position of having been close friends with a number of excellent guys and also from having five stunning sisters, who attract the attention of many a hopeful young man. I realize that I am not infallible. This is my opinion, which I have formed through many conversations with both of the aforementioned parties and much observation.

For many (hopefully most) of y'all, this will seem like common sense, and I thank God for you. For those who are surprised by this advice, all I ask is that, before you decide it isn't for you, take some time to actually think it over—it just might help spare you and those you love from years of unnecessary grief.

An additional disclaimer: these pieces of advice are a bit gender stereotyped because of my personal experience with these situations. Really these rules are for everyone and if you're breaking them, then you may want to rethink that decision.

For the Boys:

1. Don't be the “nice guy”.

I am not saying don't be a nice guy. I am saying don't be the “nice guy.” In case you don't have a computer or you spend little to no time online and are not familiar with the term “nice guy,” allow me to elaborate.

The nice guy is the guy who falls for a girl and then decides that she “owes” him a chance to win her in the context of a romantic relationship.

Here's the thing, gents: if you were not able to win her heart in the context of a friendship, a romantic relationship is not going to change that. If having known you for some length of time does not turn her heart in your direction, no amount of awkward dates, late night conversations, or charming gestures is going to change that. *Disclaimer: There are exceptions to this but it is generally best to assume you are the rule not the exception.*

No means no. If the girl turns you down, you need to let it go. Move on. You made a valiant effort, which she will respect you for—that is, unless you make yourself pathetic by repeatedly pleading at her feet for just one more chance.

Do not pretend to move on and hope that if you just keep doing nice, friendly things for her, she will suddenly see that you're the one for her.

Do not try again every year.

Do not tell all/any of your common friends how much you're in love with her. (They will most likely tell her and then she will be distressed and start to think that you're creepy. See #4.) Also, there is a high chance that your friends will find this type of confidence to be more than a little irritating.

Do move on. Let her go. Even if it means that you have to constantly remind yourself to abandon that dream, at some point you will really move on. Your feelings may be strong, but that doesn't mean they are her responsibility [or your eternal fate].

2. If you see a girl regularly, don't ask her out without actually getting to know her.

It's insulting to her and beneath you. While girls love it when their beauty is appreciated, they are not fans of the guys who project their ideal onto them and then never take the time to actually know the person. In other words, if a girl seems to be the perfect image of your fantasy girl, then you probably haven't gotten to know the girl that well. Fantasy people are not real (hence “fantasy”). The sooner to accept this, the better. (Really this applies to girls just as much...)

In a similar vein, do not confess your “undying love” to a girl that you don't know. Same reason as above.

3. Do not assume what hasn't been said. I know that girls are the queens of mixed signals and this is largely due to the fact that they believe in “hinting.” That said, if you haven't asked and she hasn't actually said that she likes you, do not assume that she does.

Every girl is different and that means the “sparkly eyes,” hair-twirling, special smile, sarcasm, random acts of kindness, etc. might not mean what you're thinking it means. Some girls really do put that much thought into every gesture—although I suspect that even those girls might only think that much about it when they're around the guy they like—but most girls are more like y'all than you'd think insofar as they just do whatever feels natural.

So, that time when your hands touched when you sat side by side could have been her sneaky way of letting you know that she thinks the world of you, but it's much more likely that she just wasn't paying attention to where her hand was resting. Don't over think it.

If you think she might like you and you like her, ask her out. If she says no, then leave it at that, no matter what your buddies tell you about the way her face “lights up” when you enter the room. Your buddies are WRONG. She told you herself. Listen to her.

4. Don't tell a girl when one of your buddies is thinking about asking her out. You are not Cupid. No matter how certain you are that your buddy needs an assist, resist that impulse.

Interference cannot be undone and your helpful heads-up may have just killed your pal's chances with the lady in question. And if you should happen to discover that the lady is not interested, do not keep apprising her of your pal's feelings for her.

These are not the actions of a wing man; these are the actions of a petty gossip. If he's going to ask her out, then he will man up and do it, and she will answer. Being the go-between just creates drama, diminishes your buddy's credibility as a man, and causes the gal to read into everything he does. All this because you decided that your pal couldn't handle this on his own.

For the Girls:

1. Enough with the hinting. 

If you want a gentleman to know something, just tell the poor guy. Don't create this intricate treasure map of clues for him to figure out that you're having a bad day, not interested, very interested, or whatever you're trying to clue him in to.

If it's not something that is appropriate for you to tell him, then you probably shouldn't be hinting about it either. If it's something that he must know, hinting is insufficient. I'm not talking about making the first move here (see #2); I'm talking about reciprocation, resolving conflict, reminding him of important dates, etc.

He probably won't figure out that you like him just because you wore his favorite color the other day—and meanwhile that “nice guy” in whom you have no interest will be reading into that fact because it’s also his favorite color. If you make it a rule to communicate in a straightforward way, then he'll get the message—and you'll have a clear precedent to fall back on when said “nice guy” accuses you of flirting with him.

2. You cannot answer a question that has not been asked

No matter how hard you try, it will not work. Telling that “nice guy” that you're not interested before he even asks you out will only result in the awkward, “Oh, I know! I completely understand where you're at and I'm not interested either” conversation.

If a guy is unrelentingly pursuing you in the passive manner that is so typical of “nice guys,” you may address the behaviors, but not the assumptions that you have drawn from said behaviors. In other words, if he keeps trying to hold your hand, the proper response is, “I do not like it when you try to hold my hand and would appreciate it if you stop,” not “Now, I hope that we're clearly understood that we are just friends and I am not romantically interested in you.”

I mean, you can try the second response, but you're either going to end up looking like an idiot when he tells you you've completely misread the situation or he's probably not going to listen to you and continue pining anyway.

Let him do the asking and you just deal with what is, not with what he might do.

Similarly, it is generally best to let the guy make the first move. If you want to date/marry a strong man, then you have to let him lead. This means not telling that guy you've secretly had a crush on for years that you like him. If he seems content to leave it at friendship, then just leave it at friendship. Or, tell him and risk losing the friendship or dating someone who's taking the “well, why not give it a try?” approach. In most cases, whoever starts in the lead stays in the lead.

3. Don't do the pity date. 

A man is a man and deserves to be treated like one. He is not a child. He can handle rejection, and you are not doing him any service by letting him believe that he stands a chance if you already know that he does not.

Imagine how emasculated he will feel when the awkward pity dates inevitably culminate in your confession to having gone out with him because he was so nice and you just “didn't want to hurt him.”

Rejection does hurt and he won't like it, but if you're not interested give the guy enough respect to treat him like an adult.

That doesn't mean that you have to be harsh about it, but be honest and clear. Don't use phrases like “not right now” and “maybe if things were different.” This leaves room for false hope. Just tell him thank you, but no, and only offer further explanation if he asks for it.

Consoling him is not your job. That's the job of his family and the idiot friends who convinced him that you loved him in the first place.

4. Don't listen to gossip about whether or not some guy likes you.

Whoever is telling you (even his best buddy) may be wrong and then you'll be all anxious and/or excited for no real reason. If he likes you and is serious about you, then he will make a move in his own good time.

What everyone else thinks or “knows” is irrelevant. If you catch your friends or his friends speculating about the two of you, shut it down and politely thank them not to meddle. Just discussing it may seem harmless but may also negatively alter the way that you think about that guy. Only deal with facts and your thoughts/feelings.

For all y'all crazy people:

1. Feelings < Thoughts

Yes, feelings are strong, distracting, and overwhelming. They also should not dictate your decisions, your actions, or really much else. You must be the master of yourself and let reason prevail (also discipline).

You ought not do something or abstain from doing simply because of how you feel. Feelings are not a sufficient reason. They are too changeable, too selfish, and many times have very poor timing. Listen to your heart (your heart, in this case, is not your emotions, but that deeper love that leads you to deny yourself and sacrifice your desires for the good of others), consider the solid advice of the wise people in your life, and let your conscience be your guide.

By all means, factor your feelings into your decisions, but don't let them dominate your interior forum. Logic, humility, and self-denying love should always take precedence. Trust me, they'll keep you out of a lot of trouble. And of course, as a friend added, the goal is happiness, not just pleasure.

Well, that's all folks!


Friday, March 15, 2013

Whistle While You Work

Work has been rough lately.  I've been finding it to be pretty draining.  Every day I spend the majority of my day working with customers who are so caught up in their own needs, anxieties, and concerns that they often let it come out against me.  People can be so rude.  They can be short tempered, snappy, over-anxious, and oblivious.  So can I.  I often am.

I've been really grumpy lately.  Perhaps you can relate.  I've been regularly experiencing that oh-no-not-another-one-grumble-to-your-coworkers-snap-at-your-siblings-hiding-from-the-world sort of attitude over the last several days.  Weeks.  Okay, months.  Some way to spend Lent, right?

Given my sour mood, which fluctuates in degree on a day to day basis, I've been thinking a lot about what to do when such moods come up.

I work hard.  I work hard because it's important.  I work hard because it's my duty.  I work hard because it's expected.  I work hard because I don't want to do a half-way job.  Working hard is...hard.  It's also not enough.

In order for work to bear fruit, you need to unite to something more valuable - it needs to have meaning.  Some people look for meaning in the things that work will bring to their lives (e.g. money, a mental challenge, nice belongings, travels, etc.).  Others look for meaning in the work itself, seeking jobs that make a difference in the world or jobs that involve their personal passions.  Those answers are not always an option.  Many people do not have the liberty or the capabilities to choose a job that they find fulfilling in itself.  Others are unable to find work that pays out more than the minimum to live by.  So, what then?  How does one add meaning to the daily grind?  How does one save his spirit from the weight and the tediousness of the mundane?

For me, the answer is prayer.  The answer is martyrdom.  The answer is the crucifixion. When we make an effort to unite ourselves to Christ, every act has meaning.  This is true, not because of the greatness of our acts, but because of the greatness of his love.  Somehow, when walking through the day with Christ, we make it.  Often times, we just barely make it, but we do make it, with Christ.  I rarely feel Christ's presence as I struggle through those rough days, but I know that He is there.

Every day that I make it, I know that with more certainty.  Little by little, I am learning.  But lately, I'm struggling.  So, my dear friends, please say a prayer for me.  I'll be praying for you too.



Monday, January 14, 2013

On Dissapointment, Loneliness, and Eponine

Do you ever have those times when you feel as if life has just smacked you down? One minute you're on top of the world looking around you with joy and wonder, then, suddenly, you find you've faceplanted in the pavement. Well, I know enough people who've gone through something similar to that this in the recent past to hazard that, at one time or another, you have too - probably in the context of a relationship, although not necessarily.

Well, I recently had the pleasure of viewing the film adaptation of the stage production of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the breif but beautiful life of my favorite character, Eponine Thenardier. I promise that this relates to my beginning, but first, some back story.

Eponine was born to two horrible parents who made their living by cheating, stealing, conning, and blackmailing anyone. When she was a child, they spoiled her rotten an when she grew older, they expected her to pull her weight in the family business and she did. But unlike her parents, Eponine did not care much for the twisted life she was born into, and began to look for other interests besides gaining at the expense of others.

Then she met Marius. He was everything she wasn't. She was poor, he was wealthy. She was a street urchin, he was a student. She was jaded and wounded, he was hopeful and idealistic. She was a little nothing, and – to her at least – he was everything. There was only one problem. Marius did not feel the same way about Eponine. At best, he viewed Eponine as a good friend, but most days he barely seemed to notice her. Still, she was content just to be near him.

Epnonine realizes that Marius love Cosette
Then, one day, Eponine's worst nightmare became reality when Marius fell in love with a soft, innocent, beautiful, and wealthy young lady, by the name of Cosette.

Eponine was devastated. How could this be true? Marius who barely noticed any woman beyond his books and his revolutionary ideas, finally had that look that Eponine had dreamt so many times of seeing in his eyes, but it was not for her. No, it was for Cosette, a girl who Eponine knew as a child under quite different circumstances.

Marius knew nothing about Cosette, not even her name. Knowing Eponine's street smart ways, Marius turns to her to help him find Cosette. The fate of this budding romance was completely in Eponine's hands, but Marius' pleas could did fall on deaf ears and she agreed to help him find his love.

She led Marius to his love and kept watch for them both as they met in secret to express and exchange their love for one another. She went head to head with her father to protect them both. Then the revolution began and Marius and Cosette were parted, they feared forever. Epopine, unable to bear the idea of Marius fighting alone, disguised herself as a boy and joined him at the barracades.

Here the movie and the play differ.


In the play: Marius discovered Eponine's presence and commissioned her to bring a letter to Cossette. Eponine did as Marius asks, but on her way back to the barricade, she is fatally wounded.

In the film: Eponine carried a letter from Cosette, but could not bring herself to deliver it to Marius after she had joined him at the barricade. She took a bullet for Marius and as she lay dying, confessed her trangression and gave him Cosette's letter.

Wounded, Eponine comforts Marius as she dies
In both: As Eponine lay dying in Marius' arms, she softly tells him not to worry and assures him that his presence is enough to make her feel no pain. She comforts Marius and urges him not to fret (“A Little Fall ofRain”). Then she dies, happily near her beloved during her last moments.

Okay, so what does this have to do with life smacking you down? Well, for starters, it gives a beautiful example of how to face difficulty. When Eponine is confronted with the tragedy of her life, which shows no sign of improvement even in the most disdant future, she does not despair, nor does she wallow in her sorrow. She looks at the reality of her situation and faces it head on. She forces herself to recognize the truth that the thing she wants, will never be. She does not try to force her feelings on Marius, nor does she let her disappointment serve as a motive to stand in the way of his happiness. She is completely selfless on that front.

Now, some, might accuse Eponine of being a bit of a doormat and somewhat pathetic, but I do not agree. I believe that had she lived, she would have found joy in loving Cosette and Marius and their children and in her own time, after her heart had healed from it's disappointment, I believe that Eponine would've found her true love. But regardless of what she may have done if the chance had been given, the fact remains, that in the end, Eponine chose to think of others over herself. As a result, she dies happy and full of peace, not hanging on to resentment, broken dreams, or bitter longings.

Love is willing the good of the other. Love is not getting your way or giving someone else their way. Love is not allowing yourself to be used or to use others. Love is self-giving, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, patience, humility, hope, and so much more. Eponine chose love of another over love of herself.

Her great love, triumphs over her criminal lifestyle, her broken heart, her empty dreams, and her tragic death. When people think of the character of Eponine, then think on her with bitter-sweet recollection. She was the girl who gave all she had for an unrequited love. And because she truly loved, that was truly enough.

Epnonine had wisdom too. She had the wisdom to know that her paths was never meant to intertwine with that of Marius. She had the wisdom to know that one ought not to put the pulls of loneliness about the pulls of friendship. She had the wisdom to know that something bigger and more important that her was at work in all their lives and the author of that work would care for them all.

The spirits of Eponine, Fantine, and Valjean watching over Cosette and Marius
Eponine's last lines in the musical are, “And remember, the truth that once was spoken, 'To love another person is to see the face of God.'”

So, to any of my readers who are struggling with disappointment or hurt of some kind, please know this: you are not alone. You're not the only one who feels hurt, overlooked, forgotten, and/or rejected. How you respond to it is your choice. You can make yourself a victim or you can be the hero. Being the hero is difficult and probably no one will notice, but you will find peace in the sacrifice you make for the love of another. Being the victim keeps you sad, miserable, and lonely. It also burdens those who love you.

Personally, I believe that being the hero, or at least, trying to be the hero, is by far the better way. I don't know that I've ever actually succeeded on that plan, but I've always found that the simple act of trying helps me get through the confusing, painful part. I find Eponine's story incredibly inspiring and she is my favorite character in Les Mis. She is beautiful, simple, and unimportant. She is tragic. She is amazing.

Maybe one day someone will be inspired by my story or yours. So, don't give up and keep on trying to love better.