Posted by: Mike | July 18, 2013

Me, Soulmate, and I

I’m out at a conference this week, so I thought I’d post an older composition of mine:

“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.”  J.R.R. Tolkein

If the contemporary concept of “soul mate” were a person I’d have it drug out into the street and shot. And such vigilante justice would be justified.  Like a villainous mafia boss whose tendrils have infiltrated and taken hold of every facet of society and whose puppetry orchestrates countless deaths, the soul mate fantasy is relationships’ Public Enemy Number One.

It might surprise you, then, to discover that I also believe in soul mates.  But we’ll get to that…

The problem with the current understanding of a soul mate is that it’s really just an extension of the ego.  It’s another person that shares your interests, your desires, your feelings – although ironically not necessarily your beliefs – and is a source of your emotional fulfillment and happiness.  It’s the clichéd Jerry McGuire-ism: “you complete me.”  Too often someone’s soul mate is less an actual person than an experience that happens to them, which is the antithesis of love.  Evidence for this is how quickly these relationships deteriorate when the experience of the person gives way to the person himself and all their glorious imperfections; emotions can only hide how loudly they chew their food for so long…and for the love of all that is holy STOP BITING YOUR NAILS!!!

But I digress.

In the Return of the Jedi there are several scenes of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader strafing around one another exchanging banter.  One iconic moment is when Luke tells Vader, “I feel the good in you, the conflict,” to which Vader adamantly decries, “there is no conflict!”  What is most profound about this narrative is that Vader is mostly machine at this point, literally his own creation.  It takes another person, Luke, to remove the “mask” and reveal his true nature, the goodness within.  Luke didn’t add anything to Vader, he didn’t complete Vader, he revealed the Anakin that was always there.

Nowhere is this truth more evident than in Scripture with the first soul mates: Adam and Eve.  Prior to the creation of Eve, Adam experienced an “aloneness” so grave it holds the honor of first “not good” in the whole of creation.  When reflecting on this in the past I found the situation puzzling.  Before the fall Adam has the most intimate relationship man ever had with God.  For example, he frequently walks with God through the garden when holy figures throughout the Old Testament could not even look at Him for fear of death.  If the words of St. Augustine are true, and that our “hearts are restless until they rest in you,” where is this “restlessness” coming from?

Adam was not restlessly longing for completion he was longing for identity – he didn’t know who he was.  Yes, he was made in the image of God and shared in His divine love but he could not see or understand himself as made in this image.  Eve, then, is not created separately as an accessory to him but is literally pulled from him.  Adam and Eve are two parts of the same human being and through their union they reveal to each other their identity and what it means to be fully human.

Healthy relationship, exemplified most visibly in marriage, is not about affirming what you already know to be true about yourself; it’s about becoming the person you could never have become without them.  There is no person out there who is going to complete you; such a relationship creates an unhealthy co-dependence and leads to greater disillusionment during the trials marriage is designed to withstand in the first place.

There is, however, a person who can reveal you, a person who can remove the mask of your own, manufactured self-image and bring you to the greatest awareness of yourself, scars and all.  It can be a painful process, but this is the “soul mate” God has destined for you and this, ultimately, can only be found in the complete, willed and irrevocable gift of self.  It is not something that happens to you, it is someone you choose.

For some, this means choosing Christ himself as they take vows and enter into consecrated life – after all, marriage does not exist in heaven and is a tangible sign here on earth of the eternal marriage with God that awaits us.  Either way, finding a “soul mate” is really about “finding your nails.”  It’s not the person that is going to validate your false impressions of yourself and give you that warm fuzzy feeling but it’s the person that is going to lead you to the cross and your path to holiness.  It may not be fluffy and pretty, but it’s the Truth and nothing short of that will complete you.

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