Aquinas becoming

Love Me As I Am

9:30:00 AMChase J. Cloutier

In this post I begin my reflections on the tension between loving someone in the present and wanting them to become the best they can be.

File:Redler Fighting putti.jpg“Why can’t you just love me as I am?”

At times it may feel like our loved ones, especially our families, expect too much from us. Perhaps our parents have set very high standards for their children. Try as we might, we can never attain to the level of perfection they desire. Or if we are grown, maybe a sibling has some fundamental disagreement with how we live our lives. Our own passions go unappreciated while their concerns seem more important. “You shouldn’t waste your time with this.” Indeed, sometimes it feels as if no one accepts me for me. We feel unlovable because no one has taken the time to show us that we are worth something, that what we love matters. We start to buy into the “if only” mentality. If only I were good at sports, if only I were beautiful, if only I were smart, then others would love me.
But shouldn’t our loved ones expect the best from us? Those who are closest to us have an ability to see our hidden talents and capabilities. My sister might see that I have an aptitude for math or a talent for singing that at first I did not fully realize about myself. A parent has a unique vision of their child that no one else has. If they have raised the child with love and care, they should recognize some of the gifts their child has been given, whether they be physical, intellectual, or social. Moreover, we need encouragement in our gifts and talents so as to grow and develop as persons. We would have little impetus to go for the gold, to get the promotion, to pass the test, to win the race unless we have a confident coach, an encouraging boss, or an assuring teacher.

Yet in our lives there is always an unspoken desire that others “love me as I am.” It is one of my deepest hopes that others will love me, that in the end I will be revealed as valuable and worthwhile. Though there are many ways in which I am called to grow, I want to know that I have self-worth based on who I am and who I have always been. Is there anyone who can love me
now, just as I am?

There is an underlying tension here between who we are and who we are not yet. As acting persons we are going through a constant process of becoming; in this present moment we are changing from who we have been into who we will become. We have the potential for so much growth in knowledge, love, and virtue. It was the insight of Edith Stein, drawing on Thomas Aquinas, that this potential is rooted in my very being -- my actual being in the present moment. (Cf. Finite and Eternal Being) If I reflect on my experience of personhood, I realize that all that I may do and all that I may become is rooted in my present potential. My present contains my past and my future. All the mistakes and blessings of my past have brought me to this moment, and all the possibilities of the future begin in this very moment.

A difficulty with love arises then:
when am I loved? In the past, the present, the future? Is my past self really worthy of love? Should I not cover up my past so that the secret of my deeper ugliness and unworthiness not be exposed? Am I lovable in the present? Perhaps I should attempt to be someone else in order to win the love of others. What frightful change could the future bring? Love seems so unstable in light of all of our failures. In a desire for true authenticity, one might exclaim -- “it is enough! Love me as I am or you are not worth my time.” Is this the last word concerning the time of love? Must you love me without any desire for my growth?
When it comes to time, the remarkable thing about love is that it bridges my past, present, and future. Love is directed upon the beloved person as this unique, unrepeatable individual. No one else could ever embody this beloved person. No other person can stand in for who this person is. But who I am as a person is inseparable from my past, my present, and my future. Love acknowledges the wounds of my past, the insufficiency of my present, and the incertitude of my future. On the other hand, love appreciates the growth of my past, the gift of my present, and the possibilities of my future. Love says: “You are noble, beautiful, graceful. It is you who are precious and worthy, no matter the time.”

Love looks upon the beloved with the appreciation of their value in the present as well as a special awareness of the greatness to which they are called. In seeing their magnificent potential, the lover eagerly expects the best from the beloved. As Max Scheler warned, there is a danger of condescension here. But the lover does not demand change from the lover as if saying, “I will not love you until you change for the better.” Rather, seeing the beloved’s goodness and the fullness of their potential, the lover says, “I love you and will love you until you become who you are meant to be." ------- Image 1: Fighting putti, Jan Chryzostom Redler. c. 1745. Museum of King Jan III's Palace at Wilanow. Warsaw, Poland. (source) Image 2: Allegory of Love, IV: Happy Union, Paolo Veronese (1528-1588). c. 1575. National Gallery. London, England. (source)

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