Had a conversation recently with a friend about the cost of pursuing a relationship. The adage, “For every yes, there are a thousand no’s,” came to mind. A variation on the same theme is, “Every choice is a renunciation.” This is why I suck at living out Jesus’s bit of wisdom to, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.‘” I often fail to honour my commitments and promises because I want to maximize the number of options that might potentially better suit my schedule, mood, expectations, ego, and well-being. Yuck!! And yet I continue on this vein, heaping coals on my own head, alienating myself preemptively from people whom I have disappointed, and copping out from owning the consequences of my actions.

Nice people will sugarcoat this bit of self-awareness by describing me as “spontaneous” and excusing me for needing to “take care of myself.” Partly true, these perceptions come in handy to ease guilt, but in my heart of hearts, I know my own motivations best. And God can see right into my heart.

I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with commitment and honouring promises. It’s a relational challenge for a great deal of people. I myself have been hurt many times by people who say they will call or do things with/for me, but don’t. I try to control the extent to which I hurt by forcing myself to lower my expectations or dismiss broken promises as being a social norm. Worse, I try to reason it all away by accusing myself of being unreasonable. But this control freakish, in-denial thinking is to no avail. Hurt is hurt because, like it or not, expectations do come with the territory of relationships, whether they are personal or professional. And unmet expectations hurt.

Here’s what Rolheiser has to say on commitment in marriage:

“Every choice is, in fact, thousands of renunciations: if I marry this person, I cannot marry any of the millions of other potential mates; if I live in England, I cannot live anywhere else in this world; if I become a professional athlete, I cannot go to medical school and become a doctor; if I have this, then I cannot have that. The list could go on indefinitely. To choose one thing is always to renounce many others. Such is the nature of choice.

In most areas of our lives, however, we do not feel this so strongly. We choose, and there is not much pain of loss. But this is not as true in the area of love. Here, consciously and unconsciously, we feel the sting of loss, and thus there is more resistance, more reluctance to close off options. It is in the area of love that we find it difficult to accept the limits of life and love. What limits? The limits that come with being an inifinite spirit in a finite world. …

No wonder commitment in love is so difficult. We have all this energy, all this yearning, all this capacity, we have infinity inside us, and, at a point, it all comes down to this, marrying one person–this particular man or woman–with all of his or her flaws and inadequacies, in this particular place and time. Infinity limited by a finite choice. But such is the nature of actual incarnate human love. True human love, beyond the abstract, beyond daydreams, and beyond the grandiosity of somehow thinking that we are a god or goddess who can make love to everyone, is a deeply painful renunciation. But it is a renunciation that has the potential to healthily ground us in reality in a way that … few other experiences can. To make a permanent commitment in love, in the particular, is to grow up in a very important way.”

Rolheiser doesn’t get into how permanent commitment in love translates into growing up, but I will assert that pain is involved here. Pain is necessary for growing up (e.g. remember adolescence?), for any kind of growth (e.g. “no pain, no gain). Pushing through the pain has been a constant mark in all of my closest relationships.

Also, marriage would be a very scary undertaking for me because I doubt that I have the capacity to bear the inevitable and unpredictable pain required in sticking to a permanent promise. And by bear, I don’t mean the grit-your-teeth kind of tolerance, but rather continuing to consciously choose commitment regardless of how bad things feel. I suppose this is why God needs to figure prominently in a marital relationship. From whom else can two falliable human beings draw sustenance, vision, and renewal when things go awry?

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