“19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
I John 4:19-21
“The mystery of love is that it protects and respects the aloneness of the other and creates the free space where he can convert his loneliness into a solitude that can be shared. In this solitude we can strengthen each other by mutual respect, by careful consideration of each other’s individuality, by an obedient distance from each other’s privacy and by a reverent understanding of the sacredness of the human heart. In this solitude we encourage each other to enter into the silence of our innermost being and discover there the voice that calls us beyond the limits of human togetherness to a new communion. In this solitude we can slowly become aware of a presence of him who embraces friends and lovers and offers us the freedom to love each other, because he loved us first.”
We often bring out quotes from the Bible when talking about marriage. We choose things like “The two shall become one.” The truth of that statement may never be fully understood, even by those who have experienced a long and healthy marriage. At the same time we realize that, much like the Trinity, we are still more than one person. In the Trinity there are three. Presently in my marriage there are two, though there may be more someday. Marriage has always been a picture of God.
Never forget that there are three persons in the Trinity and we do well not to forget there is more than one person in our marriage. The “oneness” is the will with which we shall act. What the world outside of my marriage should always see is one. Inside the marriage, however, I would do well to see that my wife is an individual, just as I am, and there are times when we need our distance from the world and from each other. This is the mystery of love. Our solitude must be protected and even though my wife is allowed deeper into my soul than any other human on this earth, God is deeper still.
Nouwen is actually talking about more than marriage here, though. Just before this statement he says, “Without the solitude of heart, our relationships with others easily become needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent and sentimental, exploitative and parasitic, because without the solitude of heart we cannot experience the others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own, often hidden, needs.”
Wow. That’s deep – and true. Nouwen is explaining a problem we see all around us in our world: people use and abuse each other. Why do we do this? Because our deepest needs are not being met and we are attempting to fill them with relationships with those around us. Perhaps marriage is one of the most oft-abused relationships of all. At the deepest level, our emotional, relational, and spiritual needs are meant to be met by God. This happens in deep heart solitude. So when we avoid the most intimate level of our relationship with God, how can these needs be met? These same needs, when not submitted to the grace of God, can become twisted and imperfect. They are compromised by greed, dependency, exploitation, and perverted emotion. All these needs are natural but how we seek to fulfill them often is not.
What strikes me about all this is that I cannot deny it. I want to . . . but I cannot. I see it in myself. How often do I find my relationships going awry because the sinful forces of this world have perverted and changed something that was initially pure in motive? Sin crashes in and relationships are shattered and each party goes off in sorrow because neither one of them ever intended the results that came. We clumsily reached out to another and, in the darkness of this world, we inflicted pain.
My needs must first be met in the solitude of my heart so that I can act with pure intentions towards those around me. It is there in that solitude where God can purify me and prepare me to love the world around me with the perfect love of He who loved us first.