Monday, April 4, 2016

You Have a Choice

Teaching world religions always opens up opportunities to talk about different concepts and cultures in class, but sometimes it leads us to discuss concepts that we think we are already familiar with, and we end up discovering a deeper meaning. We were recently having a discussion about the Hindu concept of Atman - it is the source of everything, it is the deepest part of us, but not something we can feel or define with any of our five senses. As I explained this, one student said, "Oh, like love!" Another student countered, "No, because you can feel love." "You can't feel love," someone else argued, but one student finally had enough and cried out, "What is love?" Of course that briefly took us off track as many of us echoed that famous 80's song: "What is love?! Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more..." but we soon returned to our discourse and I simply said, "Love is a choice."

I went home and the classroom discussion lingered in my head as it often does when it's a particularly interesting one. I started to wonder about the times I had chosen to love - times when I had chosen forgiveness, understanding, or compassion instead of resentment, distrust, or pride. It also made me wonder about the results of those choices.

The other day I made a phone call related to school and the man on the other end of the line was rude from the start. It bothered me so much that I consciously made the decision to return his unkindness. At the end of the conversation I hung up feeling very hurt, but after going home and crying on the shoulders of my Sisters, I realized I might have made him feel the same way. "What if I hurt him just as much as he hurt me? What if he goes home to an empty house and, unlike me, has no shoulder to cry on?" I felt terrible. Worse than the hurt I felt was the idea that I might have caused that hurt for someone else. Whether or not I believed he deserved it had nothing to do with the guilt that was slowly rising up; it was the knowledge that I had treated someone in a way I would never want to be treated. Looking back, I know it a was moment in which I had chosen resentment over forgiveness - I had chosen not to love.

It's no secret in the convent where I live - in fact, in my whole religious community - that waking up early is a huge struggle for me. Due to the varied schedules where I currently live, we pray Monday through Friday at 5:45 in the morning. Usually when I wake up during the week the first thought in my head is, "No." Well, our director of formation, Sister Suzanne Marie, recently came for Provincial Visitation and stayed at our convent. She and I had a nice talk about my choice of not getting up for morning prayers. Admittedly I had felt bad about not praying with the Sisters every morning. However, I had simply not found the motivation necessary to change my choice. After speaking with Sister Suzanne, I found that motivation; as you may have been able to guess, it was love. I want to be present for morning prayer now, not because I have to, but because I want to. To choose to be present to my Sisters means I am choosing love.

In just looking at these two examples, choosing to love versus choosing whatever is its opposite, brings about different results for me. Not choosing love led to frustration and guilt whereas choosing love led to peace and healing. In addition, it seems my decision not to love was self-centered, and my decision to love was actually other-centered. That's how I want to live: focused on others and choosing to love them no matter what. May God grant each of us the graces necessary to choose love no matter what.