Hi friends and welcome to the Arise, Beloved blog. We have an amazing team of writers behind this blog and our desire is to speak truth into the lies that cripple us and shine light into the darkness that isolates us because we believe that now, more than ever, the Church desperately needs women to be restored so that the world can be set ablaze. Our hope is that you find comfort, solace, and peace in knowing that you are not alone, you are not too far gone and there is ALWAYS hope to be found.
Friends, Romans, country(wo)men…..lend me your ears. Have you ever heard THE call? You know the one I mean. Its seductive whispering assails you one cloudy Tuesday as you innocently traipse through town. Albeit, the voice enters your subconscious more urgently when only five businesses are open in your tiny town. Maybe in this frenzied, I-have-to-get-out-of-the
-house state, my better judgement has dulled like a sword left in the rain.
Who knows? All I know is…I heard the call. Yes, friends. You may have heard this voice too. The pressing, sudden onset, driven by both desperation and desire, of a voice that suggests:
Hey! I could really go for some Taco Bell right now.
My name is Kathleen, and it’s been zero days since I had Taco Bell. Mea culpa.
Just yesterday, I made the (always slightly questionable) decision to go to Taco Bell. I can’t lie to you. Sometimes, that cheese-loaded pretend-chicken Power Burrito sings like a siren in the night, beckoning me towards my demise. Yesterday, it caught me off guard as I passed the purple sign, and, dear reader, I gave in. A minute later, I was whipping into the drive-thru, grinning like the burrito was the prodigal son I was opening my arms to receive.
I greeted the drive-thru worker with the jubilation of a reunited lover and quickly ordered my burrito. Imagine the sinking feeling when she replied, “Yeah, uh, we don’t have that anymore.” PANIC. I was speechless — scrambling. My eyes darted around the neon menu, searching for an alternative. DID THEY SELL OTHER FOOD?! To break the awkward silence with the employee, I joke, “Hang on. I need to reevaluate my entire life.” I heard a muffled snort through the static of the drive thru speaker. The same voice replied, “Listen, I work here. So do I.”
I lost it, y’all. Belly laughter, tears leaked from my eyes. So did my best friend, sitting in the passenger seat. Probably the single greatest drive-thru interaction of my life. Still laughing as we rolled up to the window, I handed the employee my debit card and a gloved hand passed me a plastic bucket containing our brown bag. You could smell the glorious indigestion from the car window. But, when we got back home, I kid you not, there was an extra 5-Layer burrito in the bag. THE LORD IS GOOD AND HE LOVES ME. No further proof needed. Also, whoever the patron saint of burritos is was looking out for me (thanks homie), and that Taco Bell employee and I are probably best friends now.
Real moral of the story. It got me thinking. A drive-thru window is a reflection of the human experience. I give my order; it elicits a response. I hand over my money; I receive food. Our day is peppered with similar reciprocal interactions if you look closely. You pay an Uber driver to take you to a location. You buy a ticket to a movie theater so you can watch a film. You help your brother with his homework and he helps you with a chore.
We thrive on conditional relationships. “If” you do this for me, “then” I will render some service in return. It is the basis for a fair human society, in many ways. We are taught that good actions should be repaid with good actions, and it should. Behavior experts teach that working towards a reward is sometimes necessary for motivation. Think of the mother who says, “Honey, if you eat your broccoli, then you can have ice cream.”
In some ways, these “if….then” statements spur me onwards. If I work really hard today, then I can enjoy Sunday off with my family. If I save ten dollars a day, then I’ll have enough pretty soon to buy that car I want. If I train frequently, then I’ll be able to run a half-marathon. These “if…then” statements are not intrinsically evil. Reciprocal relationships are a good thing most of the time.
Problems arise, however, when this notion of reciprocity bleeds into my relationships with the people I love. I’ve struggled with this throughout my life. This idea that I need to earn things has colored my thinking and motivated my actions for years. I worked hard in school so that I could earn good grades and in basketball to earn a win with my team. Good things.
But I also started to strive in unhealthy ways, believing the dangerous notion that I needed to earn the love of other people. In one particular relationship in my life, I thought that if I could just become good at the things that I shared with that person, then I could become someone that was worthy of their love. This shattered my heart time and time again. Why? Because no matter how good, how strong, how intelligent, how beautiful, how….anything….I became, it did not alter who that person chose to be. Sure, my strivings bonded us over brief moments and shared memories. But at the end of the day, that person was still human, too, composed of imperfections and unable to love me in the way that I believed that I so desperately needed. No matter how I changed my approach, I kept smashing into the same roadblock: I could not earn someone else’s love.
This false reality majorly twisted my perception of God. To this day, I still battle the gnashing, ugly interior restlessness that screams: You’re not doing ENOUGH. You have to earn God’s love, just like you’ve had to earn everything else good in your life! Pray more Rosaries! Go to daily Mass! Be kinder to your family! Then, the voice taunts, then He will love you. Then, He will look at you with favor. Then, He will finally be proud of His daughter.
Oh, sisters, what a disgusting lie that is. I pray that you can be spared of the pain of ever believing the lie that we have to earn the love of God.
Love is a gift. It is freely given. It cannot be earned. It cannot be bought. It cannot be bargained for. Human love is conditional. Whether we realize it or not, we often attach conditions to our love. God’s love, on the other hand, is given without a single condition attached. You have not earned it, and you never will have to. You are not entitled to it because you perform holy works. No one is, not even the greatest saints who walked before us were entitled to God’s love.
God loves in a way that we can’t comprehend. He loves, even without expecting anything in return. He tenderly loves the academically brilliant atheist who staunchly rails against His existence. He tenderly loves the drug-addict crouched alone under a bridge who lost faith years before. He tenderly loves the Buddist monk and the Jewish rabbi and the Hindu priest. God loves both those who know Him and those who don’t.
We do not have to earn His love. If this is unfathomable, or hard, or frustrating, ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand. He always comes faithfully to those who ask. If you don’t understand it right away, I’m walking that road with you. Twenty-four years down the journey and I’m still trying to shake the idea that I don’t have to earn Christ’s love. The very first line from the Litany of Trust, which is an incredible prayer (link below), always touches me deeply:
From the belief that I have to earn your love…deliver me, Jesus.
There is such freedom in being delivered from this belief. Sisters, He loves you because you exist. Nothing more. For no other reason. Look at a crucifix. That was your worth. That is how much you matter to Christ. His hands and feet bled crimson because He passionately loves you, regardless of whether you choose to love Him in return or not. Reciprocity doesn’t matter to Christ. It delights His heart when we love Him faithfully, but if we don’t, it doesn’t change the reality that He loves you beyond measure.
I recently stumbled upon this quote by Henri Nouwen, who has written some really incredible spiritual books, so I’ll end with the words of someone far wiser than myself:
God loved you before you were born, and God will love you after you die. In Scripture, God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” This is a very fundamental truth of your identity. This is who you are whether you feel it or not. You belong to God from eternity to eternity. Life is just a little opportunity for you during a few years to say, “I love you, too.”