Have there been times in your life when you’ve chosen your own benefit at the expense of others?
I was spending a few days at an event with colleagues. After breakfast, a long-time friend pulled me aside to talk. She quietly told me that she wanted to share something personal and asked that I keep it confidential. I assured her that the information would go no further. To my dismay, she shared that she had recently been diagnosed with a chronic, crippling illness. While the prognosis wasn’t good, her doctor explained that because the diagnosis was made early, treatment would likely extend her quality of life for many years. She also said that she was only telling me and one other colleague she considered a friend. I hugged my friend and let her know she had my support and that I’d be available should she want a listening ear. We then went to the next scheduled event.
Later that day at lunch, I sat at a table with some people I knew. My friend who shared the news of her illness was not there. But the other person she told was at the same table. Over dessert, this woman said to the group, “There’s something I have to share with you but please keep it quiet. So-and-so is very ill and it doesn’t look good.” The gossip began.
When we left the table, I stopped the woman who shared the news and told her that I was aware the she and I were both given that information in confidence. I asked why she shared it. She replied, “The others would want to know, so I decided to tell them.” She seemed to have no recognition that she betrayed a friend.
In his writings, St. Augustine, the fifth century theologian of the Christian tradition, addressed what he called disordered love. It’s a great term and simply refers to love that is out of order or wrongly prioritized. The woman who gossiped and broke an agreed-to confidence loved the power and influence of gossip more than she loved her friend. Rather than being faithful to her friend, she chose to betray her friend by sharing information so as to appear “in the know.”
Disordered love seems to characterize many things that occur in our society today. Many people love greed more than honesty and transparency. This was the basis of the mortgage crisis of 2009. Other people love their careers more than their spouses or children. This leads to broken relationships. Many people love pleasure and comfort more than responding to the needs of others. This results in growing poverty and homelessness. It’s not that making money, having comfort, and pursuing a career are wrong. But when our love of things is out of order, people are hurt.
Augustine believed that sin was essentially disordered love. As is evident from the examples I gave, disordered love is rooted in individuals having their priorities out of balance. The result of an individual’s disordered love is communal and social: it can impact loved ones and friends and, when others share the same misprioritizing of things, can impact societies, economies, and policies.
Love is properly ordered when people are grounded in the reality of who they are and live in right-relationships with others. I find that being properly grounded in who we are is the primary task of spiritual practice. Time in prayer and meditation pulls us away from all the clutter of our days and into the simple reality of being people created in the Divine Image. It’s from that place that we can relate to others in a properly ordered sense of love.
When we learn to spend time regularly, to sit in silent prayer and meditation, we are better able to let go of ambitions that result in disordered love. Instead, we embrace with humility who we are, experience great peace within us, grow to respect others, and move toward respectful relationships with people in our lives.
What are ways that regular spiritual practice can help you live in right-relationship with yourself and others?
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© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.