I was in the elevator of a shopping mall when two university students walked in. As the elevator door closed, one girl gave her phone to the other and said, “Here, this is the girl.”
“But she’s okay looking,” replied the other girl, “why did Ben decide to dump her?” The girl took back her phone and shrugged, “I don’t know, John said it is maybe because she was getting too fat.”
At that moment, the elevator door opened and they left. This brief exchange stayed with me for weeks. Is this the reality of the dating scene nowadays?
It bothered me, maybe because of my work with young people and the things they grapple with, or maybe because it echoed back to my own life... in both instances, there were those same complicated issues about relationships, love and the struggles for acceptance.
St. Augustine made a bold statement when he said that every single human being, in the depths of their hearts, desire two things; to see and be seen... to be known and to be loved, and to reciprocate that to another.
I take his word for it though. I remember when I received my first CD for Christmas as a teenager. It had a couple of love songs I liked at the time and I would put them on repeat and listen all night long as I did my homework.
I had no idea what love really was or meant, but I know I liked the idea of being known, understood and loved.
When I was in secondary school, this idea meant fitting in and looking good so that I was someone popular. In university it meant trying to stand out, to make a difference and find that special person in my life so that I could say I matter to people.
After college in my first few jobs, it was about proving my worth in the workplace—making money, getting promoted and being known and respected for my work (and still finding that special person).
We all desire to be seen—to be acknowledged, accepted, understood and loved for who we are.
But I had been trying to fill this desire with things that did not fit the bill, that did not satisfy, that did not last.
I was grasping for this sense of worth and dignity that I hadn’t realised was already given to me by God, lavishly offered as a free, complete and utterly undeserved gift before I was even born.
I had also forgotten the other side of St. Augustine’s equation––the desire to see, to know, to love another as well. And, it was the words of Pope John Paul II that spoke this truth back into my heart: You are a gift.
Our lives are a gift from God and we are called to be gifts to others. Instead of filling up our lives with things we wanted, Jesus calls us to an emptying of self. Love is being a gift of self for the good of the other and, like Christ’s example, true love is going to include self-denial and sacrifice.
“The greater the sense of responsibility the greater the true love there is,” as Pope John Paul says.
This all sounds so counter-cultural, so against the tide of the world we live in as young people. However, something about it captured my heart in a way I could not shake off.
These words called out to me in my own valley, inviting me to climb the slopes and look up at the vast sky above.
When he was a priest in Poland, at a time when there were attempts to eradicate the Church from society, instead of telling the youth to just hang in there, Pope John Paul told them to become saints and expect no less.
I do not know if I speak for many other young people here too, but I want to be challenged to this by those around me.
Offering space for me to find myself is important, but during this I also need to be guided in the truth by brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before me and reminded that there is something I am called to do for God that no-one else can.
It is an uncertain world that we young people are growing up in. Do the words you are a gift or be a saint solve my concrete day-to-day problems and frustrations with friends, at home, or at work? No, not in any direct way.
However, I do believe it is precisely words like these that will change everything, if we give God a chance. Few like living in uncertainty, especially when it comes to life choices. But God calls us to step out into this unknown.
Why? Because in the light of faith, I need to know that God is with me. He is here with me. For, I was searching for love without realising that Love was patiently waiting for me all along.
That Love had a name, and a face. And that Love was calling me by my name, with all the joys and sorrows, gifts and weaknesses, experiences and mistakes that I have.
Yes, love is an adventure and who knows the road it will take? But, if it be God’s will, I want to be challenged to live a life of witness to this radical hope in Christ.
To be told not to settle for the mediocre love that this world offers, but instead let go and run after the love that can only be found in God alone.
• Name supplied