Even for this lifelong reader, it always seemed like an exaggeration that a book could change someone's life. That was until I read this unpacking of Love and Responsibility, Pope John Paul II's discussion of relationships, sexuality, and real love. I value this book so much that in the past few years, I've bought and given away six copies. This incredible book, which walks through each section of the late, great JPII's work, opened my eyes to what makes for an authentically loving relationship in a way I'd never experienced before. The first time I read it, I was, to say the least, caught in a bad romance. My boyfriend and I were very physical with each other, which posed a host of problems in itself, but the even thornier part of our relationship was the emotional and spiritual side of things. He'd say things like, "Look, I want to sacrifice for you," but rarely followed through. When he did, he'd view his efforts as some kind of collateral for things he felt entitled to. We were so inwardly focused- we treated our relationship like this ongoing project in holiness, but I can see now what a misguided sense of spirituality there really was. I kept so many things inside, nervous to disrupt the waters between us and afraid to share anything with my friends. Every day, I was just so anxious. When Andrew and I started dating, I was initially shocked at how easy everything seemed; this boy was sacrificial asking nothing in return, and instead of pulling me away from the other relationships in my life, I watched them all flourish. That's one of the biggest truths I took away from this book: that true love brings peace, because it's not inwardly focused on myself, but outwardly on another person and on the Lord. The human person has immense dignity and value, and should be treated as nothing less. People are meant to be loved, and things are meant to be used. It's amazing how such a simple statement can encompass so much truth about dating and marriage and has the potential to heal so many wounds in our culture.
Reading Men, Women, and The Mystery of Love helped me rediscover the kind of love I knew I was made for at a time in my life when I'd chosen to settle for something less. I fully believe, though, that even a thriving relationship can benefit from the Pope's points and Dr. Sri's explanations. Some spiritual books can be pretty lofty, but my favorite thing about this is how practical it is. Over and over, I'm amazed at how deeply in tune JPII was with human nature. He covers so many relatable situations, like the pitfalls of over-idealizing another person (I'm totally guilty of this- you know, like when you meet a guy who's cute, funny, and holy and immediately start planning your wedding to him), the difference between loving and using someone (ditto), and the battle between feeling love for someone and willing yourself to love him when the feelings are gone (who doesn't struggle with this at some point? So many times while reading this, I felt like it was narrating my dating life). Dr. Sri makes these insights crystal clear and writes a series of questions for reflection at the end of each chapter. This man has such a gift for clarifying the Pope's words. Given the book's discussions of friendship, selflessness, purity, and family life, I can hardly imagine better reading material for your engagement. Of course we fall, and of course it's difficult, but I've learned that letting myself be schooled in love is very slowly, steadily bringing me closer to who I'm supposed to be.
Okay, now that you're done reading this, go get yourself a copy. I'm serious. There is truth, beauty, and wonder in these pages.
Next up: Love on film