Lately, I’ve been reading a lot written by Richard Rohr. I receive his daily meditation and this is a recent one that made me stop and think.
You’ve probably heard things about loving and suffering, as I have. I’ve heard that when you love someone, you are opening yourself up to be hurt because no one lives forever. When they die, or if they leave you, you’ll hurt. Often the follow-up is that the future pain is worth the present happiness. Or sometimes I’ll hear the quote, “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.” (Kahlil Gibran) What Richard Rohr writes about is different than those sentiments.
If we love anyone or anything deeply and greatly, it is fairly certain we will soon suffer because we have given up control to another, and the price ... will soon show itself. Undoubtedly, this is why we are told to be faithful in our loves, because such long-term loyalty and truly conscious love will always lead us to the necessary pruning (John 15:2) of the narcissistic self.
Authentic love (which is always more than a heart feeling) initially opens the door of awareness and aliveness, and then suffering for that love keeps that door open...
He’s not talking about future suffering -- like after someone dies, or after you let them go -- he’s saying we suffer in the present, while we are loving. He’s not talking about the pain you suffer when you lose someone. He’s talking about a different kind of suffering.
What kind of suffering is he talking about here? He says, “...the necessary pruning (John 15:2) of the narcissistic self.” That verse, John 15:2, is from the quite well-known passage where Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches” and in that particular verse he says, “...while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” I haven’t thought very hard about that particular phrase before. It’s good when a branch bears fruit -- right? -- yet Jesus says he still prunes it. I think of pruning as cutting off the branches that do not bear fruit, and Jesus says he does do that, but he also prunes the ones that do bear fruit.
So, here I am trying to be a “fruitful branch,” and, I hope and pray, actually doing that at that at least sometimes. I don’t always show the love of God to others, but I think I do quite often. I don’t always act unselfishly but I keep trying to do better at that. I don’t always speak kindly and uplift conversations, but I know that’s something I need to keep working on. I don’t always extend mercy and help those who have less than I do, but I give to charities and try to do my bit. I could be a more fruitful branch, but I do bear fruit.
Yet, Jesus seems to be saying, even though I am a fruitful branch, he prunes me. I’ve heard that verse used when talking about the fact that Christians suffer, and suffering builds character, and makes us better. I think that is a true application, but Rohr talks about “pruning of the narcissistic self.”
So, what is this “narcissistic self” about? I want to read and think about this more, but here are some of my thoughts: Narcissism is being “extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance.” In another article, Rohr quotes Thomas Merton: “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man [or woman] that I want myself to be…” That rings true to me, does it to you? I have this image of the self I want to be. I know in my mind that I’m not as good as I want to be, yet when someone else points that out, I so badly don’t want that to be true that I get all defensive.
I listened to an interview with Richard Rohr this week, and he said he prays for “one humiliation a day.” He explains that he fears his fame and the adulation he gets because of it will make him vain, so he asks for at least one humiliation a day in order to watch his own reaction to it, and to learn from it.
I don’t have to worry about fame and adulation, but maybe this gets at what is meant by pruning -- things happen (people say things, or I say things, or I read things, or whatever) that convict me in an uncomfortable way. I suffer humiliation. I suffer disillusionment. I realize that I am not the person I like to think I am. And God uses that suffering to make me “even more fruitful.” I learn a truth that helps me love God and others more. I see someone else’s pain and can contribute to healing. My heart is softened so I can accept more. Somehow, God makes me “even more fruitful.”
May we all experience God’s love in such a deep way that we become “even more fruitful.” I don’t pray to be humiliated, and I certainly am not praying each of you will be humiliated so that you become more fruitful. Pruning is shaping, too. We are constantly being shaped and transformed by our experiences, even when we suffer. All that we experience becomes who we are. May God’s love continue to form us in his image -- make us more and more like him. May our extreme interest in ourselves melt away as we sink deeper and deeper into the mysterious, wondrous oneness of the Trinity -- the father, son, and holy spirit.
What can I pray about for you?