Search Books:

Join our mailing list:

Recent Articles

The Mystery Murder Case of the Century
by Robert Tanenbaum

by Anna Godbersen

Songs of 1966 That Make Me Wish I Could Sing
by Elizabeth Crook

The Opposite of Loneliness
by Marina Keegan

Remembering Ethel Merman
by Tony Cointreau

The Eleven Nutritional Commandments for Joint Health
by Richard Diana


How Big Is Your God?: The Freedom to Experience the Divine Excerpt from How Big Is Your God?: The Freedom to Experience the Divine

by Paul Coutinho, SJ

The Enslaving Illusion of Love

Love is one of the greatest illusions that people have. This illusion of love is often the biggest obstacle to our relationship with God and to our greater and deeper experience of the Divine.

Reflect for a moment on the story of the couple who were so madly in love that every parent who had a teenage child would point to them and say, "If you want to know what love is, look at that couple." One day the man died. The woman was so devastated that on his tombstone she had engraved in bold letters, 'The light of my life is gone." People would go there to show their children that inscription and to talk about this ideal couple and how they loved each other. People also stopped by to console the woman, and one man stopped by often. He fell in love with the woman, and eventually she fell in love with him, and soon she wanted to get married again. But that tombstone was an embarrassment. They went to their pastor for advice. He said, "Let it be; don't worry. You have written, 'The light of my life is gone: Just add 'I have struck another match.'"

Abraham Lincoln once said that everyone is as happy as he or she chooses to be. Happiness, therefore, is an inner choice. When someone loves you, that person does not make you happy but makes you aware of the source of your happiness within you. Therefore, when someone you love rejects you, or goes away or dies, that person does not take your happiness with him or her.

When we cling to the love of another person or are dependent on it for our happiness, we become enslaved to that relationship. We fool ourselves by believing that our happiness comes from that person instead of from the river of divine life and because we are the beloved of God. Such a relationship is not a truly unconditional loving relationship. True love lets me freely be who I am.

God's most precious gifts are sometimes the very obstacles that stand in the way of our deepening our relationship with the Divine. Sometimes our relationships, even good ones, prevent us from moving to a higher spiritual level. Ramakrishna, one of the great Indian sages, tells this story:

There was a holy man who wandered the forests, always lost in the presence of God. Through his wanderings, he came to the city one day and found a young man, a wonderful man, and said to him, "Why are you wasting your time here? Come with me into the forest, and I will show you how to experience God, peace, and happiness." The young man said, "I can't do that. I have a wife who loves me dearly; she would be devastated if I went away. I have children who depend on me. They love me so much. Our family is so close to one another. There is so much love in this family. I cannot just leave them and go." The holy man said, "This is an illusion. It is a figment of your imagination. They don't love you the way you think they do. You don't love them the way you think you do." And the young man replied, "Of course I do." So the holy man said, "Let's test this."

The holy man suggested, "I will give you this little potion. When you go home, drink it, and you will fall down as if you are dead, but you will be aware of everything that is going on. I promise you that shortly I will come and revive you." The young man agreed. He went home, took that potion, and fell down as if he were dead. His wife was the first one to find him, and she began screaming and yelling and could not be consoled. "This husband of mine," she cried, "I love him so much. Why did God take him away so soon and so quickly?" His children also could not be consoled. All the neighbors were in the house trying to help the family. They were also talking about how much they loved this man. And the young man was thinking, I  hope the holy man comes now, because he would then see for himself how much I am loved and cared for.

The holy man appeared. He asked, "What happened?" The wife said, 'This husband of mine -- l loved him so much and now he is gone, and I do not know what I am going to do without him." The children said the same thing. The neighbors were talking about him too. The holy man announced, "I can revive this man. I have this little potion. If I put it into his mouth, he will come back to life." And everyone stopped crying and looked forward in hope. "But there is one condition for this potion to work. One of you has to take half of it, and you will die. I am sure you love him very much and will have no problem doing this."

The wife spoke first. She said, "What is a home without a mother? This man does not know how to cook. This man will not be able to take care of the children." So, she said, she could not possibly take the potion. The children said, "Papa lived a good life. God will reward him. We are young and have our own lives to lead." The neighbors had their own families, so no one among them was willing to take the potion. The holy man revived the young man, and without turning back, the young man followed the holy man into the forest.

Now, I am not suggesting that you leave all your loved ones and go into the forest. What I am saying is that you should look at this great illusion of love for what it is. Don't give your loved ones and friends more importance, more value than they have. Jesus said, "Unless you hate your father and your mother and your brothers and sisters, you cannot be my disciple." I am not saying that you should stop loving your family. Jesus did not say that. Jesus said, "Love them with all your heart and all your soul. Love them like you love God. Love them like you love yourself." Love them, but know that you have to let go of them at the same time so that you will be able to follow God totally and unconditionally. This is something that we all need to think about. We all have to face this illusion in some manner, and the consequences of how we do so are very real.

When my mother died, all of us at home were worried about our father. He had spent forty-seven years married to my mother and was very devoted to her. We wondered if my father would die now that the love of his life was gone. But he didn't; he survived. He lived for twelve years after her death. Not only did he live, but he was fully alive. He was fully present to life. Of course he missed my mother. Of course he talked about my mother. But her death did not devastate him; it did not kill him.

When people die, we miss them and we cry for them, but if we truly loved them and freely enjoyed them, we cry because we're happy. The tears are tears of happiness, their lives were a gift to us and we remember the happy moments. Because we fully enjoyed them, we are free to let them go on the physical level and stay connected to them on the spiritual level.

This is true even in our relationship with the Divine. One of St. Ignatius's axioms is "Pray as if every thing depended on God and work as if everything depended on you." What St. Ignatius is saying is that we need to give ourselves fully to the task, in which God is laboring, and trust fully in the Divine. This reflects a childlike approach rather than a childish approach. In this relationship, we are free to be who we are, and God is free to be divine. This relationship is one of freeing love.

Copyright © 2007 Paul Coutinho, SJ