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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No Longer a Hopeless Romantic

I've watched, over the years, as many of my friends in high school and college got into relationships and, later, out of them. Some high school friends of mine remained together and married. Some college friends of mine did the same. But the large majority of them found someone, was with them for a few months or a few years, and then found out it wasn't going to work.
A relationship is a lot of work. It's an emotional investment, a physical one (the level of which is totally dependent on how both parties feel), and a time-consuming one. I wasn't ready for such an investment in high school or college, for multiple reasons -- whether that would be my lack of confidence due to how I was the fat guy or my own personal questions about my faith or my own personal demons, I just wasn't there.

I wasn't there when I lost the weight over two years ago. I wasn't there this time last year, even though I tried.

It wasn't for lack of wanting -- oh, I wanted plenty of things -- but I simply didn't understand fully what I was asking. There was a key cog that wasn't there or a neuron misfiring or a thought process that got hung up. Something was missing. I don't know what, but, whatever it was, it just simply didn't exist.

Up until this November I considered myself a hopeless romantic because of my past. A card carrying, lifelong member of a fraternity of fools who believed that love was more important than anything and that it would conquer all. That belief isn't wrong, but the hopeless part? That was wrong. That's the wrong starting point.

Let me explain. During that crazy month of November I was hired at the job I currently work at (seasonal job at Target with decent hours). I dated an intelligent, witty, cute girl who, by all statistical measurements, should have turned me down on the first date. But she didn't and, in a week's time, she taught me a lot.

And then she broke it off. But something she said to me, the night before she broke it off, has stuck with me since. She told me not to be a hopeless romantic but, rather, to be "hopeful." That didn't mean much to me then, but it stuck in my craw after the break up.

Since the break up, I've thrown myself into the Catechism and in that, one thing has been reaffirmed to me over and over and over.

God loves us and, with his love, there is always hope.

That's a tough truth to swallow for me, not because I find it inherently false but because I find it hard to believe that there's hope for me. Hope and I ... we don't get along well. I tend to hope for things but don't get them. I think this is a fallacy on my part as I'm mistaking "hope" for "want" and when I don't get what I want, I feel burned.

For a week, brief as it was, I had hope and it was an absolutely beautiful feeling. It was a feeling of warmth that I hadn't had in many, many years. I can honestly say that, for that week, I was happy. I had forgotten what happy was.

And, as I continue to read the Catechism and learn, I find that there's hope for me in Christ. Yes, it's a trite phrase, isn't it? Sounds like I'm reading out of a pamphlet but something was proven to me in that one week; there was hope for me.

I have become more convinced of this the more I read and learn about the faith I'm calling my own. I am the unofficial-official-converting-Catholic and I'm not going to be unofficial after this Easter. I will, officially, be Catholic.

Right now, my lessons in the Catechism are focusing on the sacraments and their applications to the lives of Catholics. The Catechism, up to this point, has put off diving into full explanations of the sacraments because there's a lot there that needs to be built up before you attempt to understand it.

But I'm there now and, quickly, an explanation of the one sacrament I want the most is approaching: the sacrament of Matrimony.

It's no secret that I firmly believe -- and want -- to be married one day. I think it's my vocation, I think it's what I'm called to do. Realizing that hasn't been hard -- figuring out how to do it has been the issue. And, for what it's worth, I think I have arrived at some conclusions.

Surprisingly, these conclusions seem to be supported by Catholic teachings.

1. There's no need to rush.

Catholicism -- and other faiths -- throw out this word. It's "discernment". In short, it's the process one uses to come to a decision, taking into account the spiritual side of things, as well as the practical side of things, and looking to the faith (and God) for an answer.

The point of dating is to find the one you're to be married to (which the cute girl I dated for a week in November pointed out as well). Well, if you're going to be dating someone you might marry, you should take time to consider it. By my nature I like to analyze (and overanalyze) things, so this isn't a problem for me. I waited a few weeks before asking the cute girl out and it turned out all right.

2. Don't obsess. 

This one is easier said than done for me. I like to obsess. I like to overanalyze because it's just how I work, so not obsessing is tough, but as my best friend recently pointed out to me, the best things are unexpected. The last few years of my life prove this and my brief dating relationship in November also proved this. I wasn't actively, obsessively looking for a relationship -- I didn't want to be in Alabama in the first place, I wanted to get out as soon as possible. Yet, I found a girl that I liked and she liked me back. And it was random.

3. Pray.

It's seems stupid, especially to the logical side of me. Offering up prayers to a God about something like this. This isn't a practice I've done for more than a few days now and, yes, it feels weird. It's not like God and I dish on relationship gossip -- he's all knowing and such, so why does he need me to tell him what's going on when he's got a pay-per-view feed into my life 24/7?

Yet, the Catechism has driven home in the last few lessons how important prayer is. And, through various articles and comments I've read from this website, the idea that I should be in prayer over this very important issue doesn't seem so foreign to me. I pray about other very important things in my life -- the health of those I care for, the strength to make good decisions, the state of my soul ... why not pray for my hypothetical-future-theoretical-wife?

"It's presumptuous, for one," you say. Okay, I don't disagree with that -- it presumes that I do have a wife out there, somewhere and, yes, it presumes that we'll find each other in this life. Lots of presumptions, I grant this.

But, BUT, if I'm right -- which, being that I've had it in my head since 10 that I should be married, I think I am -- shouldn't I be devoting some time to this?

Yes, it's crazy sounding. It's weird to think and to utter aloud. Part of me feels like it's really dumb, but when is prayer ever a bad idea? I have days when I think that my prayers do more harm than good, I admit that, but even my doubt has to give way to reality: the reality, as I was unexpectedly informed the other night by a friend, was that people are praying for me just as I pray for them.

I was told I was being prayed for. Not just by my friend, but my friends friends (whom happen to be priests) and by their friends. Strangers I don't know and have never met are praying for me.

If they can do that for me, I can do that for someone that may only exist hypothetically.

4. Be Honest.

I'm not good at romance, let's be frank. In the one week experience I had in November, I was forgiven a lot for my shortcomings in that department. But I didn't try to be suave or overly confident -- I was honest with her that I didn't know what I was doing and I was a complete noob (and, as we all know, being a noob sucks).

And you know what? She didn't hate me for it. In fact, I think it was a good choice even if part of me doubts that (the part of me that says, "If only you'd been better at the romantic stuff you'd still be together!" and some days that part of me is hard to shut up).

Honest is the best policy and it's hammered home, repeatedly in the Catechism and in various online sites, that honesty is very necessary for a good relationship. It's a virtue and, going forward, I'm going to strive to continue to grow that virtue. Maybe it'll result in failure and, if that's the case, so be it. I can fail as many times as I need to at this. It's important enough that multiple failures isn't a bad thing to me -- it's not a desirable thing, but it's not bad.

5. Take a Shot.

I took a shot with that girl and it worked. It shouldn't have worked. It shouldn't have done anything except result in failure but it worked and I'm just as shocked as the rest of the world that it did. It was a risky proposition, one that should have resulted in an immediate failure and, instead, it gave me something that I will cherish.

I'm risk averse by nature, so I needed proof. I got that proof. I'm fairly certain that was God's way of saying, "See, Zach? You can put yourself out there and have success, you just have to try." It won't always work, of course, but I needed a success here. I got one. I don't think it was a reward so much as a bit of evidence to prod me into being less of a coward.

It worked.

6. God Has to Come First

I saved the biggest one for last and that's for the simplest reason there is: God is the source of all love. He started it, it's all his doing, from beginning to end. He showed us the ultimate love and that truth has been abundant in my life of late. Heck, it's been abundant in my life since I hit the low-point of desperation over three years ago. Every day since it has been abundant, it has been abundant in the forgiveness others grant me, in the trust others place in me, and in the love that is shown for me.

And all that love starts with him. I lose track of that a lot. It's so easy to say, "Well, person-x loves me" when that capacity to love, that ability, is granted from God.

The Catholic faith is based on love. The Bible is a story about love. Not a love that we can comprehend, mind you -- we try, we put it into words, but our understanding of it is minimal at best. Our expressions of love in this mortal life pale in comparison to God's expression of love he showed for us from day one.

And, so, God has to be at the center of it all. He doesn't have to be in neon lights, shining down from the sky. Your car, bed, room, ect doesn't need to scream "GOD" in big, bold letters that shower sparks and glow in the dark.

God doesn't have to be loud. He doesn't need to be. He works just as well in the quiet corners of our life. He works on us, little by little, day after day. You need to acknowledge him, yes. You need to remember him, yes. You need to honor him, yes. You should do your best to do all these things, yes.

You will fail to do him justice, just as I will and every mortal being before or since, yes. And God will forgive us for that failure because he loves us. His forgiveness is infinite. It doesn't mean we should take advantage of it and go wild, but we shouldn't think we're doomed when we sin.

We sin all the time. It's, unfortunately, our nature.

And, even in a relationship, that has to be acknowledged. But, in the same breath, you have to acknowledge that God will forgive. His is the ultimate expression of love and, as human beings, we are commanded to model ourselves after that ultimate expression. We will fail more often than not.

We are commanded to get up and try again. We are commanded to love as God loves and show a love of God to those in our lives, especially the ones we're involved with. Especially our spouses.

How can we show that kind of love without studying it? Without acknowledging it? Without letting God's example guide us?

Simply put, we can't. So, God has to come first. It doesn't mean you walk around with a shirt that says, "GOD FIRST" or that you constantly quote scripture or Church teachings to back every decision you make.

It does mean that you consider what the Lord would do in your stead, what the Lord would say or think. It does mean you look to God and say, "Hey, what would you do?"

And sometimes you'll get a hard answer. Jesus got a hard answer when God said, "You have to die in the most painful way imaginable." And we'll have days when we get hard answers.

Like Jesus, we'll have to accept those answers and trust.

Trust in God's plan. Trust in God's mercy. But, most importantly, trust in God's love.

Thanks for reading, folks. God Bless.  


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