Recently I met with two men who are recent college grads – one who is thinking of entering religious life and one who is engaged to be married. Both are great guys and, as I listened, both had the same fear.
The man considering religious life said: “I want to do this, but does it have to be my entire life? I don’t think I could live in community or with a vow of chastity for the rest of my life.”
The engaged man said: “I really love my fiancé. But love her forever? I just don’t know.”
Both of these men have what I am now starting to call the “fear of forever.” And it’s not just limited to them. It’s a general fear found within our culture. We are always on the look out for something better, newer, more exciting, more fulfilling (swipe right). The possibility of choosing and staying with one vocation/commitment/spouse over a lifetime can seem terrifying.
I think this fear comes from our over identification of love as sentiment and feeling and not, as St. Francis de Sales teaches, a decision. And love is not just a “once-and-done” decision, but a decision that grows, develops, and deepens over time. It also comes from our mistaken idea that people do not change and that the relationship I have with another now is the same relationship that I will have with them later. And, in many cases, this is not the deep relationship I would want forever, so I look for a way out of it.
Pope Francis talked about this same idea recently when he compared a love relationship to building a house. He said: “Does one person by himself build a house? No – a house is built by many people together over time. ’To build’ means to foster and help growth. You are preparing yourselves to grow together, to build a life, to live as community and in relationships forever. You don’t want to build it on the sand of sentiments and emotion, but on the rock of the love of God that is stable and forever. And we want the love of God, which is forever, present in our lives, our relationships, and our communities. We must not let ourselves be conquered by the ‘culture of the temporary!’ This culture that invades everyone today is not the way.’”
So, how do we cure this fear of ‘forever’ in our lives? We cure it little by little everyday by taking little steps to deepen our relationship with God and with each other, often through saying things like “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” “Please forgive me,” “Help me please.” And as we reach out in this way, the other person also responds back to us. And, as we grow to know each other better, we become more comfortable around each other. As we get to know each other better the fear of forever, of commitment, begins to vanish. Commitment means that you dedicate yourself to deepening and growing with another person or group. And as the relationships deepen, and we commit to each other, we begin to love each other not for what we can give each other but for who we are in and to each other. And as we know and become known, the fear of forever slowly begins to vanish, as you realize that here with this group or this person, you finally belong.
~ Fr. Michael E. Newman, OSFS