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Falling in Love with a Higher Love

June  1st,  2021
Alex Ross
By Alex Ross read
Posted in Culture

This year I read an epic tale of medieval provinces and political treachery, of martyrdom, faith, family, romance, and love. It took me almost the entire year, but putting down that novel I felt called to GREATNESS. To a greater depth of the human experience than I was used to. My daily life felt more epic because I realized the weight of my actions in eternity and the great gift of my free will to choose the radical heights of sacrificial love. A few months later I picked up a quick-read about an office romance. Somewhat trashy. But a fun, easy read, right? I read it carnivorously, tuning out everything around me for a full day. The moment I put it down, anticipating a feeling of triumph, my heart sunk. 

I felt… empty. Something inside me had changed since the last time I had read a novel like this. I was craving stories of a higher love.

Why was I so unsatisfied? Because the story I had read portrayed only a shadow of the epic love that each human person is invited into, and I wanted more than that!

The couple in the story certainly felt an intoxicating connection to one another, but their relationship hardly extended past this initial infatuation. When I really thought about it, the pages of the book were filled solely with what John Paul II refers to as the synchronization of emotional and sensual experiences.

What does he mean by these big words? Well, have you ever watched a sports game in a big stadium? The emotions of you and the fans around you all run high with excitement when your team does well and low when a bad call is made. Cheers, music, and the smell of popcorn flood all of your senses. Sharing this intense experience with your bleacher buddies makes you feel closer to them! Suddenly, you are high-fiving one another like good friends. While this feeling of closeness is good and beautiful, it is clearly not perfectly symbolic of a deeper intimacy, because, after the game is over, you all go back to your cars and… well… forget about one another. The emotional and sensual experience that bonded you was gone.

In romantic relationships, it is wonderful that shared emotions and experiences can help feelings of closeness flourish, BUT if this was all that love entailed, then the moment these experiences inevitably got out of sync, the love would be gone like strangers walking out of a stadium!

That is why John Paul II explains that for authentic love and intimacy, these experiences MUST be accompanied with the deep awareness of and the will to affirm the incredible value of the other person beyond the pleasant experiences they might provide. 

Love chooses a person, not just a feeling.

Love makes a commitment to another’s ultimate good simply for their own sake. 

This love is not all-consuming or completely self-contained because, instead of seeking to possess another person, it embraces the greater goal of all relationships… Heaven.

Yet how often do we come across portrayals of love that sell us short? That portray love as merely an experience or as the valuing of another person only for their surface-level sexual characteristics, such as their physical appearance or the pleasure they can provide, rather than the wholeness of their personhood? For what one can get rather than give? All too often, we come across stories where the words, “I love you”, are professed in relationships which, when the veil of the heart is lifted, are essentially ones of use… of lust. How do you think these types of stories subtly train our hearts to relate to others? 

After finishing the superficial novel, I found myself wondering: What about the deep, foundational friendship that gives authentic love all its color and character? What about the beautiful vibrance of bold self-giving?

Perhaps similar to the relational experience of the characters themselves, once the emotional experience of the book was over, I was left with nothing substantial to hold on to. But unlike times in the past, I now recognized this! Instead of reaching for another cheap, whirlwind romance novel or watching rom-com clips on Youtube to quickly fill the emptiness left behind, I realized I wanted more. 

Stories of true greatness had exposed me to the beautiful depth of real love and adventure and now I wanted nothing less!

Because I LOVE love. 

And I want the stories that I immerse myself in to launch me towards love. 

Stories of authentic love, of love coupled with greatness, move my heart in a special way. Whether that love be romantic, familial, or the love between committed friends, great stories inspire me to embrace the virtues that such a love requires. 

The stories we soak in help shape our story. They play a huge role in our lives whether we realize it or not. The story of our family line, our nation’s history, and of salvation, all situate us in the present. Movies, books, or even magazine advertisements, all influence the stories we tell ourselves when we interpret the world around us and look towards the future.

I want to challenge us all to harness the power of stories to propel us towards greatness. Towards falling in love with a higher love in a way that makes us want nothing less. As someone who has settled into a long-term relationship with mediocrity in the past, I understand that retraining our hearts, minds, and senses to crave and desire greatness, to fall in love with the sanctifying demands of authentic love, takes time. But our hearts were made to embrace this grand endeavor. 

Here are three practical steps to guide this pursuit of falling in love with greatness:

1) Consider the stories that surround you. Your Instagram feed, the podcasts and TV shows you tune into, the art on your walls… everything tells a story that affects the way we view the human person and desire the good. Mindfully ask yourself: What does the content I regularly encounter communicate about how to value and relate to the human person or to life itself? Does it leave me filled or empty? Does it motivate me or numb me? Finally: Is this good, true, and beautiful? We want the things that influence us to reflect these three characteristics of God. 

2) Curate your consumption. Adjust the world around you in a way that propels you towards virtue and a healthy view of the human person! For example, it is common for content with pornographic imagery to be suggested on social media feeds, propelling a narrative that objectifies and exploits the human person rather than one of epic love. Here’s a great life hack. Holding down any TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube suggestion gives you the option to mark “not interested”- teaching the algorithm to stop showing you this type of content! Alternatively, there might be sites that you’ll wish to entirely cut out of your daily life in order to focus on what really fills and edifies you. The noble stories. The stories of virtue. The stories of love and redemption when all else seems lost. Stories like those in the Bible. These will probably require more “work” on your part to dive into than mindlessly consuming does, but most meaningful things do. They say you are what you eat- so consume stories of the love and greatness that you desire to live in your own life!

3) Come alive! Live your own story! Bear the fruit of surrounding yourself with goodness. We weren’t born to just consume, but to create! While stories of others help us to orient our desires towards the good, ultimately, no story could ever compare to the epic story that you are personally called to live. Well… that is besides the story of the Gospel… but that’s because that is the very story in which your story participates in. A story of sainthood. A story planned by God. Of striving, abiding, and loving… of GREATNESS. Of LOVE. And it all starts right now.

“The essential reason for choosing a person must be personal, not merely sexual. Life will determine the value of a choice and the value and true magnitude of love. It is put to the test most severely when the sensual and emotional reactions themselves grow weaker, and sexual values as such lose their effect. Nothing then remains except the value of the person, and the inner truth about the love of those connected comes to light. If their love is a true gift of self, so that they belong to the other, it will not only survive but grow stronger, and sink deeper roots. Whereas if it was never more than a sort of synchronization of sensual and emotional experiences it will lose its raison d’être [reason for existence] and the persons involved in it will suddenly find themselves in a vacuum. We must never forget that only when love between human beings is put to the test can its true value be seen.” 

-Saint John Paul II, Love and Responsibility, page 134

Alex Ross
Alex Ross

About the Author

Alex grew up in Central Indiana as the oldest of five lacrosse-loving kids. She studied Interpersonal Communication and Counseling at Ball State University where St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body rocked her world. Her first encounter with the Culture Project at a FOCUS conference boosted her courage to live a fuller and more virtuous life, and she soon felt set on fire to spread the great vibrancy of the Gospel of Life herself. “When I saw how radically attractive, beautiful, and healing the Culture Project missionaries’ lives of chastity could be to the world around them, I knew I wanted in with all my heart. The message and the experience of authentic love uniquely transforms lives. It is authentic love that unlocks exactly who we are created to be.”

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