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No One Can Stop Us From Loving Others

Mar 16, 2008

I love looking at the sky. When I’m buried in work and stress and the confusion of a million details, I often go out in our backyard and stand under the trees and look up at the sky. I feel the oppression of the daily grind melt away as I breathe and stretch and revel in the limitlessness of the heavens.

In the same way, a beautiful view of a sunset, or a mountain valley, or the ocean, all remind me of one of the most powerful antidotes to misery. All of these aspects of nature share in their power to draw me out of myself. As I gaze at vistas of beauty, the direction of my thoughts goes outward, away from “me”, and toward the beauty in front of me.

It is an interesting fact that our eyes don’t look inward. Unless we’re standing in front of a mirror, our vision guides us in the direction of others. I believe that one of the great keys to happiness, if not the key to happiness, is the simple, mechanical function of changing our direction from that of looking inward to the direction of looking away from ourselves toward others.

This does not mean that we should never look inward. It’s very difficult to care for others if we’re out of touch with our inner world. Indeed, to find the power to give to others, I believe that we need to make a tremendous effort to understand and diagnose ourselves, and then connect our hearts and minds to our higher nature and the wellspring of love that comes from God. Going inward in this way should eventually inspire us to turn outward, in alignment with what I believe is our original nature of unselfishness. If God dwells inside each person, and is constantly looking outward, with love for others, then our alignment with the direction of His love makes us a conduit for His love to flow to those around us.

Looking inward for the purpose of growth and a desire to become better is very different from the far easier habit of living a life focused primarily on our own needs. If our focus is mostly on ourselves, our world will become smaller and smaller. We’ll enter an inner world with no one in it but ourselves, and we’ll find ourselves trapped inside a small and darkened box of complaint and resentment. Living in a mental room walled in by our self-centered desires will make us increasingly miserable and bitter.

If that sounds depressing, it’s because it is depressing. The good news is that we can change the direction of our thoughts and actions at any time. That’s why I love looking at the sky. It helps me remember once again that turning my attention toward others liberates me. The beauty of nature stimulates a heart of gratitude, and gratitude is a prerequisite for a life of joy.

Our search for happiness sometimes includes the words, “If only...” If only I could make more money. If only I could go live on the other side of the fence where the grass is greener. If only I had more control over my life. Yet, is there anything we can control in our lives? I fully believe in the concept of taking charge of one’s own destiny through positive thinking, goal setting and miracle prayers. From that point of view, the answer is yes. However, even with positive thinking, we may still feel that we’re at the mercy of a capricious fate. We may have all kinds of plans that we hope will bring us happiness, but there are many factors that affect their outcomes, ranging from so-called “acts of God”, to human accidents, and even the evil deeds of other people.

When I find myself worrying about the outcome of some part of my life, I often remind myself that “The only thing I can control is how much love I give to others.” Some might argue with the technical truth of that statement, but it serves as an inspiration to me. No matter what the circumstance, I am always free to love others. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to love others. It’s not at all easy, especially when the other person is difficult to love. The primary difficulty of course is the fact that few of us are saints. We have deep flaws that make it easier for us to be selfish. Yes, indeed, we have met the enemy, and it is us. Have I told you about my own flaws? I don’t want to bore you, for they are many, and not at all inspiring.

Still, with all of our flaws, if we decide to try to love other people, and if we muster our internal will and desire with fighting spirit and push back against the dark walls of our own selfishness, we will be able to declare to ourselves with absolute conviction that “No one can stop me from loving others!”

I can’t control how other people treat me. I can’t control the weather, or random drive by shootings, or the stock market, or even who calls me on the telephone. But what I can control is how much love I give to others. I can’t just decide to become a saint overnight. Yet, I can control whether I try to walk in the direction of giving love to others, in the manner of the saints.

Our decision to walk the path of love is the most important commitment of our lives. It doesn’t end our struggle and it doesn’t necessarily make the quality of our love any better than it was before. Sometimes we try to “give love to others” and find ourselves acting in an insensitive, superior and arrogant fashion. Sometimes we think we are “living for the sake of others” because we’re sacrificing for a grand and public purpose. The public purpose may indeed be valuable, but of what quality is our sacrifice and our love if we mistreat those around us while we work for an urgent cause? What value is our public sacrifice if we trick ourselves into thinking that our neglect of our family is a noble sacrifice, when the reality is that we don’t have enough love to offer them?

The realization that our love is far below the standard of God’s personal and thoughtful love for each person is a sobering wake up call. Yet, it is our determination and desire to continue to give love to others that will lead us forward, allowing us to grow in our ability to care for others. Self-reflection, balance, and a parental and patient heart of love toward ourselves is vital to our growth, for it is all too easy to give up when we face our own shortcomings.

We all need help on the journey. One way to inspire ourselves is to connect with other people that have led lives of nobility. History has given us many examples of saintly people who stand as guideposts, showing us what we can become if we’re committed to the long process of growth, and decide to walk in the right direction.

One such person is the example of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. He was a Polish Catholic, and was arrested in 1941 for anti-Nazi activity. He was sent to Pawiak prison in Warsaw, and then to Auschwitz. When the authorities thought that a prisoner had escaped, ten other prisoners were gathered up and sentenced to death by starvation. One of the ten prisoners cried out in lamentation that his wife and children would never see him again. Father Kolbe volunteered to take his place. Kolbe and nine others were placed in a bunker and left to die, without food or water.

In Wesley J. Smith’s article, “A ‘Painless’ Death?”, published in 2003 by The Weekly Standard, a neurologist named William Burke was quoted as saying this about death by dehydration:

A conscious [cognitively disabled] person would feel it just as you or I would. They will go into seizures. Their skin cracks, their tongue cracks, their lips crack. They may have nosebleeds because of the drying of the mucus membranes, and heaving and vomiting might ensue because of the drying out of the stomach lining. They feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. Imagine going one day without a glass of water! Death by dehydration takes ten to fourteen days. It is an extremely agonizing death.

Father Kolbe was in the direst of situations, under pressure that caused many prisoners to scratch against the cell walls until their fingernails bled. No one would have blamed him if he had turned inward and focused on his own suffering. His example was so noble that he was finally canonized in 1982 by Pope John Paul II.

Instead of descending into a mental and spiritual hell, Father Kolbe turned his direction outward, and led the nine other prisoners in singing hymns and saying prayers. When the guards came to their cell, Father Kolbe was found standing or kneeling, and greeted the guards cheerfully. After two weeks, only Father Kolbe was left. Needing the cell for other victims, the Nazis executed him by injecting him with carbolic acid.

When I think of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, I am awed and humbled by his capacity to express God’s love to others in the midst of truly hellish circumstances. He lived a lifestyle that serves as a signpost for the rest of us. He embodied to the fullest the credo that boldly affirms, “No one can stop us from loving others!”

May we all do a fraction as well.

Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”

~ Deus est auctor amoris et decoris. ~

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Peter Falkenberg Brown
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