When I examine my life and my conscience, sometimes I find that my desire to find a spouse has been so all-consuming that it has become a kind of idolatry. I care more about attaining to some happy future than I do about my life in the present and the people who are in my life right now. Sometimes I care about it even more than I care about my relationship with God. Sometimes I even let it turn me against God. I give in to worry and self-pity and lose my trust and my hope in Him. I forget all about the many blessings He has given me and instead become ungrateful and resentful and self-centered, and envious and bitter toward other people. It can be really hard not to give into this downward spiral.
Not to make excuses for my own part in that, but there are a lot of external pressures, both from society at large and from family and friends. With the latter especially, it may be well-meaning pressure, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing; in fact it can be much harder to cope with loved ones than with society, because you are more likely to care what your loved ones think of you. I should also say that sometimes I am my own worst enemy, in that I can be especially sensitive and self-conscious about my state in life, so that if a friend offers me fashion advice, I may assume she’s telling me I am not attractive enough, or if my mother comments on how much she wishes she had grandchildren, I may assume that she is profoundly disappointed in me, maybe even a little resentful. Such assumptions likely have little or nothing to do with reality. More likely, they are whispers of the devil. Whispers that are actually more like spears that know exactly where your armor is weak.
The real problem is giving heed to those whispers of the devil. The desire to find a spouse, the desire to have a happy and fulfilling life, the desire to win esteem from those around us–these are all perfectly natural and good and necessary drives. Our hearts naturally yearn for love, happiness, and approval. But our hearts, fallen as they are, often seek them in the wrong places. They seek them in the world… the world that is too often in thrall to the devil and chock full of pitfalls and mesmerizing diversions. Yearning after things in the world is the very root of all idolatry. We may not make idols as ancient pagans did–we don’t have to make them. They are already here, everywhere we turn. Everything in this world, including our own hearts, our own natures, are susceptible to distortion and corruption.
So clearly, we must look beyond this world. We must reinforce the weak spots in our armor. We must shore up our courage and be very vigilant. We must keep our minds trained upon what is real, what is good, what is true, what is right, what is at hand right now. We must pray for our society and we must assume the best of our loved ones–or at least be willing to forgive and forget any seeming inconsideration or careless slips of the tongue on their part. Above all, we must cling fast to our true God, our only true God, our only help and our only hope. Ultimately, despite all the outside influences, it all comes down to us and God and the relationship between us.
I find the image of God as our Good Shepherd especially powerful in keeping me close to Him. God is always there for us. He lets us run loose, hurry ahead, dally behind. He speaks to us, calls after us, but He doesn’t force us to listen. He even lets us run straight into trouble if we really have our hearts set on it–and let’s face it, we often do, and in those moments, we couldn’t care less about Him or where He is or the sound of His voice. But He is there when we need Him and want Him. If our hands reach out for Him, they will find Him. If we cry for Him, He will come. He is ever alert to our little bleats. He may break our little sheep legs if we wander off one too many times–but that is an act of mercy, not punishment, and He will carry us is His own arms, especially close to His heart, until we heal and start running around again.
And then, there is the Crucifix. Nothing sums up the relationship between God and mankind like the Crucifix. St. John of the Cross said: “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” Before a Crucifix, there can be no complaining, no quarreling, no rebellion, no self-pity, no shaking your fist at God. Not if you really look at it and think about it. There is just the stark realization that God’s love for us is so vast that it is beyond our understanding. I think it’s a really good idea to buy your own Crucifix for your home. I have a couple. And sometimes it helps to take one down from the wall, into my own hands. Somehow it becomes even more “real.” If I can pray in no other way, I just take the Crucifix and hold it and look at it and press it against my shoulder. And that helps me to feel very close to God and to His Sacrifice.
Finally, I wouldn’t be much of a Dominican if I didn’t recommend the Rosary! It is another really good way to draw us into the life and the person of our Lord, with help from His mother Mary. When I first started praying the Rosary, I found this site most helpful. For each decade of each set of Mysteries, it gives 10 brief meditations. It’s a good way to get into the habit of meditating while praying the vocal prayers.
Those are just a few things that help me to remain focused on God and His love for me and my love for Him. That is of the utmost importance in order for any of us to find any kind of happiness. As the priest says to the countess in Bernanos’ The Diary of a Country Priest, “[God] is not the master of love, He is love itself. If you wish to love, do not put yourself beyond love’s reach.”