Remember Valentine’s Day in grade school, when you’d decorate a mailbox for your desk? It could either be the best day, or the worst. Maybe your mailbox would be filled with candy and a little perforated Hallmark card from your secret crush! Or maybe that secret crush would walk right past the decorated box, (that secretly symbolized your vulnerable heart) or EVEN worse – drop in a card that read “Happy Valentine’s Day, friend?” Oh, the humanity!
How can love take us to the heights of heaven? How can the absence of love open an ache in our heart so large, that we think nothing can fill it? Maybe, just maybe, all of this tells us that we are made for more than earthly love…
As the youngest of nine children, I saw my siblings grow up, get married and have children. I grew up thinking “that’s what the Settles do.” I ventured off to college with the goal of finding “Mr. Right.” I was involved in many groups and activities on my Catholic college campus, but never found him. (Believe me, I looked!) After college, while working for the Church, I continued to look for “him,” the man who would make my life complete. I’m not proud to say that throughout college and even after, I would attend Mass and look around wondering, “Is he here?” I looked at every man I met as “the one” to potentially fulfill the ache inside of me. I spent years in this ache and began to resent the desire for marriage. In some ways, I even began to resent God for giving me the desire in the first place. My conversation with Him sounded something like,
“If you aren’t going to fulfill this desire, why did you give it to me? I’d rather not have it.”
It was during this struggle with the Lord, that I first learned about Theology of the Body. Through the Theology of the Body, I learned that my desire to love a husband and to be a mother was something God not only created in me, but He had every intention of fulfilling.
I wanted to fulfill the meaning of my being and existence, but I wasn’t yet sure how to do this as a single person. In a time of prayer, I asked the Lord two questions:
“How can I express love and be a gift, as a single person?” What the Lord helped me understand is I express love in my family, with my friends, in my work. Every time I am present to those around me, to listen, to counsel, to experience their joys and sorrows, when I serve and pray for them, I am expressing love and being a gift to them.
“Can there be fulfillment in my singleness?” Yes! No matter how much I felt to the contrary, I wasn’t living my life partially, as a single person. Every time I gave the gift of myself, in love, I fulfilled what I was created for – to love and bring forth life from that love. I am created for love, by love, to love – whether I am single, celibate or married.
Very gently, the Lord also showed me how I had made idols out of marriage and children. He showed me how I was grasping for a spouse. I hoped for men to fulfill the ache in my heart, but I hadn’t really seen the specific man and his specific heart created by God. I was too busy thinking about whether or not he was supposed to be my husband. I missed out on knowing or being a part of the lives of these men, because I only saw them as a way for me to feel complete. And they missed out on having me as a sister and friend! There was genuineness in my desire to love another person, but I put earthly love above the heavenly love I was created for… that we are ALL created for.
The love we are all called to experience is communion with Christ. We are all called to witness to the truth and beauty of God’s love for us – in our families, among our friends, in our workplaces. We are all called to be a gift.
When we do this, in our communities, our parishes, our work, our families, or the world, we are fulfilling the very meaning of our existence. The ache will always be there, but that is a GRACE, because it reminds us that our only and ultimate fulfillment will be found in heaven, when we will be in complete union with God. May we support, encourage, love and pray for each other, as we each – in whatever state in life we are living – draw closer to the love of Christ – a love that continually asks, “Will you be mine?”
JEN SETTLE joined the Theology of the Body Institute as the Certification Course Manager in 2008, and became Director of Programs for the Internship, Certification, and Clergy Enrichment Programs in 2011. She has a background in ministry and education, and worked in religious education and adult faith formation for 15 years. Jen also taught Theology of the Body throughout her home state of Iowa.