Sunday, July 03, 2011

“You…complete…me”—yeah, right

What does that mean? That I'm incomplete without you? In saying, "you complete me," I admit I'm using you for my own benefit—i.e., to feel whole; I want to exploit you for my own benefit. Here's how Merton describes this sort of "love":
A selfish love seldom respects the rights of the beloved to be an autonomous person.... this love seeks to keep him in subjection to ourselves. It insists that he conform himself to us, and it works in every possible way to make him do so.
No Man Is an Island 1.8 (p.9)
How creepy is that? Contrast that with Paul's word that love "is not self-seeking" (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV) or Merton's description of unselfish love:
Charity makes me seek for more than the satisfaction of my own desires, even though they be aimed at another's good.... My will must be the instrument of God's will in helping them create their own destiny.
No Man Is an Island 1.6 (p.7)
Now Peck defined love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." (The Road Less Traveled, p.81). I think love means more than that, but it doesn't mean less, and in particular love doesn't include the will to exploit you for my personal benefit.

The exception to all this is that we can love God without wanting to nurture His spiritual growth; we love God, we reciprocate God's love for us, in order to help ourselves grow.

But if that's OK, why is it so bad if I "love" you in order to make me feel good/whole/significant/whatever? There is so much wrong with that idea, it's hard to know where to begin:

  • It's unfair to you.
    It burdens you with heavy expectations.
  • It's selfish.
  • It's dumb
    which in this case means it's doomed to failure because you can't save me from myself. And therefore...
  • It's based on a lie.
  • It stops me from serving or giving to you
    because I'm too busy using you; I'm clinging to you to get meaning/joy/whatever from life and so I can't afford to let go
  • It denies God his proper place in my life.
    The Lord is my shepherd; you can't be. (Psalm 23; John 10)
And did I mention that it's selfish and doomed to failure?


Ren said...

definitely. SO true. If only everyone knew this, then we would have many more happy couples and a lot fewer divorces (well, in theory)! Caring about yourself comes together with being able to love other people...latching onto someone and defining yourself through them does not work. :(

Collin said...

My old friend Jan (who's younger than I am) pointed me at Piper's poem about being a Christian hedonist, which makes the excellent point that love is not just about duty -- though love does imply some obligation (if I say I love you but never do anything for you, always insist on doing things my way rather than yours, put my wants above your needs -- that would give you reason to doubt my sincerity).

Indeed, love is not only about being committed to your well-being, as I noted in this post. What I want to be clear on though is that, whereas love isn't opposed to delight or even to duty, my love for you does not demand that you love me back, that you cater to my dependence, etc.

In other words, love is not like the fellow who said, "My wife and I were two fleas, each thinking the other was the dog."