The other day, I was sorting through some old papers and came across the “Fall in Love” prayer by Joseph Whelan, SJ. His thoughts are so simple yet so profound. I was glad to come across them again.
The first time I read these words, though, I was completely intimidated. It was my first Ignatian retreat, and Whelan’s words presented such a challenge that I had to fight the urge to hightail it out of the retreat center! I wasn’t sure if I was ready to be this honest with myself. And while I was indeed searching and wanting to know God, I wasn’t yet sure if I had found God at all. I wondered, How am I supposed to “fall in love and stay in love” with a God I am just getting to know?
There came no immediate answer from above and no immediate rising to the challenge on my part. I just kept sitting with God—and wondering.
It wasn’t until many years later that the answer to my question started to reveal itself as I was reading St. John of the Cross’s Ascent of Mount Carmel. St. John advised, “In the first place, it should be known that if a person is seeking God, His beloved is seeking him much more.” This concept was profoundly liberating to me. I had been seeking, trying so hard to know God, but I perceived myself as being on a solitary quest. Reading St. John, I realized that I was not alone at all—God was already seeking me! This struck a chord deep within my heart. Ours is not a God who lets us “go it alone.” Ours is a God of relationship. If we are seeking God, we are responding to the One who has already been calling us. Suddenly, the task of “falling in love” and “staying in love” with God seemed so much easier, because being “in love” requires relationship.
Despite this realization, though, I still find Fr. Whelan’s words challenging. They still stretch me out of my comfort zone and urge me to conduct a sort of “spiritual check-up” as I look at the truths of my daily life. If we dare to rise to the challenge, Whelan can help us all to come to a more authentic relationship with God.
We can ask ourselves:
- What is it that gets me out of bed in the morning?
- What is it that I do with my waking hours?
- What often seizes my imagination?
- What brings me joy and makes me grateful?
- What breaks my heart?
- With what am I actually in love?
For most of us, if we tackle these questions honestly, we will come across some inconsistencies. We may be surprised that our thoughts and desires are not where we thought they were or where we want them to be. That’s OK; we’re not saints yet! As we journey forth, it’s OK to make adjustments if we’ve gone off-course.
If we do want to re-align our lives, we must remember that we aren’t on the quest alone. We are in relationship with God. And every strong relationship needs an ongoing investment of time. In his recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis advises young married couples that “Love needs time and space; everything else is secondary” (224). The same words ring true for our relationship with God. If we really want to fall in love and stay in love with God, we must give God our time, and we must allow room for the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts.
We must take the time to be with God. This be-ing with will determine the everything of how we live.