Unification News for

April 1998

 

How does your "love" garden grow?

Marilyn Morris

Marilyn Morris resides in Westerville, Ohio. She is a full-time wife and mother of three, and a part-time pastoral counselor.

These days, the word "family" and "values" are used widely and with many different meanings. True Family Values attempts to express the essential meaning of these two words. Promise Keepers, a program attempting to reintegrate men into leadership roles within their families, is sweeping the nation. According to the most recent articles, it is not being driven by men with the desire to take over the family as a "macho" ruler, but rather by women persuading their husbands to go in an attempt to create a stable home life. General interest in this topic cannot be underestimated as Stephen Covey's most recent book "The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Families" is already back ordered in many bookstores before the arrival of the first shipments!

True Family Values does not try to create specific roles for men and women, but rather reveal core concepts of how we develop and relate to one another as human beings in the family, which we call, the "school of love."

From the chart, we can see that there are four basic areas of emotional development within a healthy family setting.

Love (able to live for the sake of others)
Parental (sacrificial) Love
Dependability

Hope (able to live for one another)
Conjugal (intimate) Love
Interdependence

Trust (able to share with others)
Sibling/Friendship (mutual) Love
Independence

Faith (able to count on others)
Children's (selfish) Love Dependence

Stages of Emotional Development

For children, the normal range of emotional development is self-centered. When a baby is hungry, he cries. The baby does not think of how tired the parents might be at 2:00 in the morning. He just knows his own needs and demands that they be met. If they are fulfilled in a loving and caring manner, the child is able to develop the basis of faith, meaning that he can believe in others and count upon them in times of stress, no matter how simple that stress might be.

If the child suffers neglect in essential areas of his early development, either physically or emotionally, he will not be able to depend upon others and learn how to move into the next stage of development. Sharing things and making friends will be difficult. Having learned not to believe in others, creating relationships of mutual trust will not be possible.

We can see where this leads. Without being able to practice relationships of mutual trust, the child, emerging into his teenage years will only experience fleeting friendships and shallow relationships with both sexes. There is no basis for intimacy. Sexual relationships can be physically attained, but intimacy can only be built over a long period of time where the two partners willingly share in all things and in all ways. This is why the commitment, only attained in marriage, is so significant. Marriage, as an institution, understands that for two people to secure this level of human relationship, they must be set apart from all other human relationships and especially honored. Thus, pre-marital sex undermines young people's attempts later on to build intimacy in their lives, while extra-marital sex can destroy intimacy within the marriage relationship altogether.

Without the first three stages of development, the fourth and most important stage cannot be attained. Sad to say, many, many children are born from situations where the only basis for their being is where two very selfish people come together for physical needs, but are unable to offer the kind of sacrificial love that will help the new child develop beyond his first stage of emotional development. And so, the pattern repeats itself.

As a professional pastoral counselor, I have counseled numerous married couples and can see that many of the marital problems that have been described to me stem from two people caught in the first or second stage of development and unable to create intimacy and dependability. Not all married couples are two totally selfish people. Usually, they are caught in the stage of mutual love, each expecting the other to give back in equal amounts what they perceive they have contributed to the relationship. Almost never can such equality be attained in a marriage. Intimacy requires being able to give more than what one perceives he/she receives in return. Otherwise, husband and wife live parallel existences and never plumb the depths of each otherís heart. However, when both partners attempt to give more to one another than what they expect to receive in return, intimacy will begin to emerge between them. They learn to negotiate each other's needs for the sake of the relationship and not only for the sake of their own well being.

This sets the stage for the next development of heart which puts aside all concern for its own needs and directs its focus upon the needs of the other. This is the main characteristic of the parental heart in which the parent willingly sacrifices their needs for the benefit and well-being of the child and it is such a heart that most closely resembles how God relates to us, His children. Thus, it is nearly impossible to understand God in a heart-to-heart manner without developing through the above stages of emotional growth. St. Paul understood this in his explanation of religious development when he advised that those new in the Christian faith take "milk" rather than "meat." He meant that they could not digest the more difficult forms of community relationship until they had first established basic faith in God's work in their personal lives.

Often the words "faith" and "religion" are synonymous in people's minds, reflecting a general misunderstanding that religion is mostly about receiving from God according to one's needs. But, this is an immature view of faith and, in the long run, not a deep understanding expression of God's heart. In a religious life, we need to further our development in mutual relationships, i.e., sharing with one another in a community of faith. Through this we can emerge into a more intimate relationship with God, thinking more of what God might need from us rather than what we need from God. Finally, the truly mature person goes beyond even their own religious boundaries, thinking of how God might take care of the world's situation and stepping in whenever they can to reflect how they perceive God might feel toward others.

Mother Theresa exemplifies this parental heart expressed within a religious embrace. Her ability to love the outcasts of Calcutta's streets, and later other mean streets of cities throughout the world, endeared her not only to Catholics but to people of all faiths. Such a person is truly a saint. Mother Theresa was able to attain this level of love by enacting the example she saw in Jesus who, two thousand years ago, asked God to grant mercy even to his enemies, the powerful, corrupt leaders representing Roman interests in Israel. This heart of parental concern, even for the most destructive child, but nonetheless God's child, gave rise to a new religious expression for humankind, Christianity.

This is why Mother Theresa could experience Christ when she touched the untouchables. It was a real and tangible experience because through this sacrificial practice she could open and expand her heart to relate and resonate with Godís at the highest and deepest levels. In other words, she could look upon others, not from her own point of view, but from God's point of view, as a parent with no concern for oneself, but only with concern for others, no matter how difficult or dire their situation might be.

Am I hinting that we need to be saints in order to parent effectively? Yes, I am. Not that we must be saints on the world level such as Mother Theresa, but that we must at least be saints on the day-to-day level attending to the needs of our children, our spouses, our homes and our communities. Think about it. St. Paul described it so beautifully when he concluded his chapter on love with "Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of all of these is love." Many of us are nearly saints without even knowing it. We should value how love grows and tend to it in every possible way. True Family Values strives to give us the tools with which to dig the soil, plant the seeds and nurture the family garden. How does your garden grow? With faith, trust, hope and love, that's how your garden grows. 

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