Sunday, December 30, 2007

The future's so bride

St. Paul advised the Corinthians that "the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away" (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

Those verses may sound rather mysterious, especially the part about those who have wives being as though they had none. Paul went on to explain: "But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord — how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world — how he may please his wife. There is[a] a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world — how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction."

I used to interpret that passage as simply meaning that I, as an unmarried woman, could love God in a special way by virtue of not having the distractions of marriage. After all, grace builds on nature, so it would make sense for me to develop my love of God based upon the state in which He put me.

Yesterday, it occurred to me for the first time that Paul was actually instructing the married to go against their nature, to put God more fully as the focal point of their love.

In that case, it seems that the reverse of the saint's advice might be true as well. Perhaps my relationship with God is deficient because I am loving him only as an unmarried woman would love him. Perhaps, then, I might love Him better if I lived "as though" I had a husband.

What would that mean in practice? Thinking about that made me reflect on the way I imagine I would love God if I were married. How would my love be different than it is now?

Well, I would be grateful. I'm sure I would be more grateful than I am now. I would thank God every day for my husband, and for my kids if I had any.

So, in some sense, I realized, in my unmarried state, I am withholding a certain kind of love from God. I am holding back on a certain level of gratitude because I believe God does not yet deserve it, because He has not given me my heart's desire.

One of the operative phrases in the 1 Corinthians passage is that "the time is short." The time of my life is indeed short in the space of eternity. It seems a waste to effectively limit my love for God — to keep some of it in reserve for experiences that I may or may not have.

I see now that the message our culture gives single women and men that they can "have it all" — telling them they can experience the fullness of life through materialistic indulgences rather than marriage and family — is based, like all heresies, on a grain of truth.

We are truly made, whether single or married, to have it all — to "choose everything," as did St. Therese of Lisieux. But the way that we are called to enjoy life's blessings is through understanding what it is exactly that we have in our storehouse — that is, what we are capable of giving back to God. That means understanding that, as long as we have breath, we are not lacking in any spiritual riches to offer Him. Any perceived lack is from our perspective, not His.

It is far easier for me to write this than to understand it and incorporate it into my life, but I find it worth contemplating as the year draws to a close.