“When we love and allow ourselves to be loved, we begin more and more to inhabit the kingdom of the eternal. Fear changes into courage, emptiness becomes plenitude, and distance becomes intimacy.”
– John O’Donohue, Anam Cara p. 10
I spent a quick hour with a good friend today (who also happens to be my counselor and spiritual director). We sipped coffee while discussing the importance of experiences, and the language we use to describe them. We talked about concepts, and theories, and the ideas that motivate people’s actions. I took notes, and drew diagrams.
I always learn a lot from my 70+ year old friend. He is wise, and asks good questions, and I always leave feeling as though the hour passed too quickly.
I realized today that one of the reasons I enjoy spending time with him is that I always feel like he sees me. When he looks at me, he’s actually looking at me. He’s not distracted by other people in the room, or rushed by the next appointment he has to get to. When I talk I feel like he hears me. It’s not that he agrees with everything I say. We disagree at times. But he listens carefully to what I’m saying, and he attempts to hear what I am attempting to say. He tries to understand the meaning behind my often confused words and ideas.
It is a tangible experience of grace.
I suspect that my family would tell you that I then am more grace-filled toward them after having met with my friend and counselor. By seeing and hearing me, he models a way that I can see and hear those with whom I live my life. And, when I’m at my best in seeing and hearing my wife and children, that is when I am loving them the best.
“Love is our deepest nature, and consciously or unconsciously, each of us searches for love.”
– John O’Donohue, Anam Cara p. 10
We all want to be loved, and we search for love in a million ways. We know most clearly that we are loved when another human being takes the time to care for us. When another human being takes the time to engage meaningfully with us, we feel valued.
When people are annoying, frustrating, anxious, or anxiety-producing, I try to remind myself of the above quote by John O’Donohue. People, whether they know it or not, are searching for love. That’s the deepest longing within us. We were made to be loved, and we search it out through healthy and unhealthy means almost all day long.
A doctor took a few extra moments to answer my questions, because he knew that I was scared, even though I was asking the same basic question over and over again in different ways.
A waitress was attentive to every little detail of our meal, because she could tell that this was a special night for my wife and me.
A friend sent a text, following up on a comment that I had made that led him to believe I needed to talk.
An acquaintance heard that we had a financial need and handed me an envelop, “just in case.”
All of these memories recall a time when I felt like I was being seen and heard. They were tangible expressions of care and love. And they stick in my memory because “consciously or unconsciously” I am always searching for love. And, I remember when I experience it.
One of the most impactful things we can do for each other is to love each other by being fully present with each other. We can start seeing and hearing other people, letting them know that they are valued, even when we don’t agree with them. Even when they are hard to love. Chances are, the harder they are to love, the more desperately they are searching for it.
Real transformation, both ours and the world’s, begins with seeing and hearing, because that’s where love begins.
Choose a specific person. If you’re married or have children, start with one of them. If not, perhaps someone at work, at school, or someone who you regularly come into contact with.
This week, focus on seeing them and hearing them, without expecting anything in return.
Notice what changes, both within you, and in your relationship.