Have We Loved Well Enough?
Through our work on The REAP Team, we receive questions from teens on a variety of topics – often about love, relationships, and faith. I’m always happy to help, if I can. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I recently received a question I’ve never been asked before: “How do you know if you’ve loved your loved ones well enough before they’re gone?”
My new friend was simply trying to be the most loving person possible – and through life and death and circumstances, she realized that many people are only in our lives for a short amount of time. And she wanted to know how to give the maximum amount of possible love in whatever amount of time is allotted.
It’s really hard to measure love, since love is so intangible, complicated, and personal. I do know that none of us are perfect, and therefore none of us ever love perfectly. What matters is that we try to love others well, and that we are always striving to improve ourselves… hopefully, becoming more loving people every day.
My favorite definition of love comes from St. Thomas Aquinas, who said that to love is to “consciously will the good of another.” We should do all that we possibly can so that other people can experience the best that life has to offer.
And to take that definition of love to its logical and ultimate conclusion, the best ‘good’ anyone can ever experience is Heaven. So, we are most loving when we help people move in that direction – by praying for them, praying with them, and trying to lead them closer to God.
Speaking Their Language
To be a more loving person, I would also encourage you to check out this book, when you have a chance: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The author proposes that each person has a primary and a secondary love language, and understanding another’s love language can help you to love them better.
For example, if my wife’s preferred love language is quality time – and I focus on giving her gifts – she might not feel as loved by me as she needs. But if I understand her, and we talk through these things, I might be able to figure out that she would rather that we rarely exchange gifts, but that we spend lots of time together. Understanding and using these love languages well can help us be more loving people.
Try, Try Again
I know that I have never loved any single person in my life perfectly, but I am still at peace with who I am. And I can be at peace (and hopefully you can, too) with the knowledge that God can – and does – fill in the gaps where we fall short.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is a reference to “repentance without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). We can (and should!) ask the Lord to forgive us for any ways that we have messed up, we bring any sins we commit to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and then we trust in the Lord’s mercy to us and to everyone else.
Focus On The Presence
A final thought: just last week, while attending a retreat myself, the presenter shared, “We need to surrender the past to His mercy and entrust the future to His providence.” When we do that, we can live in the moment – which is where God wants us to be, fully present to Him and everyone around us.
How can we best love people while we’re with them? Be with them while we’re with them. I’m convinced that God doesn’t want us to spend too much time focused on the past (except to learn from it, of course) but that God wants us to be with others in the here and now – since that’s where He is, too.