Betsy was divorced and single for 13 years. She dated different men, had fun. Then she met an Anglican – as in English – priest named David 12 years younger than she through their work.
They met again when he came to her house, and it was then that they both knew they wanted to be together.
“…the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ ”
Just as Betsy and David recognized what they longed for in each other’s eyes, Jesus recognized what he longed for in the centurion, even through simply receiving the message from the man’s friends. But it doesn’t always work that way, does it? We might find another person we think could be our close friend, someone to love; we might find a job we think is just what we’ve longed for but then find as we live into the relationship or the work that it isn’t what we had longed for after all. It can happen with counselors, spiritual coaches, support groups, too. What’s the problem? How could Jesus know right away that the centurion’s faith was real and act on that knowledge, heal the slave even from afar, and we sometimes get it right and sometimes don’t?
In a recent New York Times article called “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” writer Alain de Bottonmay gets at these questions. In the article, he is discussing marriage, but we can apply it to our other relationships and endeavors as well. He explains:
“But though we believe ourselves to be seeking happiness in marriage, it isn’t that simple. What we really seek is familiarity … We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood.” De Bottonmay goes on to say that often the love we experience when we are children is mixed with other feelings of fear, insecurity, striving to be the responsible member of the family. And so we seek out partners who trigger those same emotions – not because they are right for us but because the environment produced with them is familiar to us. And he adds, ominously, “We make mistakes, too, because we are so lonely.”
Other experts assert that what we seek in love relationships is to cure, to heal our past broken relationships. If we grow up with an alcoholic parent, we are likely to marry an alcoholic – partly because it’s a familiar environment and partly because subconsciously we hope that it will work out this time.
We are muddled. And Jesus was not. Because of Jesus’ inner purity, his clean self-awareness, when he saw faith in the centurion, it was not mixed up with his own longings for the familiar, to help him feel less lonely, to heal anything from his past. Clear-eyed and clear-souled – that’s the perspective from which Jesus encountered the centurion and saw into the man’s heart even through the distance; saw into the man’s heart and found his faith beating with a sound rhythm.
So what are we to do? How do we navigate through our inner murkiness to see each other and ourselves in a clear-eyed way? A friend of mine years ago said that she pays strong attention to her intuition – her inner guidance to go in a certain direction — and then checks it out to test it, to clarify where it’s coming from. To discern if it’s coming from God, or if it’s coming from her own needs for healing, companionship, feeling worthy. Or both. And that’s what Betsy and David did. Instead of heading straight for the altar, they dated for several years and continued to test the relationship to see if they were called to marry. And eventually they did make their trip to the altar.
We can follow that path in our own lives, too, with people we meet, jobs we consider, schools we contemplate. All of the various choices we make as we go along. And as we give ourselves over to that sacred time, that sacred work, we will live into the beauty, challenges, unknowns, uncertainties of discernment. And with God’s help, that discernment will lead us to the very door of all that for which we so desperately long.