One of the aspects of current times in this pandemic is the toll that it has taken on our relationships with others: our family, our friends, those who perhaps hold different beliefs or different views than we do.

Literature searches reveal biographies of ambitious people, many of whom have lived in challenging circumstances not unlike those that we find ourselves in now.

There are certain commonalities that exist among many people who have books written about them. One in particular really stands out — ambition. In some cases, the path to realizing their dreams was not a path filled only with kindness, honesty, sincerity and generosity.

In many cases the path to success was filled with the opposite.

That often meant was that many people along the way got used. People along the way got hurt. People along the way got defrauded. People along the way got stepped on. Maybe a few of these ambitious people meant to act that way all along, meant to use others for their own gain without batting an eye. But my guess is that, for most of these “success stories,” it didn’t start out that way. It just became the easiest way to achieve what they wanted to achieve, became a kind of bad habit that became sort of invisible to the person involved.

Our personal relationships are difficult, and marriage might be the most difficult of all. The reason is pretty simple, no other relationship demands as much from us. No other relationship costs as much.

No other relationship invites us, or maybe even forces us, to resist the urge to give in to our own selfishness — that unhealthy voice within that keeps lying to us and telling us that we should look out for ourselves above all else. A healthy marriage is the exact opposite of that.

A healthy marriage is one in which neither partner uses each other for his or her own benefit, neither partner has picked the other exclusively for what he or she can bring to the table, what he or she can do to make them happy.

Rather, the best marriages seem to be the ones in which each partner spends his or her time wondering how they can make their spouse’s life better, how they can help their spouse on the journey before them, how they can love their spouse even during the times when that love is not being returned.

Of course, there isn’t just a temptation to act selfishly in romantic relationships. The temptation exists in all of our relationships, in varying degrees.

We befriend people who are popular, hoping that might open some doors for us. Many of us litter our lives with selfish relationships and then we wonder why we don’t have any “real” friends. We wonder why we don’t have any people we can count on to be there for us in five, ten, or twenty years down the road.

It’s not easy building relationships that are truly other-centered, that are God-centered. It’s not easy building relationships that are all about the opportunities we have to be kind and generous and compassionate with someone else.

Yet, that is what we are called to be, who we are meant to be. And so, let’s strive to treat all our relationships not as tools to be used for our own gain, but rather as the beautiful opportunities they are; opportunities for our God to become visible in a world desperate for precisely that; this is what will sustain and inspire us as we go through these inspiring times.

Deacon Stuart Neslin is a Parish Deacon and Parish Administrator at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rome.

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