Friday, 17 November 2017

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 4 of 13 - God Makes Genevieve Some Promises

Part 1 - Life Before Love
Part 2 - When Thomas Met Genevieve
Part 3 - Thomas Falls in Love

Part 4 - God Makes Genevieve Some Promises 

In Genevieve’s second year back in the Philippines, she faced a time of struggling to let go of her ex- boyfriend. She hadn’t talked to him in over a year, but there was still a temptation in her heart. As she brought all these feelings to the Lord, He spoke very clearly and told her, “You are never getting back with this guy.” God showed her a passage from Jeremiah 3. Verses 14 and 15 said ‘Return rebellious children, says the Lord, for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.

Genevieve felt the Lord shutting one door, but promising her another. But she was confused. “Is it marriage, or am I called to be sister because maybe Jesus is the shepherd… or is it a husband?”But she felt sure that if God was calling her to marriage, her future husband would be a shepherd after the Lord’s own heart. It gave her an idea of who she was looking for, someone very different from anyone she had dated before.

During another prayer time, she was in front of the Divine Mercy picture in a church in the Philippines and the Lord told her, “You don’t trust me, that’s why you’re holding on to the past.” She realized that she was holding on to a misconception that marriage and an intense faith life were incompatible, that the deep faith life she had as a single would not translate to married life. But the Lord told her, “No, it’s going to be more about Me, and I’m going to give you someone who draws you closer to me.”

There was another hidden fear. Would someone God picked for Genevieve be boring and serious? It had seemed like sinful relationships were the most fun, because that was all she knew. “A chaste relationship, Lord? I can’t even imagine how dull that would be.” But God was able to combat that fear with the fact that her first year of volunteer life was wonderful, not miserable like she had expected it to be.

Any time Genevieve wanted to date or liked anyone in the Philippines, she would bring it to the Lord and He pointed her to Isaiah 26. “A strong city have we, he sets up wall and ramparts to protect us. Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith, a nation of firm purpose you keep in peace, in peace for its trust is in you.” The Lord told her, “Genevieve, you are the city, and I’ve set up walls and ramparts to protect you and no one is getting through until it’s the right person!” For some reason, it would never work out. And she knew God was waiting for the right person.

Next - Part 5 - Two Years Pass

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 3 of 13 - Thomas Falls in Love

Read Part 1 and Part 2 first.

Part 3 - Thomas Falls in Love 

After one year of serving God in two different Asian countries, Thomas and Genevieve returned to the base for Year in Review, the year-end retreat. One of the talks was about personalities, and as the speaker mentioned “Opposites attract”, Thomas started dreaming, “Who is a very opposite person to me?” His thoughts immediately went to Genevieve. As he began to think more of her, he realized that he was attracted to her.

During the three weeks at the base, Thomas made no move to act on his feelings, but surprisingly God set up a bunch of ‘dates’ for them. Once Genevieve invited him to go to New Orleans to drop off their friend, Rebecca, to the airport, and it was just the three of them hanging out. They had a great time together, realizing they both liked Christian rap. As they walked around the city, Thomas glanced at Genevieve and thought, “I really like this girl. Maybe I could ask her out sometime.” But as they were talking, their recently completed dating fast came up, and Genevieve said, “I realize I’m not ready to be in a relationship. I need some time with just the Lord.” To Thomas’ surprise, he felt something deep inside of him say, “I can wait. I can wait years.” This had never happened before. He put his feelings on hold, and just continued walking and listening and taking in a lot of information about her.

Another time a couple they were friends with had four tickets to go rock climbing, and they invited Genevieve and Thomas to go with them separately. Thomas was thrilled at all these opportunities to spend time with her. Genevieve had no clue at all that Thomas liked her. She was her usual frank, open, friendly self. Strangely enough, she said a few things at that time that prefigured what God was going to do two years later.

Once when Genevieve’s mother was visiting the base, Genevieve went up behind Thomas and jokingly mouthed to her, “Mom, I’m going to marry this guy!” Later as she was introducing him to her mom, she said “This is Thomas, my fiancĂ©.” It was the first time Thomas was meeting her mom and he was speechless. Genevieve had no idea why she said those words.

At one time when they were both at an inner healing retreat, Genevieve looked at Thomas and said, “I really want to know your heart.” She had no ulterior motive, but felt comfortable saying random things to Thomas because she thought of him as a really safe and prudent guy who would never read too much into her words. Thomas was aware that she didn’t see him that way, and responded to the heart-knowing invitation by just patting her on the back, thinking, “I really want to share my heart with you, but… let’s take it easy.” After the inner healing retreat they went out to a yogurt place and Genevieve invited him to marry one of her sisters. Thomas was a little hurt.

Next - Part 4 - God Makes Genevieve Some Promises 

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Thursday, 16 November 2017

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 2 of 13 - When Thomas Met Genevieve

Read Part 1 - Life Before Love- here.

Part 2 - When Thomas Met Genevieve

Thomas arrived at the base out in the swamps of Louisiana, a week after everyone else. As he began to meet all the new volunteers, he noticed a tall and vivacious young woman who was completely bald. Genevieve was always the life of the party, and whenever she met the guys, she would greet them with a forceful punch in the arm. They were on the same chore team and Thomas noticed that Genevieve would often be having so much fun talking to people that she would forget to do her chores. She also had a very direct way about her, which Thomas found challenging, but attractive. 

Meanwhile Genevieve wasn’t sure exactly how to relate to the new men she served with. They were new and strange beings— young men who were cool and normal but also following the Lord. Pretty soon she was able to accept them as brothers, and friends, which was helped by the fact that they were all on a dating commitment. Genevieve and Thomas had a great connection, easily laughing and having fun together. But from girls’ trailer discussions, she found out that there were a lot of girls interested in him (despite the singles commitment), he was fresh on the market, and Genevieve was not into that! But she thought he was great, and he should marry her sisters, which was her favourite compliment for guys she liked but wasn’t personally attracted to.

Intake 2013 headed out to their first posts in January of 2014, Thomas to India, and Genevieve to the Philippines. During that year they had very little contact apart from a mid-year retreat in the Philippines, where their great friendship and camaraderie continued.

Coming soon- Part 3 - Thomas Falls in Love

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A Real-Life Catholic Love Story - Part 1 of 13 - Life Before Love

This is a story I wrote for my friends, Thomas and Genevieve, describing their romance. It's long- 13 parts, but it's worth it! If it doesn't sound a lot like me, it's because I recorded them telling their story, and used a lot of their phrasing.

How did this

Become THIS?

Part 1 - Life Before Love 

Genevieve and Thomas came from very different worlds. Growing up in DC in a divorced Catholic family, Genevieve had spent most of her teenage and young adult years constantly in a relationship and living the party lifestyle. The strict judgmental God she knew had no place in her life except for Sunday mornings. “Maybe one day in my thirties or forties I will prioritize my faith. But I’m young now!”

But in 2013, Genevieve hit a low point in her life. She had just recently gotten out of a relationship and everything felt empty. School, job, having a skinny body, and the party life no longer fulfilled or satisfied her. She found herself depressed, but couldn’t believe that a relationship was really the answer. “I don’t want a man! I don’t need a man! I was born without a man, that shouldn’t complete me!”

In January 2013 she reluctantly went on a mission trip in Mexico with her sister’s organization. She had a question burning in her heart, “What IS going to fulfil me?” On that trip, everyone told her, “It’s Jesus!” To her surprise, Genevieve found that clichĂ©d answered was true! The lives of the full-timers burned with joy and authenticity. They weren’t the Jesus freaks and hypocrites she had thought they would be. On that trip, Genevieve decided to give her life over to Jesus, and respond to His invitation to enter full time ministry too. She signed up for Intake, and in September 2013 moved to Louisiana along with a number of other Catholic singles and families for a three-month initial training. In preparation for her transition to this new life, she shaved her head completely bald. 

Meanwhile Thomas, a young seminarian from Kansas, was struggling with his desire for marriage and family. He had always had this desire, but he also had a deeply wounded perspective of God as a demanding God who wanted him to sacrifice everything he desired in order to win His love. He also had a fear of marriage because his parents separated when he was very young. He spent two and a half years in seminary, but one day on the feast of Saint Joseph, God spoke to him clearly through the story of Gabriel appearing to Joseph and saying “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”

God showed Thomas that he was in seminary for the wrong reasons. He invited him to let go of his fears, and follow the desires of his heart. “I am good and I want to give you good gifts! I don’t want you to sacrifice your desire for marriage to earn My love. I want you to receive it as a gift!” For Thomas, this was his biggest conversion moment, when God began to slowly bring healing to his heart.

He left seminary, and kept hoping God would bring the right woman into his life. Six months after seminary, two options opened up. One was life as a foreign volunteer, serving the poor and sharing the Gospel, and the other was a position as a youth minister. “If I want to get married, it makes more sense to take the youth minister position, I’m sure I could meet any number of eligible young Catholic women!” he thought. Going to a foreign country on the other hand seemed to limit his options. Not only that, but the volunteer organization had a one year no dating commitment, which made no sense to Thomas. “I’ve just spent two and a half years in the seminary not dating, and many years before that too! No more singles’ commitments!” But his spiritual director helped him see that his deeper desire to spread the Gospel and serve the poor was a call from the Lord, and he was able to trust that He would be faithful to His promise.

Coming soon- Part 2 - When Thomas Met Genevieve

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Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Avoiding Eye Contact and Other Ways to Kill Your Soul

Are you a good person? Yeah, me too. I’m basically a good person. Aren’t we all? Most people think of themselves as good, as their particular sins as somewhat excusable and insignificant, and everyone else’s as shocking and reprehensible.

But in my walk with Christ, I have learned a life-changing truth. And that is, that each of us is capable of becoming either a monster or a saint by the little choices we make each day. God created us good, but He put in our hands this powerful tool or weapon— free will, by means of which we can either disfigure ourselves, or place ourselves back in the hands of our Creator who transforms, shapes and moulds us into the masterpieces we were meant to be.

‘If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line separating good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being,’ says Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

There are so many ways we can slowly consume the poison that eventually kill our souls. The little lies and insincerities that become second nature, the glib excuses for our apathy and lack of involvement with the poor, the hours of mindless entertainment that become indispensable, the compromises with the truth, the comforts that we swathe ourselves in until we feel nothing anymore. But today I want to address a lesser talked about way to kill your soul—avoiding eye contact with people you don’t like.

I grew up in a huge Catholic parish, surrounded by all the ‘good church people’. You know, the ones who fill the parish committees, run the Sunday school, the parish events, the prayer groups, the church office, etc. My family was very involved with the parish, and then eventually with a lay Catholic charismatic community. I was in the youth group, the youth choir, and helped run summer clubs and youth events.

As an awkward teenager becoming aware of the world around me, I began to notice something that everyone in any parish probably knows—that church parishes are not immune from division, from slander, from enmity, and from people falling into an us vs. them mentality. Shocker, I know. But how did this play out? Usually it just meant that I could see a certain coldness from certain people in the parish. When we passed each other, they would get really busy talking to someone else. Their eyes would slide over me when group of people socialized after Mass. I realized that people who didn’t like my family, (or didn’t approve of their choices) also didn’t like me. I heard second hand of people who had talked about us. So what did I do? I shrugged and said “Fine, if you don’t like me, I don’t like you.” I would also look the other way, present my polite but insincere smile when I had to, and was quite content with the way things were, because I had plenty of people I DID like, and who liked me. Our parish was big enough to avoid people without it being noticeable.

But when I turned 24, I left my hometown to be trained and serve as a full-time volunteer. One day as I was far from home, I read the Gospel of the day. It was the one about loving your enemies:

'You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?' Matthew 5: 43-47 [NRSV]

 For the first time, those words hit home. These divisions were a little way that Satan had a foothold in our parish, and I like a fool, had not put up much of a resistance. How could I love God who I had not seen if I could not love my neighbour who I had? What real difference did my relationship with God have if I had closed my heart to my brothers and sisters? I asked God’s pardon, and resolved to do better when I got back home.

Little did I know I would get a good chance to put that resolve to the test when I returned. I landed up serving in my parish, spending most of my Sunday mornings running a programme, and often there for extra meetings. (Who knew that serving God involved so many meetings?) During that time, I came back with fresh eyes, and a better perspective. But the people I left remained the same. It began to happen again. Certain people just wouldn’t meet my eye.

But this time I responded differently. I refused to play that game. I pulled a God—I persistently refused to give up on them. Every single time I saw them would smile brightly, look directly at them and say loudly, “Good morning!” It’s a little harder to ignore someone when they do that. There was one particular person who would somehow get afflicted with blindness when I was around. Even if I was the only person within eyesight, he would ride past me apparently without noticing me. And still I would call out, or look directly, smile and nod. What an idiot I felt like sometimes. But I was convinced that I had to overcome evil with good. I tried to see each person as a good, if flawed, human being who had their blind spots as I had mine. I tried to forgive those who I knew had spoken against my parents.

And the crazy thing is, it worked! Slowly, people began to nod back, at first reluctantly, and eventually with real warmth. That’s when I realized that they too had been deceived. They had thought that I was the enemy, that I was the ‘other’, that I didn’t like them. But with that persistent love, they couldn’t buy into that lie anymore. They had visible proof that I was trying, that I was open to them. And their souls, which were made for love, responded!

Too many of us allow these subtle lies to control us. A small misunderstanding can turn into bitterness and judgment. Little by little, our hearts start hardening, and we start turning into uglier versions of ourselves. Resentful, angry, bitter people don’t start out that way. Bitterness grows. But there is still a chance for freedom. It starts with a dash of honesty, where we ask ourselves, “Is there someone I am avoiding, someone whose eye I refuse to meet?” No rationalizations or excuses. Add to that some humility, as we beg God, “Give me some of that unconditional love, Lord, because you know I’ve got nothing but judgment in here.” Top that with one small effort, one small decision— “The next time I see that person, I WILL smile no matter what it costs me.” And slowly the transformation has begun. The venom is being extracted from our souls, and we may yet live. 

Disclaimer: This does not mean that you need to seek out someone who is deliberately trying to cause you harm, or trust someone who has proved themselves untrustworthy. Yet, you can still love, will the good of, pray for, refrain from gossiping about, and show kindness to even the worst and most malicious of enemies.

Monday, 30 October 2017

A Catholic Perspective on Arranged Marriages

The concept of arranged marriages is as fascinating and repulsive to the Western world, as it is natural and normal to most of India. Most of my friends’ parents had arranged marriages, most likely all of their ancestors before them. Some of my schoolmates, and many of the students I’ve given talks to have shared that arranged marriages are a normal part of their family culture, and expected of them as well. Surprisingly, many Catholics from more traditionally Indian cultures have also retained this custom.

What does this really mean? Well, it means different things for different cultures, and different generations. Most commonly it means serious parental involvement in the timing and choice of marriage partner. At a particular age, the parents of a girl (and often guy too) start ‘looking for a match’. How do they do this? Well, there are matrimonial columns, the network of relatives, weddings are apparently prime occasions to display your marriageable children, and view potential spouses. I’m a little fuzzy on the details. As far as I know, once you hear of a good match, the parents do a little research, asking questions like ‘How much does this boy earn? What kind of job? Any bad habits? Good family? Any shameful family secrets? Esteemed by the world in general?” etc. If all these are answered satisfactorily, they ask someone to approach the parents of the other side, or they contact them themselves with a proposal. (Aren’t proposals so romantic?

Then there is the ‘meeting’. The potential groom’s family comes over to the potential bride’s, and under their watchful eye, they ‘get to know each other’. (And don’t forget the tea served by the ‘girl’, as the ‘boy’ and his family look her over.) In most cases, both the man and woman have to give their okay, and if they do, the arrangements begin. Sometimes, they get to meet a few more times before having to make a final decision. In much more modern settings, the arranged marriage is more of a set-up, where the initial introduction is done through ‘elders’ or relatives or godparents, which possibly included a bio and photo, but the couple meet themselves and decide if they like each other enough to consider each other potential spouses. Not so different from dating sites in the West. 

Most non-Indians think arranged marriages are an archaic and terrible idea. And yet, I know many couples who are very happily married after having had their marriages arranged for them. For many, they went into the marriage with their eyes open, had enough in common (culture and expectations) to build a home together, and grew to love the person that they did not know well before they were married. 

Some people say it’s the luck of the draw. Many ‘love marriages’ fall apart, many ‘arranged marriages’ don’t. Marriage is a risk one way or another. You can’t guarantee happiness. Plus, arranged marriages have the advantage of helping everyone find a life partner. Expecting everyone to find their own spouse seems a little haphazard and possibly dooming many people to the single life. For someone with a Catholic perspective on marriage, what are we to make of arranged marriages? Are we for them, against them, or do we reserve judgment? 

It’s me, Sue! I never reserve judgment! :-D 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says a lot about marriage. But here’s a relevant excerpt: 1625 The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptized man and woman, free to contract marriage, who freely express their consent; "to be free" means: 
- not being under constraint; 
- not impeded by any natural or ecclesiastical law. 

1626 The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that "makes the marriage." If consent is lacking there is no marriage. 

1627 The consent consists in a "human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other": "I take you to be my wife" - "I take you to be my husband." 

One of the big problems I see in many arranged marriages is that there may not be REAL freedom. Maybe there isn’t someone holding a gun to your head and forcing you to the altar, but there are other ways of constraining people- like emotional blackmail and pressure. How common is it for the parents of young women to keep at them, day in and day out, telling them it is their duty to marry, not to be picky, nobody is perfect anyway, that it’s ‘high time’ they settled down, that they need grandchildren, ‘what will people say?’, that time is running out, their chances are decreasing, and such other emotionally manipulative techniques. (It happens to guys too, but far more to girls because you know, they have shorter shelf lives.)

The poor girl feels like there is no other option, and she must make the best of the choices offered to her, whether or not she feels called to it, whether she really knows the man well, or whether she has even discerned if she is called to married life at all. 

CATHOLICS! This is not God’s plan or call for married life! We have quite happily imposed culture onto our faith, and told young Catholics- this is your duty as a good and respectable Catholic. And then we wonder why there are so many unhappy marriages, marriages built on shaky foundations, broken and unhappy marriages and family lives. If you start a marriage without a firm foundation on truth and freedom, it MAY last, but most likely when the storms of temptation and crisis come (as they will), the edifice will collapse. 

So what is the truth? What is God’s call for young (and old) men and women discerning marriage? And how does that fit into the concept of arranged marriages? 

1. You don’t HAVE TO get married. Shocker, I know! That is the first lie that can rob your freedom. God has not mandated that everyone has to get married. Some are called to religious life. Some are called to be consecrated singles. Some may never be in a position to get married for various reasons. And it is possible that some are called to remain single… unless they find the right person. The lie is that you HAVE to, and that the worst and most shameful state anyone can find themselves in is OLD and UNMARRIED. Guess what? That is definitely not the worst fate one can suffer. How about married but cheated on? How about married and abused every day by your alcoholic spouse? How about married but abandoned emotionally or physically? We all know exactly how common these scenarios are. But when you think you HAVE to get married, you may choose an arranged marriage that may not have been God’s plan or will for your life. 

2. There is no specific age that God demands you are married by: We grow up with a number in our head that is our last possible age to get married. Families who are open to their children finding their own spouse start fretting as they cross 25. And then, oh horror, if they touch 30 without finding that elusive spouse! The pressure is ramped up! The emotional blackmail and the desperation go up, and the standards go down. Now, I understand that marrying in your 20s increases your likelihood of having children, which is such a beautiful and central part of what marriage is about. And yet, the biological clock ticking is still not a good enough reason to ‘settle’. Here is a reassuring fact- you can have biological children well into your 30s, and often in your 40s, not to mention the beautiful world of adoption! 

Rolling my eyes so hard I can see my brain

3. You must KNOW the person you are giving yourself to: Do you really think you can know a person based on a couple of meetings, the reports of others, and with a bio including a list of achievements, degrees, hobbies and random adjective like ‘religious, open minded, hardworking, humble’ etc? It’s true that you can’t FULLY know a person ever, and that there will always be surprises after you get married. Yet, you can know far more of a person’s character and priorities by taking time to do so, rather than trusting on what he or she or anyone else says about them. It’s a life changing decision with lifelong repercussions! As I read somewhere, you are choosing the person who will raise your children, you are choosing your travelling companion, the person with whom you will spend most of your leisure time, the one who will most affect your happiness in this life. Isn’t getting to know this person worth taking time over? 

4. Your parents can’t choose for you: Honour your father and mother does not mean that God has delegated to them the responsibility of choosing your spouse. In fact the Catechism of the Catholic Church says “When they become adults, children have the right and duty to choose their profession and state of life… Parents should be careful not to exert pressure on their children either in the choice of profession or in that of a spouse.’ CCC 2230. How many Indian Catholic parents know this? You are not disrespecting your parents or disobeying God if you assert your right to choose your own spouse when and how you feel led to. That of course doesn’t mean you should not listen respectfully and openly to the advice and wisdom of your parents. But listen, pray about it, talk to trusted Catholic mentors, and then make your own decision. You are the one who has to live with your spouse for the rest of your life. 

So how can we take these truths and apply them to arranged marriages? 

1. Pray about the right time for you to get married: Put God first, and seek His direction for your life. Don’t entertain proposals if it is not the right time for you. Maybe God has called you to focus on Him for a while, maybe you are in the middle of a demanding course of studies, maybe you need to grow in maturity, discipline, work on your mental health, or taking responsibility for your life. Share your thoughts with your parents. Set boundaries if they are being pushy or emotionally manipulative. 

2. View potential spouses through the lens of Christ: When you are ready to meet people, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Ask the important questions, and forget about ‘what people will say’. Look at character, priorities, goals and faith. Everything else is fluff. 

3. Take your time: Assert yourself and tell your family and your future spouse that you want to get to know him/ her well before making a decision. “But we don’t do that in my family!” Well, you can be the first! You can do this! Change has to start somewhere. Talk to this potential spouse and plan together ways to get to know each other. Meeting over coffee or in the church compound for brief conversations isn’t enough. Do group activities together, plan a service project together, spend time with each other’s families, go on retreats together, pray together, and talk to experienced married couples together. Revolutionary, you say? Why not start a revolution? Maybe you will be the one to help your younger siblings and cousins to have healthier courtships and marriages. 

4. Feel free to say no: You are a free human being! It doesn’t matter how much anyone else wants the match, or how old you are, or even if you just want to be settled. If you see any red flags, if you see manipulative behaviour, shaky morals, a propensity for alcohol abuse, an unwillingness to communicate, or prioritize faith, don’t rationalize those things away or ignore them. The point of spending time together is to be able to make an informed decision. Even if the wedding date is set, and the guests are invited, say NO! (That goes for love marriages too.) Your life and your future happiness are more important than a temporary dramatic and embarrassing situation. 

5. If you say yes, be ready to LOVE this person: Don’t get married as a business arrangement, as a way of gaining security, or even children. Search your motives. Catholic marriage means choosing to LOVE each other. True love is willing the good of the other. You can grow that love in so many ways- asking about the other persons’ needs and preferences (and not just what you or your parents expect or want), consulting them first before making decisions, finding out their love language and using it, sharing your deepest thoughts, feelings and desires with them, and asking about theirs, and rearranging your life so that they come ahead of parents, friends, career goals, spending habits, or old hobbies. (That doesn’t mean those things and people don’t have a place anymore, just a different place.) All Catholic marriages are called to be love marriages, whether they start as arranged or not. 

The ‘arranged’ way can be a great way to meet potential spouses. Arranged marriages can be good, holy and beautiful witnesses to the unconditional love of God, provided we are willing to re-examine our cultural norms, and align them with the truth and freedom of Christ. God wants all our marriages to be good ones. Whether we are parents hoping to see our children married, or men and women seeking spouses, let’s work with Him to make that happen.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Moving from Pleaser to Rebel to Lover

Most Indians have grown up in a culture that has trained them to meet the expectations of others, to keep everyone happy by toeing the line, by worshiping at the shrine of Social Approval. At school you should be respectful, keep your head down, butter up the powerful teachers, get sentimental about your school, and say the things everyone wants you to say. You have to get good marks in your tenth standard exams, get your name on some kind of Topper’s List, get into the Science stream in Junior College, and then of course move into Engineering or if you’re REALLY smart, Medicine. Well, maybe MBAs are okay too. Everything else is substandard and a disappointment to your family.

If you’re a woman, you should spend most of your time at home, make sure you’re not seen alone with a guy, and don’t try anything too far out of what most Indian girls do. After all, what will people say? At the right age, you must find the right spouse to marry (fair, earning a large salary, from the same community as yourself) and spend the right amount of money on your wedding because that is what the God of Social Approval demands. Let your parents decide for you because Indian Culture. Get the kind of house and job that everyone in your world expects. Have your two children (one boy and one girl) and leave them with their grandparents because that’s what everyone does now. If you dutifully do all that this god demands, you will be rewarded by the love and approval of the world in general.

It may not look exactly like this for every family or culture. There are variations. But usually you should conform to the things that your family and culture cares about. You should have their prejudices, hate the people they hate, mock the things they mock. The same thing happens at school, at college, in church, in your established social circles. Don’t rock the boat. Be a Pleaser. Say the things that make people happy. Fulfil their expectations. That’s what makes you a good daughter, a dutiful son. Pleasers struggle with anxiety, right? Because you are constantly striving to win the approval of everyone, because everyone has an opinion about your life, and if you want their love, you have to win it by heeding their advice. You lose your sense of identity and self-worth as you desperately try to keep everyone in your life happy, and fail anyway.

If you don’t conform, if you choose a career or lifestyle very different from your family, get married too early or too late, have more than two children, marry someone from the wrong community, have an odd hobby or interest, choose to homeschool, convert to a different religion, or support the wrong political party, you will face the consequences. The God of Social Approval will take his revenge—you will be criticized, rejected, ostracized, gossiped about, and held up as an example.

This society and culture is a perfect recipe for the creation of a generation of Rebels. The Rebels have had enough. They reject people-pleasing with such vigour, that they will go out of their way to make sure they don’t accidentally please the older generation. They reject everything to do with tradition and traditional morality, and the religion of their forefathers, and they burn the idols of Social Approval in public at every chance they get. They’ll share posts that often seem defensive or reactionary- ‘Love yourself first!’, ‘Haters gonna hate!’, ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner!’, ‘You do you!’, ‘Buy those shoes! Go on that trip! Pamper yourself!’ and will applaud and support everything that challenges the way things were. Rebels will usually identify as agnostics or atheists (perhaps because the expectations of old were usually connected with religion).

Rebels get to taste the freedom of doing their own thing, and boy, it tastes sweet. Sometimes it means leaving your city or your country, starting anew far from family in a more private culture where nobody knows you and nobody cares what you do with your life. Sometimes it means always being in fighter mode, ready to defend your choices, and show people why you’re right. It can be pretty tiring to live life as a rebel.

Or sometimes the Rebels have stopped defending themselves or their choices. You just quietly live your life on your own terms and just stop caring what the aunties said about you. Maybe you stop caring about everything except what you feel like doing at any given moment. Eat that donut. Flirt with that guy. Read that erotic novel. Take what you want. Go on that expensive vacation. Nobody has the right to judge you. The New God is You.

[Sometimes Rebels aren’t real rebels - you leave one form of people-pleasing for another. Instead of the older generation of your family, you are now trying to win the approval of your new social circle who have pretty stringent rules about what a rebel can and can’t do. Rebels must be down with party culture, with getting drunk, with sexually permissive behaviour (or are they really rebels?). Rebels may not associate themselves with any one traditional religion. (Cults, communes, new age practises are all okay though.) Rebels must not believe in objective morality. Rebels must laugh at anything associated with tradition. These rebels may reach the same state as the Pleasers of feeling stifled and inauthentic, forced to follow arbitrary rules. And then maybe they re-rebel, and choose to stop caring about those rules too.]

Often real rebels reach a point in their life where they have to question whether ME is a satisfactory or worthy god. Maybe you find that ‘you doing you’, an untrammeled life, free of any expectations or restrictions or demands didn’t bring the satisfaction it promised. And that’s when you get to choose what foundation you want to build your life on.

I propose today a new identity for the Pleasers and the Rebels. And that identity is based on a foundation of Love and Truth. No longer must you do things because that’s what is expected of you. No longer must you do things just because they’re NOT expected of you. Set down your cudgels. You don’t have to please everyone, neither do you have to challenge or convince everyone. Even better, you no longer have to worship at the shrine of the changeable, fickle and selfish god of You. You are hereby set free.

Instead you may choose the Real God—the God of love and truth. There are real demands when you choose this God, but not demands that crush you or drain you of your identity. Instead, you are simultaneously set free from your own ego, and are transformed (slowly) into your truest self.

Pope John Paul II said “Love places demands on us. Modern culture says that anything that places demands on us limits our freedom. “How can I be free if I have responsibilities? How can I be free if I have obligations to others?” However, we become most alive when we live for others. Anyone who has fallen in love knows they are most alive when they have given themselves completely and exclusively to the one they love; forgoing all other loves. Love brings inner freedom.

What does this new life look like? It is not marked primarily by ‘doing your own thing’. Instead it is response to each situation with the question ‘What is the wise, truthful and loving thing for me to do?’ It is no longer a reaction to people’s expectations. People may applaud your choices, or they may criticize them, but that is no longer the defining or weightiest factor in your decisions. Mother Teresa didn’t start serving the poor on the streets of Kolkata because she knew that would make people look up to her. She did it because she heard God calling her to do it. She did not stop doing it because people accused her of corruption and ulterior motives. She instead gave one of the wisest and most peace-filled responses I have ever heard: “People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway… In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” She was a Lover par excellence.

A Lover can live a sacrificial life without resentment. A Lover can draw healthy boundaries and stick to them without anger, fear, or guilt. A Lover can be open to reconsidering old opinions in the light of love and truth. A Lover can both respect and love the members of their family without having to agree with everything they believe. A Lover can choose to treat people who identify as LGBTQ with love and respect, and yet not support same-sex marriage, which will most likely make both sides mad at them. They can make counter-cultural choices not because they are counter-cultural but because they believe they are doing what is right. They can choose the truth of the Church, and still call out the crap they see in the human structures that are part of the Church.

Let go of people-pleasing and rebellion. Neither will bring you true peace or freedom. Choose instead the God of love, and become a Lover.