You fill my heart with your absence

Who are you, that you fill my heart with your absence?
Who fill the world with your absence? — Pär Lagerkvist

I was speaking with a woman who shared with me her marital struggles, and she said something that captured powerfully a truth:

I feel [my husband and I] have forgotten why we married. Work, children, our own lives intervened and we lost sight of what made us choose each other. My fear is that one of us will find that answer somewhere else.

When I asked her what made her aware of their crisis, she said, “When he came home after a week away, and I realized I never even missed him. That feeling of emptiness frightened me.”

In a relationship of love, absence evokes longing. In the death of love, absence is apathy. This is what the spiritual tradition calls acedia, a listless loss of desire for the good, a loss of resolve to keep promises, as loss of will to struggle for love.

Love is free in its offer, but costly in its reception. Love requires sleepless attentiveness, labor, sacrifice, cultivation, planning, guarding, defending. Yes, there are times we can (and must) rest in the beauty, joy and pleasure of love, but only after six days of work have nurtured those fruits.

If we take for granted the love God has given us, that love granted us “will be taken away and given to a people that produces the fruits” (Matt. 21:43).

Love is not ours to take, squander and cast away. Love is a gift that belongs properly to God alone, for God is love. He entrusts it to us afresh each day, as first in the beginning in the Garden, to see if this time we might — only with His grace — cultivate the life-giving fruits of enduring love that last on into eternity.

Or not.

At the end of my conversation with that woman, I said, “You know that empty feeling you had when your husband came home? I believe that was a gift from God. The gift of emptiness that, more like a stomach than a glass, reminds you you are starving. Even when the feast is right in front of you. Choose the feast…”

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