Loving God more than your earthly dearest
Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a post that I began early in August but now’s as good as time as any to finish since I’ve had so many related conversations since. Proceed.
I couldn’t stop thinking about a brief conversation I had with a friend earlier this summer. We were talking about relationships and I asked whether or not it was important that the person he dated was a Christian. He said something like: Of course. Why wouldn’t I want to date a Christian woman? I thought of a handful of couples I knew who made it work–probably one of the most interesting one being a pastor + atheist [or is it agnostic…I can’t recall]. But they make it work. How, I’m not sure. But they do. Then he said something that stuck. Not because I didn’t agree with what he said. Rather, the contrary. It was a belief I held and in hindsight felt was missing in prior relationships. He said something like: I want to be with a woman who loves God more than she loves me. At least I think that’s what I heard. For some, this sounds weird. Why wouldn’t we love our partner/spouse more than anyone or anything else, right?
I’ve been catching up on my C.S. Lewis readings this summer. If we’re friends on facebook or twitter then that’s probably apparent based on all the quotes and links I’ve been putting up. I recently came across this quote from Lewis that I’ve been sitting with, mostly because it articulates some of this desire I’ve had to find a partner who tracks with me on this:
“When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving toward the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.”
When I think about discipleship, [to which I feel this Lewis quote relates], it’s not a stretch. It makes all the sense in the world that when you say “yes” to Christ, those things, including family and friends, are second to following Christ. And I’m not talking about living a life of solitude as a recluse away from community. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians has his own views [recommendations, really] on singleness and marriage [see 1 Corinthians 7], which is a much longer conversation on whether or not being married detracts from service to God. This is a very different notion of marriage from our own [perhaps Western] understanding of the utilitarian or self-serving purposes of marriage. But on to the conversation.
Loving God better than our earthly dearest.
I posted the Lewis quote on my facebook page on August 9. An interesting slew of comments followed. 16 to be exact and a few offline convos to add to that. Responses like:
> Beautiful sentiment, and certainly true, but I’m as likely to pull this off as I am to bench press 300 pounds. I’m just not that strong.
> I used to share the same sentiment. But these days, I am more inclined to think that loving God = loving my dearest/neighbor = loving self and that it’s all one and the same. Dichotomies like this make it really hard for us all, until we realize there is no either/or and then poof, it becomes effortless. Or at least much much more doable. And without the judgment and the suffering we put on ourselves.
> While I love Lewis’ sentiment (and recognize with [the commentor above] the tendency Lewis has to exaggerate dichotomies), and I believe there is a love of God that does indeed draw one closer to love of neighbor, there are certainly also less healthy ways of loving God that are at the expense of love of neighbor.
> …but there is an important clarification to make. As we love God more fully, we love our partners, friends, neighbors, ourselves and even enemies more fully. But this cannot be true in the reverse. I cannot love myself into a deeper love for God. I cannot love even my partner into a deeper love for God. The closer I draw to God and the more I love God, the more capacity I have for loving others.
Is the concept of loving God first above all so foreign to us? Is our response to love God conditional [I love God but…] rather than seeing that loving our partner [or our neighbor, for that matter] more deeply is a result of being so in love with God?
That’s all I’ve got for now. Try it. Try loving God more than your earthly dearest. See if your relationships with others don’t grow deeper as a result.