Third and final in a series
I AM VERY aware that memory plays tricks on us. Perhaps the tricks increase as we grow older. As I have aged, I have become increasingly aware that my memories may be less than completely accurate. Indeed, sometimes they are totally incorrect. Having admitted that, I am still confident that in my recollection of my six years as a major seminarian, there was little emphasis on the importance of interpersonal relationships in any class or spirituality program. There was almost a negative view of interpersonal relationships, almost a view that they interfered with your relationship with God.
My view of interpersonal relationships at this point in life is that they are a marvelous gift that can lead us to the Creator Who is Infinite Love. This view of interpersonal relationships has been strengthened through my re-reading of the wonderful book, “Beginning Your Marriage,” (ACTA Publications, 1994) by John I. Thomas and David M. Thomas. The following remarks are typical of the insights that the authors have into the marital relationship:
“Competitiveness in marriage can be fun in moderation, but it can wear down the more needed and important cooperative spirit. Remember, marriages survive because of the interior strength of the love between the wife and husband. We have just finished discussing the fragile vulnerability that is an important fact of intimate love. Both wife and husband know how to administer a ‘death blow’ to their marriage. ‘Put downs’ are terrible in any relationship; they can be almost fatal in a marriage. It is said that it takes more than twenty compliments to replace the damage done by one negative remark directed at one, spouse.”
There are many faults that I have that should be corrected. I don’t think that one of them is deliberately making a statement intended to hurt someone. Though I am far from perfect, I don’t think I intentionally make harmful statements with the intention to hurt. However, I do have the habit of making what I think of as humorous statements with the purpose of entertaining. When I do this with someone who, either does not know me or is not familiar with my sense of humor, I sometimes cause confusion rather than merriment.
Commenting on the phrase, “It is better to give than to receive,” the authors of Beginning Your Marriage” write the following: “Giving is better than receiving because in giving we reach beyond the boundaries of the self and provide for the other person an enhanced and enriched understanding of his or her importance. We ‘build up’ another person and nothing is better than that.”
The importance of the act of giving itself may not be obvious in the materialistic culture of our time. In television commercials, for example, people are usually shown as more excited upon the reception of something (the product) than in the providing of it.
Yet, giving has a spiritual quality to it. When you give love to each other in marriage, you enhance the beloved’s sense of dignity and personal worth. You reinforce the goodness and beauty of your partner. The best qualities of your spouse are drawn out. Couples who learn to share in love’s abundance also learn something of the deep mystery of life itself, which is that each person’s life is actually an expression of God’s love.
We can learn something of the deep mystery of life itself, not only through marriage, but also through all of our interpersonal relationships. Deep friendships involve the wonderful experience of people giving and receiving love. Friendships take time. Deep friendships involve the sharing of what is most important to the friends.
The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber claimed that in every I-Thou relationship God is involved. The human beings in an I-Thou relationship also encounter God through the other according to Buber. I think Buber was right. We are called to be gifts and blessings in the lives of others. That is our basic vocation. Perhaps many of us cannot have several very deep friendships because such friendships take time and energy. However, we can be welcoming and affirming in all our relationships, ready to help and encourage the other.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.