The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 26, 2023 - 5:15:02

Practical wisdom about love

Katie van Schaijik, Nov 10, 2011

Last night the Personalist Project hosted a lecture in our home by Catholic psychologist and marriage counsellor, Dr. Peter Damgaard-Hansen, titled: "The art of loving your spouse, and what to do when you can't."  We'll be posting it soon for members.  

It was a treasure trove of deep practical wisdom.  One line among many that struck a chord with me was: "It's okay not to be able to love;  It's not okay to be unloving."

For me this resolves a difficulty I experience constantly, especially in parenting my children.  I often feel crushed by the weight of my responsibility toward them and sort of wail inwardly to God, "I can hardly be responsible for myself, morally--what were you thinking to entrust these precious little souls into my hands?"  Other times I resent the pressure I feel to be perfect toward them.  It's too much to expect of a mere mortal.  I feel just like the disciples felt when Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved."  I want to say, "Who then can be saved?"  "Who can possibly be a good parent?"

At those moments the temptation is to think the harm I do my children when I'm unloving toward them can't possibly be that big a deal. I want them to just toughen up and take it.  Now I see more clearly that it is a big deal, and their sensitivity is a gift.  

Dr. Peter reminded us last night that, in one crucial sense, none of us can be a good parent, because the child's need for constant, unconditional love is absolute and infinite, while our ability to love is conditional and finite.   The need for complete recognition, love and acceptance by another is essential to our being as persons.  The impossibility of loving as we should is given in the tragedy of our condition as fallen.

The solution to the problem lies in acknowledging our impotence and our need for grace.  And, when we find ourselves being unloving, in feeling and expressing our sorrow for our failure and wrong.