How do you connect with someone who can’t talk, who can’t say I love you, who can’t even look you in the eye? And how do you love someone you can’t connect with? Before I had Katie I often asked those questions when I would meet a person who had severe disabilities. I couldn’t understand how you could build a relationship with someone who couldn’t talk. I also remember a phone conversation with my sister when Katie was a newborn, before we knew the extent of her disabilities. I said, “I can handle a lot, but I don’t think I can deal with this if she can’t talk. She has to be able to talk!!” Fast forward 11 years and Katie has never spoken a single word, but she communicates love like no one else.
To answer these questions we have to understand what it means to truly love. On Valentine’s Day a few years ago I was listening to a homily by Father Robert Barron. He was talking about 1st Corinthians 13. You know, the one about love that you’ve heard at most every wedding you have ever been to. It was read at our wedding, but I had never taken the time to study what each verse meant.
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything that I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Love is the center of everything. We can have all the things this world has to offer and all the things God has to offer, but if we don’t know how to love, none of it matters. Love is to will the good of other people. When I heard that statement I instantly thought of my parents. They love me so intensely just like that, and never expect anything in return. They taught me how to love Katie with an unconditional love. If we are kind to others just so they will like us, or bring someone dinner in hopes they will return the favor or give a gift knowing they will give us one back, we are thinking about ourselves. We have ulterior motives, not love. When we put other’s happiness in front of our own we are showing pure love.
“Love is patient, love is kind.”
I lose my patience with Katie just like with my typical kids and it’s always because I am putting myself ahead of her. I want things done on my own time frame and according to my will. This is a tough one with a special needs child because very few things happen the way I want them to. Milestones are not met, outings are cancelled because she is sick, therapy sessions are cut short because she isn’t cooperating. If I were loving as God wants, my emotions wouldn’t be a factor. If we take ourselves out of the equation and look at what the other person needs, patience comes flowing out of our love for them. And kindness is the expression of this patient love.
“It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests…”
Jealousy isn’t a factor in my relationship with Katie or my other kids, but it does rear its ugly head in other relationships and it always comes from my ego. When someone else has more, does something better or just seems happier than us, we automatically feel less than. When in actuality their accomplishment has nothing to do with us at all. If you are a parent think about how good it feels to find out your child has succeeded at something. Then think about the same scenario with someone you are not as fond of, the accomplishment stings a bit. But we are called to love everyone, even those who don’t always make us smile. Jealousy usually leads to gossip, because if we can find someone to agree with us we inflate our own ego…the opposite of love.
“… it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrong doing but rejoices with the truth.”
Being Katie’s mommy requires a lot of one on one work teaching her very basic things, sometimes she does great and others not so much. At times when she has more difficulty learning I get frustrated, quick tempered…why? Because I feel like I am failing, I’m not doing enough to help her. What is that? You guessed it, my ego. It’s not about me, it’s about her and doing all things for her with love and not focusing on the results. Think about a time when someone really ticked you off. Then think about the root of that anger, it likely had something to do with your ego. But if we love properly we are not focused on our own feelings and we let insults roll off our back, because it’s not about us.
“It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
It is hard to bear other peoples struggles, sometimes I just want to leave the room when Katie is sobbing inconsolably. Sometimes I do walk out for a breather, but I try to stay by her side, bearing her pain, enduring her suffering because I love her. When we love others we are ready to bear anything for them. When they are in pain, we endure that pain too because we are focused on helping them not on our own self-interest. I have great hope for Katie, I have no idea if she will ever speak or walk independently, but I have hope, there is always hope. We have hope for those we love, hope that they will realize that life is about growing in their love for Christ, hope that they realize staying stagnant in their faith walk is never enough for God.
“Love never fails.”
God is love and God is eternal. If we love the way we are called to by God, there is nothing in this world that will end it. That’s a bold statement because people hurt us all the time. But again love is not concerned with our hurt, it’s focused on others. God calls us to love everyone even our enemies, it is His greatest commandment.
“If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”
Father Barron explains this passage as a comparison to our spiritual immaturity. When I was a child, obsessed with myself, with wealth and worldly pleasures I spoke only of that and did not have God as my priority. When I became a man, I put God first, I realized He is the only thing that matters. He also says this passage compares earth to heaven. We only know partially here in our flesh, but in heaven we will know fully and it will be more beautiful than we can even imagine.
“So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
So how do I love Katie when she can’t say it back? Because I LOVE her, I bear her pain, I want what’s best for her, I know it is not about me and what she can do for me. It is the essence of unconditional love. That is the beautiful gift Katie has given me, teaching me that love can be so perfect when we humble ourselves and put our own ego aside for the good and benefit of someone else.