Author Archives: Julie Dienno-Demarest

Monarch butterflies migration
Love, Love and Relationships
4

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

Falling in love is simultaneously one of the most fun and most confusing experiences in life.  The butterflies… the smiles… the overwhelming elation…  the excitement…

It often catches us by surprise—we neither see it coming nor choose it.  It just happens.  Sometimes we fall for people that (for whatever reason) we shouldn’t.

And before we know it, we find ourselves either singing along to You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling or being serenaded (and not in the good, fun Top Gun way).

Add in a few Three’s Company style misunderstandings or a Romeo and Juliet conflict-of-loyalty and you’ve got the plot to a bulk of the romantic movies, sitcoms, and dramas out there.

No wonder we find it so shocking that

Love is not a feeling.

Even that passionate kind of love known as eros is not a feeling. (See my post Love, Love, Love for more explanation on eros.)

This is not to say that love is devoid of feeling.  In fact, when we love, it feels great.

As we understand love, as we teach children about love, as we practice love in our relationships, it would be so much healthier if we understood that feelings are a fantastic side effect of loving, but feelings are not the essence of love itself.

When it comes to the topic of “Falling in ‘Love,’” M. Scott Peck says, “Of all the misconceptions about love the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that ‘falling in love’ is love…It is a potent misconception” (Road Less Traveled,84).

Recall Peck’s thorough definition of love (from my post What Do You Mean?).

 Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth (81).

Mistaking the feelings associated with “falling in love” as the essence of Real Love contradicts every aspect of Peck’s definition.

  • Falling in love has no purpose: “Falling in love has little to do with…nurturing one’s spiritual development” (89 emphasis added)
  • There is no extension of one’s self (circular process) with falling in love.
  • Falling in love does not necessitate self-love (more on this in a future post on Dependency)
  • Falling in love is effortless – it happens to us.
  • Falling in love is not a choice; we don’t choose who we do or do not have feelings for.

In my second year of teaching high school, I was in my early 20’s and (unbeknownst to me) in the most unhealthy relationship of my life, which is why I find it so ironic that it was then that I stumbled upon one of the most helpful visual diagrams of relationships that I have ever seen.

The Relationship Cycle

Relationship Cycle

The explanation of the Relationship Cycle reads like the story of an actual relationship:

  1. Attraction/Infatuation – This is that beginning of the relationship, becoming increasingly attracted to one other…also known as falling in love.  As the (somewhat) straight line indicates, this is the easy phase where everything is wonderfully agreeable.  Most of us (subconsciously) are on our best “job-interview” behavior, either overlooking or overcompensating for any possible “faults,” because we’re in love and everything is perfect!
Social psychologists estimate that infatuation has a shelf-life of 18 months, tops. 
  1. Confrontation of Faults and Differences – Whether it’s as meaningless as what movie to see or as meaningful as the role of children, money, careers, religion, etc., this is where the couple begins to identify and confront their differences.  Many people look at this and exclaim, “Ooooo – first fight!”  Perhaps… or perhaps it’s just a quiet recognition of the truth…  Here, we often hear someone say something to the effect of: “You’re not who I thought you were.”
Somewhere in-between these two phases, the “falling in ‘love’ feeling” fades
  1. Crisis of Disappointment/Dissatisfaction/Disillusionment – As the ease of the so-called honeymoon ends, it can be disappointing. Devastating, even.
“We need to talk.”
  1. Acceptance or Separation/Abandonment of the Relationship – At this point, the couple has a choice to work out their differences or decide that the relationship is over.
The key here is honesty… ignoring problems or lying to yourself/partner about “working out those differences” doesn’t actually bring the relationship to the next phase.
  1. Love – The most obvious implication here is that love is a choice.  With the effort of working through differences, the couple truly chooses to love one another.
  1. Commitment – The cycle continues… as the couple keeps discovering more and more about one another, they will continue have a choice to make: work it out or abandon the relationship.  Commitment is a matter of continually choosing to love at every turn.

I think my favorite thing about this Relationship Cycle is being able to really see that the “falling in ‘love’” phase is just the fun beginning.  Real Love is a lot deeper than that.  Real Love is a choice which embraces truth.  And that, my friends, feels incredible.


“Monarch butterflies migration © Depositphotos.com/Elenarts”

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Red Wine and Chocolate
Love, Love and Relationships
1

What Do You Mean?

While enjoying a Wine and Chocolates night with my sister, we touched upon the topic of love.

“What do you think love means?” I asked.

Laurie had read my previous post Love, Love, Love, and appreciated the description of the four different kinds of love, but she—like so many of us—still felt at a loss for how do put it into words.

“I don’t know how to define love. I know how I feel, and I know what I do, but I don’t know how to define it.”

Laurie Thinking

The very nature of the word “define” (which means to put limits on something) seems to contradict the infinite possibilities (and mystical nature) of love.  With that said, I think it’s important that we pursue a better understanding of what we mean by “love.”

Bestselling author and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck (d. 2005) set out to do just this in The Road Less Traveled (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978). He dedicates a whole section to love, beginning with “Love Defined.”  I appreciate how he starts off by acknowledging the tension between the worthy pursuit of a definition, but the inherent difficulty in doing so.

In a very real sense, we will be attempting to examine the unexaminable and to know the unknowable.  Love is too large, too deep to ever be truly understood or measured or limited within the framework of words.  I would not write this if I did not believe the attempt to have value, but no matter how valuable, I begin with certain knowledge that the attempt will in some ways be inadequate (81).

In my years of teaching—and moreover—in my years of learning from my own personal successes and failures (lots of failures) “in the field,” so to say, I find Peck’s definition of love to be clear, thorough, and helpful.

Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth (Ibid).

Now that is a sentence packed with meaning.  In the pages that follow, Peck offers five concise points about his definition which help better explain his meaning.

  1. Love has a distinct purpose.  The goal of love is spiritual growth.

It’s not about forcing (yourself or) someone else to fit into your image of what they should be.  But about encouraging them to become their very best selves, in God’s divine image.  Notice the word-choice here: nurturing… not implementing, evoking, or creating this change (in oneself or others), but nurturing.  That’s significant.

  1. Love is a circular process.  The more we practice extending one’s self, the better we become at doing it.

It’s easy to think that the circular process refers to “the more you give, the more you get.” But that’s not what Peck means.  Instead, think of it as extending your limits and expanding your ability to love—akin to working a muscle.  (And you know what, if it helps, think of the phrase love-muscle…whatever works!)  The more you work it, the stronger it gets.

  1. Real love necessitates self-love.

This is a tough one to explain or understand without talking about the distinction between love and dependency (which will be the topic of a post in the very near future).  What it really comes down to is that love is about giving of one’s self, and you can’t give what you don’t have.

  1. Real love requires effort.

Anytime you “extend your limits” or “expand your ability” to do something, it requires effort.  Many people read this with a tinge of negativity, thinking: “effort”means work, and “work” means drudgery.  But a lot of wonderfully fun things that we do require effort.  What’s that cliché? Anything worth doing is worth doing well.  That, my friends, implies effort.

  1. Love is an act of the will; it is a choice.

Love is a decision; it is a choice you make, particularly when we are talking about nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.  Both the idea that love requires effort and that love is a choice will become much clearer in future posts about the distinction between love and feelings.

While Peck never used the word agape, his definition certainly aligns with that Greek term for love.  I hope his definition helps you as much as it has helped me come to a deeper understanding of what love means.

So think about it… Which parts of Peck’s definition resonate with your own experience?  What part(s) do you struggle with?

Consider what kind of “spiritual growth” the experience of love has nurtured for you (and that which you have nurtured in others).  In doing so, I invite you to understand this phrase, spiritual growth, as Peck intended: as the health and growth of the whole person.  Body, mind, and soul.  Physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.


“Two glasses of red wine © Depositphotos.com/Apriori”

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Heavenly Heart
Love, Love and Relationships
13

Love, Love, Love

I grew up in a house where we said “I love you” a lot. It was a statement of appreciation (“Thanks, Mom! Love you!”), a farewell (“Love you! Bye”), a part of the bedtime routine from childhood through adulthood, (“Goodnight! I love you!”), as well as an expression of sentiment (“Happy Birthday! I love you!”).

I frequently tell my husband, kids, siblings, parents, and friends “I love you!” And I mean it sincerely.

There is a bright shade of lime-green—also known as Julie-green—which I love. I love red wine and dark chocolate. I love cheese. I love my Vita-Mix, my iPhone, and the way my washer and dryer beep me a song when they’re finished a cycle (instead of buzzing). I love Austin.

I recently had the privilege of helping to create a quilt filled with messages of love and support for a dear friend who (after four years in remission and a full mastectomy) is facing a second bout of breast cancer.

A few days ago, my 3 ½ year old got sick in the middle of the night. He came to my bedside and in the saddest, most heartbreaking voice said, “Mommy, I had an accident and it got all over.” Without hesitation I jumped up and consoled him. Within a split second of surveying the scene, I called my husband in to tend to Max while I cleaned up the mess. The whole thing was quite unpleasant, but handled with tremendous love.

So what is love?

With all the different ways we use the word love, it’s a good idea to take a moment to reflect upon what exactly we mean. I am the first to admit my laziness when it comes to distinguishing between like and love. My love of places and things is really about enjoyment. And when it comes to wine, chocolate, technology, and Austin, that enjoyment is pretty intense.

In English, we have one all-inclusive word for love. In Greek, there are four distinct words. I appreciate the insight that C.S. Lewis gives in The Four Loves as he defines and describes each one and their relation to one another.

  1. Storge – (pronounced with two syllables, and a hard “g” ~ STORE-GAY) A love rooted in a natural fondness or affection. This is often the love we find within families, between parents and children or siblings. The expression “blood is thicker than water” reflects storge love.
  2. Philia – (the root word in Philadelphia; pronounced PHILLY-AH) true friendship love, involving loyalty, equality, respect, and the bonds of shared interests and activities.
  3. Eros – (the root word of erotic ~ ERR-OS) refers to a passionate love. This is certainly the intimate love of romance, but it is not necessarily sexual. Eros refers to the passionate love which touches the depths of one’s soul with excitement, energy, and beauty.
  4. Agape (pronounced both as AH-GAH-PAY and AH-GAH-PEE) is the unconditional giving of oneself—selflessly—for the good of another.

C.S. Lewis wisely points out that as we come to understand the different kinds of love, we shouldn’t feel the need to categorize a relationship or even a given experience as exclusively one of the four kinds of love. There is often quite a bit of overlap.

I find myself quite fortunate to have all four kinds of love for my husband. I have always had a fondness for geeks, so he started off with quite a bit of storge. Our friendship grew as we discovered our mutual appreciation of live music and outdoor fun (in Austin). The mutual respect that followed offered us a great foundation for philia, which we continually cultivate with quality time. Over time, we developed eros, with a passionate and energetic connection that feeds my spirit. And we undoubtedly practice agape with each other, with our children, and with the world around us.

I like that CS Lewis affirms that all love is good; we needn’t rate the four loves as superior and inferior. What we should do, however, is pay attention to the differences. Why? Just as we can get ourselves into trouble when we confuse love with like, things can also go awry when we confuse philia with agape (thinking we have to be friends with everybody).

In faith, we are called to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). But Jesus was not calling us to practice eros, storge, or philia. Jesus loves us with agape and calls us to practice agape—unconditional care and concern for the well-being of another—with those we encounter. Agape is the theological virtue of which St. Paul speaks in his First Letter to the Corinthians. Recognizing it as a virtue means that agape is the kind of love we can choose to practice, and become better at practicing.

As you think about who you love, consider also how you love. Which of the four loves do you find abundantly in your life? Which do you find yourself being nudged to cultivate more of and why?


“Heavenly heart © Depositphotos.com/christas”

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Toy airplane on map of China
Human Dignity
5

Actually, no – it’s YOU!

My Dad’s work with Dell has offered my parents the opportunity to live abroad for two brief stints.  Their first experience as expatriates landed them in Xiamen, China for 3 ½ years.  Presently, they are in the final weeks of a summer in Limerick, Ireland.

If you ask my Mom about their travels, you are likely to hear some of her adventures filled with self-depricating humor.  (Anyone who has ever met my Mom has undoubtedly heard her “My Trip to the Chinese Spa” story, which she recently submitted to Ellen.)  Mom will often humbly speak with awe and wonder at how she—a kid from Upper Darby—has had this amazing opportunity to travel.

What really gives you insight into her daily experiences, however, is her photographs.  It’s not the pictures of the sights that strike me.  It’s the pictures she takes of people.  Strangers.  Ordinary people doing ordinary things in their own cultural context.  My Mom might tell you that she’s inspired by the National Geographic images, or that she’s just capturing part of the experience of the country.  But I’m certain it’s about something more.

About a year into my parents’stay in China, Mom had mastered many of the challenges expats face, but still struggled with just getting things done some days.  She explained that she had a ton of errands to take care of…or rather it wasn’t actually that many…it was just that every errand literally took 12 times longer than it needed to because everyone wanted to talk with her.  Picking up tickets from Apple, the travel agent took an hour.  Shopping for jewelry meant another hour or two with Lenna, “the Pearl Lady.”  And of course on her way to Lenna’s she had to stop by to see Yogi—whether she needed anything from his shop of handpainted knicknacks or not.

CHINA_2005.07.21_0381 IMG_0122 CHINA_2005.07.14_0069
CHINA_2005.07.20_0369

And it wasn’t just shopkeepers. The tiny young woman who Mom frequented for facials and massages—Sha-Sha—wanted to talk with her throughout the entire session. Same went for Mrs. Lee, her acupuncturist.  Talking is a huge no-no in Mom’s book of relaxation, which I completely understand.

Mom couldn’t understand why all of the Chinese people she interacted with wanted to befriend her and talk.  Maybe they want to work on their English, she surmised.  Maybe they have just never seen a “big mamoo” like me.

Actually, no, Mom.

People are drawn to you because you see past their function and engage them as a human person.  You greet the cashier at the airport parking booth with the same genuine care and concern that one would use for friends and family.  People are drawn to you because of how you are with them.

The first time I began using the Catholic vocabulary word human dignity—the specialness, value, and worth each person has simply because we were created in the image and likeness of God—was when I started teaching a Peace and Justice class in the late 90’s.  It may have been a new phrase to me, but it was by no means a foreign concept.

Respect for human dignity is one of the Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching.  It is a foundational principle of who we are and how we practice our faith; respecting human dignity leads us to both moral behavior and acting with justice (which is precisely why I use it as a central concept when teaching).

Jewish theologian Martin Buber (d. 1965) contributes great insight to the ways in which we do (or do not) respect human dignity in his classic philosophical work I and Thou.  Buber identifies and describes the two fundamental ways we relate to our fellow human beings:

I—It                   and                  I—You


I—It  objectifies people, treating them as a means to an end.  I—It uses people as things.

I—You exemplifies genuine care and concern for people as human beings.  There is a real, personal presence in I-You encounters.

When we interact with other people, we either I—It them or we I—You them.

We immediately know it when we are on the receiving end of an I—It encounter.  For me, the epitome of this is represented by the retail sales clerk who puts out her hand to receive payment and the customer absent-mindedly tosses money in her general direction.

The quality connection which occurs in the I—You encounter brings life and love to the participants.  True human presence in an I—You exchange could be as simple as a non-verbal, eye-contact and head nod.  Or it could be the conversation true friends share over a glass of wine.  One thing is for sure, in that true human presence, we encounter the Divine: “in every You we address the eternal You” (Martin Buber, I and Thou.  Translated by Walter Kaufman. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970, 57 emphasis added).

I am so very fortunate to have had such an amazing example of respect for human dignity, and such a wonderful experience of I—You encounters with my Mom.  Wishing her a Happy Birthday in Ireland.  Cheers!


“Travel to china © Depositphotos.com/fiftycents”

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Skipping Rocks
Action, Joy, Projects
0

Just Do One Thing

 On any given to-do list, there are the pressing errands and whatnot that need urgent attention and then there are the projects – small and large – that tend to get back-burnered due to time constraints.

A little while ago, my group of Mom-friends decided they were going to do Project 365, taking a photo every day for a year.  Most of them planned on scrapbooking (digitally or on paper), and documenting a year of daily life in their families.  While I loved the idea, my project list was waaaaay too long, and I was pretty happy with the ease of sharing photos and posts on Facebook for all of my long distance family.

Instead, I proposed my own version: doing a project a day for a year.  I figured if I could just do one thing from my project list every day, it’d really help me out.

I had no idea the profound impact that this practice would have on my life.

I started listing out all those back-burnered things – in no particular order.  At the time I was struggling with depression and an intense set of work deadlines.  Both motivation and time were lacking in major ways.  But moreover, I started to feel mocked by my to-do list.  And there was no way I was going to let a list win.  So I began my 365 Projects.

Just. Do. One. Thing

Some days I would just have 5 or 10 minutes in between work, house, and motherhood responsibilities.  Other times, like on weekends, I’d take a little longer.  I found that if a task required multiple steps – like first acquiring the supplies and then actually patching the holes in the knees of my boys’ jeans – I’d count that as two things, especially since I’d have to do each step on a different day.

Within a remarkably short period of time (maybe six weeks), I had accomplished all of the nagging tasks on my list.  By just doing one thing each day, I eliminated the feeling of being overwhelmed.  I became proactive.  I was, once again, making a difference the organization and function of my home; I was making a difference in my life.

But that wasn’t even the best part.  The BEST part was what happened in my attitude.

Completing each of these projects brought me a little joy.  Every time I would use a space or a “thing” that had been part of one of my 365 Projects, I’d smile.  Embracing that joy transformed my attitude.  Now, when I encounter something that frustrates me, instead of being overwhelmed by the ever-growing to-do list tasks (which will always be there), I get excited about the possibilities and begin brainstorming a solution.

My friend and mentor, Tom Groome offers a reflection on John the Baptist which resonates deeply with people in ministry (and for what it’s worth, I consider motherhood a ministry).  Tom praises John’s wisdom for knowing that he is not the Messiah.  I remember Tom inviting us to speak those words aloud: I am not the MessiahI am not the MessiahI am not the Messiah.

So often – in both our personal and professional lives – we feel like we have to do it all, so overwhelmed by everything before us that we can’t figure out where to begin.

Whether it’s your home, your relationships, your kids, your friends, your work, or the social injustices plaguing our world, it’s a good idea to remind yourself:

I am not the Messiah.

We have one of those.  It’s not all up to you; that’s what God is for.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean that the answer is to do nothing.

When looking at the social injustices in the world, it’s not uncommon to hear people (mis)quote Jesus, “The Poor will always be with us” (Matthew 26:1).

Dorothy Day responds to this beautifully:  “Yes, the poor are always going to be with us—Our Lord told us that—and there will always be a need for our sharing…It will always be a lifetime job.  But I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor…we must do what we can to change it” (“Works of Mercy.” Dorothy Day Selected Writings. Ed Robert Ellsberg. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996, 111).

“What we would like to do is change the world…We can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.  We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world….[T]here is nothing we can do but love, and dear God—please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend” (Ibid, 98).


Skipping Rocks by Robb & Jessie Stankey licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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