In my last post, I wrote that love doesn’t trouble my head much anymore. But it does.
My freshman year of college, I met my first boyfriend – his name was Biblical Studies. I hadn’t been particularly studious as a high school student. We were homeschooled and school was what we did all the time (it was nothing to get too excited about). But just a few weeks into my Bible classes, I was enamored of it all – the primary texts, the commentaries, the discussion of probing questions that charmed and vexed the soul.
For the first time in my life, I’d found something more thrilling than a boy. Here was a quest for which I would gladly forego meals. (I see now my obsession with Biblical Studies was worse than love – I would never have forsaken food for love of a boy.) The following summer, I took a series of summer classes back-to-back. I got into the habit of going from my (4-5 hr) morning class straight to the library and studying until supper. My stomach would knot with hunger, but my elation was so visceral that I barely felt the knots.
This kind of love still troubles my head from time to time. When I met Josh, the old, troublesome sort of love began to show its true colors. Over time, I began to see that what I had understood to be romantic interest or physical attraction (I never dared to call anything “love”) had less to do with interest in a particular person or subject and more to do with my need for distraction. Of course, it’s never that simple – most of what we do is a complex mixture of real interest and the need for distraction. But mostly it was distraction.
This is why love still troubles my head from time to time – because it isn’t about romance or attraction or sex. It’s a quest to keep our ghosts at bay, to distract us from our raw, wounded insides. This troubles me, but I’ve gotten better at resisting it, refusing to let it rob me of real interest, real love. The source of every human love is God, and when someone loves us as we are, that gives us the confidence to face who we are. We no longer need to be distracted from ourselves. (Josh’s love helps a lot.)
I think of distraction as a kind of gluttony. It keeps you from really focusing on what’s in front of you and loving it. Instead of encountering the gift before you, you’re always searching for more, not because you’re interested in genuine knowledge, but because you’re interested in acquiring, possessing.
As I reflect on my undergraduate education, I see that in many ways, I was not taught to love knowledge. I had to learn that on my own. I was taught to be thrilled with knowledge, and this carried me for a time. But the leisure of four years of full-time study has a way of encouraging gluttony – a swift love affair with books and the meaning of life. It fattens you up with knowledge, but does not give you the tools to pursue knowledge when you no longer have the leisure to do so. And you begin to starve.
At the end of this affair, you are unsatisfied. You have not learned to live with knowledge, only to gorge on it. You are unable to maintain the vigor you once had now that the pressures of work and family life make it difficult to devote many hours to study. You learned to love knowledge in one context: the classroom. You did not learn to talk about the questions when you sit at home and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you get up.
Since knowledge was just a distraction, an erotic pang in your love-sick gut, you feel justified in leaving it behind. Fantasies are quickly exhausted, and you need to move on to something new.