Upon madly scrambling to review for my last final, Religion 240: Explorations on Catholicism, I happened to finally crack open a textbook that was assigned to my class this semester: Jean Vanier’s Becoming Human. After reading a few chapters, I now greatly regret not having read it earlier. It is a beautifully written book, and I am definitely picking up a copy for myself after this final is over!
In this book, Jean Vanier, the founder of l’Arche, an international federation that supports those with people with disabilities, talks about his experiences and recounts on how to become human. A chapter that caught my eye was on his chapter of loneliness. He explores how l’Arche had helped this blind and autistic girl, Claudia, and allowed her to become a positive human being. He does this by explaining that the people of l’Arche gave Claudia the love and attention she so desperately craved after being sent from asylum to asylum.
A quote by Vanier truly hit me and made me stop and marvel at how beautifully intelligent and compassionate he really is.
“There are, for me, seven aspects of love that seem necessary for the transformation of the heart in those who are profoundly lonely. They are: to reveal, to understand, to communicate, to celebrate, to empower, to be in communion with another, and finally, to forgive.” – Jean Vanier, Becoming Human.
The first aspect of love that Vanier explores is revelation. He says that:
“To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention.”
We can also do this through our gestures that are full of respect and enable the other person to see their worth. This passage is so true and I think it should be done in all relationships, romantic or not. How often do we feel unworthy or insecure? During our darkest times, or even when we are having a bad day, we will infinitely feel better if we have somebody remind us that we mean something to them. Vanier closes this passage with a beautiful statement:
“When we reveal to people our belief in them, their hidden beauty rises to the surface where it may be more clearly seen by all.”
The second aspect of love is being able to understand. Vanier explains this aspect by describing how once Claudia was better understood, her treatment went along faster. In relationships, it is sometimes difficult to understand what the other person is thinking simply because we cannot comprehend what their mind is thinking and what their heart is feeling. This uncertainty creates doubt, and that doubt then turns into miscommunication. Without understanding, a relationship cannot foster or grow in mutual love. Understanding the other person takes a great deal of patience and compassion. However, once a mutual understanding is established, then a relationship will be that much stronger.
The third aspect of love is communication, or as Vanier explains it as “the heart of love.” Communication is such a huge aspect of any relationship, and without it, then a relationship will be doomed forever. How many times have you had communication problems with someone you care about only to stumble upon more problems that could have easily been avoided if you had communicated well in the first place? Personally, I am terrible at communication, which gets me in a lot of trouble from my boyfriend. 😛 Jokes aside, communicating with your loved one really is key to having a long-lasting relationship of any kind. Without it, no mutual understanding and most importantly, no love can be fostered. Vanier describes communication involving movement: the one who is healed and the one who is healing constantly changing. It is very important to have both parties moving the passing of communication. If one lets go, then the other will be left with nothing to hold on to communicate back with! However, communication cannot happen unless we fully understand ourselves before communicating what we need from others so we feel understood. By missing this step, a whole slew of chaos will ensure (trust me on this one)! As Vanier aptly puts it:
“When nothing is named, confusion grows and with it comes anguish.”
The fourth aspect of love is celebration. To love a person is to not only reveal their value, to understand and care for them, but it is also to celebrate them. In love, there needs to be joyous celebration so one can be reminded of their worth and how wonderful their place on this planet truly is. Without these reminders, the other aspects of love will weigh down heavily on a relationship and it will lose control of how to be joyful.
The fifth aspect of love is empowerment. Vanier says that to love means to empower. It isn’t just about doing things for others but also helping them to do things for themselves, helping them to discover the meaning of their lives. As nice as it is to always offer someone your aid, it is also important to let the person you care about feel empowered so they take responsibility and ownership of their own life. We must empower our loved ones to find what makes them feel most happy and worthy of themselves. This empowerment will also lead to respecting not only ones self, but also, respecting others.
The sixth aspect of love is communion.
“It is a mutual trust, mutual belonging; it is the to-and-fro movement of love between two people where each one gives and each one receives. It is not a fixed state, it is an ever-growing and deepening reality that can turn sour if one person tries to possess the other, thus preventing growth. Communion is mutual vulnerability and openness one to the other.”
How often have we felt alone during times of uncertainty? I certainly have felt this throughout the course of my life, even amongst a room full of people. Our need to belong is a strong trait that makes us human. Without that sense of belonging, one can feel lost and unwanted. When communion is found, however, love can grow in a relationship. However, communion also entails trusting the other to love us without reservation and to help us feel safe despite putting down our inner barriers, leaving us completely vulnerable.
The last aspect of love, which I feel is the most important one is forgiveness. How often have we gotten into disagreements with our loved ones only to have feelings unresolved because pride gets in the way? Without forgiveness, the negativity of carrying those spiteful and grudging feelings will continue onto other relationships and will just lead to more problems down the road. Forgiveness of others is needed in order to love, but also, forgiveness of ourselves is also needed so we can truly and fully love others.
“All of us carry within ourselves brokenness, as well as shadow areas, dark corners of the spirit where uncomfortable things are hidden.”
Our insecurities and dark thoughts about ourselves are most often our downfalls, which leads to confusion and us hurting those we care about. However, we cannot just continue to beat ourselves up for things we have done in the past. To love fully, we must truly forgive ourselves so we can begin to forgive those who have hurt us as well.
These aspects of love laid out by Jean Vanier are very important, and will definitely help anyone on their way to fostering a healthy and strong relationship. Certainly this book has opened my eyes a bit and allowed me to really evaluate myself and how I treat those I care about in my life.
Aside from all that, I really do recommend that you pick up his book On Becoming Human at your local bookstore! It is definitely a good read that touches base on several themes aside from love. If you do happen to breeze through it, please let me know your thoughts. 🙂 Now I am off to bed because I am feeling very sick thanks to all those people in my life who just had to share their sick germs with me. Thanks, you guys.
Wish me luck on my final tomorrow!