“Honey, I love you, really, I do. But being married to you is a burden.”
My students were asked to imagine that a husband came home and said this to his wife. Already, there was a bit of disdain in their eyes for the husband.
“Oh, I am? How am I so burdensome?”
“Well, I love you, but sometimes I want to do things and I can’t because of you.”
“There are a lot of attractive and smart women I run into at work and I can’t date any of them. Sometimes I want to just catch a plane and fly to Florida for a week, but I would have to tell you first and you might want to come. You are interesting and wonderful and I love you, but sometimes marriage is restrictive.”
Each time I told this to my students, it worked. They did not think highly of the husband and were, rightfully so, annoyed with his list of burdens.
Wow, they gasp, he is the worst.
But aren’t these things true? I asked my students. He isn’t allowed to date other women, is he?
No, they reply.
Shouldn’t he talk to his wife about flying off to Florida for a week before he does it?
Yes, they say.
So what is wrong about what he is saying? Why shouldn’t he say these things when they are true?
After very little discussion, because it seems so obvious, they tell me that he has the wrong perspective. He isn’t focusing on his relationship with his wife, but simply all the things he cannot do because of his relationship with her.
Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI
You are correct, I tell them, the husband focuses only on the restrictions of this relationship instead of the love he has for her.
But isn’t this sometimes what we do with God?
At times, we only focus on the restrictions that are found in following the Lord. This prevents us from fully appreciating the goodness that comes from being in relationship with Him. The primary hallmark of Christianity is not that we follow specific rules, although we do have commands to follow. Rather, it is that we are in love with a Person. The rules that are given to us are there for the sake of the relationship. Following rules would be a pitiful end in and of itself. Even with my fondness for rules, I never would have become a Theology teacher if it meant simply telling other people about a long list of rules.
When we insist on reducing Christianity to a moral code, then we have effectively dissected the heart from it and are left with an empty shell. This doesn’t mean that rules are unimportant, but rather that we must always remember they are a means to an end. God-given commands are not mere guidelines, as though Jesus had an “if you want to” mentality. Yet everything Jesus asks us to do is for the sake of being in relationship with Him.
For example, we are called to go to Mass every Sunday. However, we can attend Mass on Sunday with two very different perspectives.
1. I am obligated to be here, so I am here.
2. The Lord desires to encounter me by giving me His very self. I desire to encounter Him and give Him myself, too.
One puts the rule first and the other focuses on the Person. They both result in Mass attendance, but one is far superior to the other. Jesus didn’t come to make us into excellent rule followers. He came to make us into a new creation and to give us new life. The law He gives is a law of freedom. He frees us for a radical relationship with Himself, one that will satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. He wants far, far more from us than blind obedience: He wants all of us. He wants the heart, because whoever has the heart, has the whole person.
Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
If we look with disdain upon the husband who bluntly tells his wife how their marriage is burdensome, then perhaps we should evaluate our relationship with God to see if the same sentiment is found there.
Do I view God’s law as a burden or as freedom? Do I seek God as a rule-follower or as a lover? Do I focus on the restrictions or do I order my life around being in love with a Person?