I accept the challenge that was proposed by a dear friend of mine to my last article “To Women: Be What God Made You.” My phrase “love is a controlled decision” apparently received some vehement disagreements. Some readers interpreted controlled as forced. What I mean by controlled, however, is self-mastery. In other words, when I say “love is a controlled decision,” I mean: “true love requires self-mastery.”
In fairness to my friend and to those others in disagreement, I will try to explain my terminology as best I can. The context of my previous article is love versus lust, while the context of this article is true love in the lesser and in the greater sense.
To make your reading comprehension as simple as possible, I will distinguish between two senses of true love: (a) love with desire and (b) love without desire. I will argue that both (a) and (b) are equally true love, but that (b) is more meritorious than (a). (a) Example: I enjoy singing. I will sing at an old folks home out of love. (b) Example: I am embarrassed to sing. I will sing at an old folks home out of love
Now I ask you to fill yourself with peace and pray over these lines of Scripture: “He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.’ […] He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” (Luke 22:41-44) Moreover, “The Father loves me because I lay down my life that I may have it back again. No one can take my life from me. I lay my life down voluntarily.” (John 10:17-18)
With these lines I hope to show you that love is not just a feeling of desire, but a response to make yourself a living sacrifice for another, no matter how you feel. For example, some people will say that those martyrs that were courageously fearless had more merit, but I actually think that those who were in tremendous fear were the ones that gave God the most glory. The fearful martyrs not only had to fight for the Truth, as did the courageous martyrs, but they also had to fight against their own desire (to live). This example serves to show how (b) is more meritorious than (a).
I will use my own grandparents, the cutest couple in the world whose marriage has been blessed for over fifty years, as an example to demonstrate the previous point. My grandmother tells me that every day her love for my grandfather intensifies to a degree she never knew was possible.
One day, in one of our daily telephone calls, I asked her for their secret in staying in love. She said to me, “every day I decide to love him.” My own mother tells me that not once did my grandmother raise her voice at my grandfather. Only once, in the beginning of their marriage, did my grandfather yell at my grandmother, who did not react in anger but simply sat down in peace to wait for my grandfather to realize his lack of control and regain self-mastery. Thus, (b) is more meritorious than (a), because if my grandmother would have accepted disrespect as an appropriate expression I think they would have allowed themselves to fall out of love through an emotional reaction.
Just like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, sometimes I also don’t feel like loving, because to love entails accepting suffering. Think about that. To truly love someone you have to vulnerably open your heart to suffering. The ultimate sign of God’s love for us is Christ’s suffering on the Cross! It is when you don’t feel like loving/suffering, like Christ and the fearful martyrs, that your love is more meritorious because your have to fight your own will for the sake of the Father’s will and the one you love: “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine” (Luke 22:41-42).
We are never forced to love someone, just like Christ was never forced to die for us. This is not what I mean by “love is a controlled decision.” I mean that sometimes, out of love, we control and even deny our own desires for the sake of the other. For example, just because I have an urge to have sex with my (hypothetical) husband who has two broken legs doesn’t mean that I should in that given moment fulfill my desires. Out of love for him, I decide to control my desires and practice self-mastery.
Love is always a free gift of self. Feelings in love can be very intense, comforting, encouraging, and can serve as a great example to others, as do the courageous martyrs. But I also think that love without desire can serve as good example as well, as the fearsome martyrs. In sum, (a) love with desire is real love; I do not deny this. However, (b) love without desire, as my grandparents, the fearsome martyrs, and Christ Himself experienced, can be even more meritorious.
God is love, to the extent that we can call God ‘Love Himself.’ If you agree so far, then you would also agree with me that it is from God that we should learn how to love. The Gospels show us Jesus loving (a) with desire and (b) without desire. For example, Christ healed many people without having to suffer Himself, but the ultimate healing, the healing of our souls, is where He did suffer Himself on the Cross. In sum, both (a) and (b) are true love, but (b) is more meritorious because it is here that you continue to love even when you don’t feel like loving. Christ shows us this in His Passion, where He controls and denies His own desires for our sake: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and daily follow me” (Luke 9:23).
In conclusion, I say “love is a controlled decision” in reference to (b), loving even when you don’t feel like it. I think it is safe to say that everyone wants to love and to be loved in this sense. I want you to love me even when you don’t want to, because certainly if Christ had not fought His will in the Garden you and I would not have been redeemed. We are to be reflections of Christ to each other: Christ loves us even when we hurt Him. “Love (in the highest sense) is a controlled decision.”
My grandparents are still married because everyday, just like Christ, they decide to love each other, with self-mastery. Luckily, the majority of the time God blesses them with a desire to love each other (and these are the days they dance in the kitchen). This article serves to encourage men and women to love each other in a Christ-like manner: for better or for worse. Thanks be to God that He blesses us with the desire to express our love. Let us decide to love with self-mastery by expressing these desires in a way that is pleasing to God.
Alexandra Richards is a long-time Atlanta resident and a senior at at Holy Spirit College. Her major is philosophy and her particular interests include ethics, phenomenology, and classical metaphysics. Alexandra actively participates in several ministries and outreaches within the Archdiocese of Atlanta, where she teaches numerous catechetical subjects, especially Theology of the Body.