“I don’t know what I am going to do,” my friend Tony slowly shook his head as I inquired about his anticipation of his second child. “Monique, I’m really afraid. I love my first-born daughter so much; I am terrified that I will have no love left for this new little one. I know it’s last minute, but I don’t think my heart is big enough to be the father that God is asking me to be.”
I have recalled this conversation so many times since it took place; in fact, these babies have likely graduated from college by now! It is a relevant illustration of the dilemma that most of us feel at some time on our spiritual journey.
Can I trust my understanding of love to be enough?
How does my personal experience of conditional, human love influence my trust of Divine love? On this winding journey of faith, we want to know that we are on the right track; that we have followed God’s cues correctly. When these realities coalesce and consolation translates into an increase of love, we can feel like we have hit the jackpot! Yet, in the Ignatian tradition, consolation is less a felt-emotion than deep conviction, it often manifests for me as ‘hoping with determination.’
A year ago, pressed to make a difficult life choice concerning my ministry, I wrestled intensely with the options. The dream job that long brought immense joy, now found me tossing and turning each night. As I laid my grief before God and attempted to quiet my heart in prayer, the anxiety and fear that clutched at my heart still held their grip.
With each person I spoke to as I moved forward through the steps of departure, I found myself viewing my decision from their different perspectives. Some affirmed my choice, but others voiced the anxiety that still half-curled in my gut. With every articulation of what I longed for; I affirmed my choice to myself. This is the gritty, hang-on-by-your-fingernails, ‘hoping with determination’ that I mentioned earlier about how discernment often works for me. The increase in consolation, as I embraced a position in a new agency, also resulted in an increase of love – for myself! This took me by surprise. Love for self was not something I had considered at all. My decisions have usually been based on what’s best for others. Perhaps, discernment done well is the most authentic, mysterious self-love there is.
There is something to be said for review and repetition. With each articulation to others, I stretched my conviction to match my behavior and thinking. Flexibility in imagining the end goal helped. Therese of Lisieux writes somewhere in her Story of a Soul of ‘faking it until you make it.’ I didn’t feel it right away, the consolation of having discerned well, but I kept acting as if I did. Another thing I did when faced with this daunting decision, was to write out what I’d discerned in a phrase. I pasted the phrase on the mirror and took a picture of it for my phone’s lock screen. When viewed during the day, I could take baby steps forward in hopeful determination about the discernment of my choice.
Six months after I first spoke to Tony, his baby daughter was born. The next time I saw him I asked, ‘Well, how is your heart?’ His face transformed into a glowing reflection of what was nearly impossible to put into words. ‘Monique,’ he blurted, ‘I don’t know how it happened, but my heart got bigger; I can love more than I thought!’
The last thing I want to convey, in this writing, is that consolation – or the increase in love – is a reward for a job well done. That would be a mistake. The abundant generosity of the Divine gives us the hope and the conviction that God also gives this gift of consolation freely, completely detached from any well-discerned decision or even the deeply held faith that God must know best. Sometimes, consolation comes to us directly from the Holy Spirit. In the midst of our grayness, there comes an unquenchable light of knowledge that God loves us to our core and that this love is unbreakable.
It is also important to clarify that an increase in love may not relate to an increase in felt-love as in: the emotion. The hopeful determination that is often present for me helps bridge any lack of cohesion that I may still be feeling through discernment and even in consolation. A second sight arises; a sight, which allows me to see beyond what is gratifying or not, holding onto the comfort that more grace is coming and the Divine is present, in spite of all the insecurities I may still feel within myself.
- Have you ever documented how an ‘increase in love’ may have manifested for you during consolation? Is that ‘increase’ directly related to something you have experienced before or is there an invitation to a new, more expansive relationship?
- Ponder the excerpt from Henri Nouwen SJ – Do not be afraid of loving deeply
- Listen to the beautiful song “Promises,” by TRIBL describing a love that goes the distance. This song is used as a virtual retreat resource by Becky on her website listed under Prayer Resources.
- Sometimes it can be so incredibly hard to describe our longing for an increase in love; words can get in the way. Listen to Becky’s Soundcloud channel, as Stephanie shares the Imaginative Prayer experience of the woman and The Alabaster Jar.
Photo by Karim Manjra on Unsplash