Costa Rica: A Lesson in Love
As I read all my friends’ posts on Facebook about how we only have 17 (now under 7 on the day I am posting this!) days left together in this beautiful país, I’m doing a lot of reflecting on what this time has meant for me. All thanks be to God, because Costa Rica has been a lesson in love. Here are some of the ways I have learned about love:
Love myself: I’ve had to spend a lot of time on my own – on my own in my host family as the only American. On my own as the only super-devoted Catholic in my group. On my own when I go to daily Mass. On my own level of Spanish. On my own when I take public transportation to do what I want to do. On my own on walks to school. On my own with my thoughts and a lot of time to reflect. On my own with my values and priorities. On my own, thousands of miles from those I love most. (PS a lot of those on-my-own situations were my choice. Others were part of the package of study abroad…which was also my choice.) Given so much time to be by myself, and so much time to be with my thoughts, I have learned the importance of loving myself.
First, in the basic way that means taking care of my body: staying clean, getting enough sleep, eating well, getting exercise, doing things that support my general well-being.
Second, I have learned the importance of taking time to develop my thoughts and to process events in my life. There has been so much new stuff here! It’s all been very special, but because I have been given a semester with so much free time and so little work, I have had to choose whether I would spend my time scrolling Facebook and watching Netflix and engaging in bad and sometimes sinful habits that come from being idle, or if I would discuss things with my host mom, journal, and do research about questions I have, be they about Spanish, the presidential election, or my faith. (PPS I did too much Facebook scrolling as is, so the choice I made varied from day to day.)
Third, I have learned that to love myself means to enter into prayer with purpose. It’s easy to recite a few prayers before meals and at Mass, but I have learned that developing a daily habit of prayer is essential to my spiritual well-being. My stress-levels and my confusion are directly linked to how much time I spend in prayer. The more time in prayer, the more manageable the language barrier and the adjustment required of me.
Fourth, to love myself means to develop my talents. I played volleyball a few times here and was reminded what a wholesome and joyful activity it is for me. I have spent time writing, blogging, learning, and developing myself. What a healthy time this semester has been! If I wish to be someone who can form life-long relationships, it’s essential that I develop myself. God-willing, this will become a lifelong habit, and one of the most important ones I can develop. I don’t want to be stagnant, and so learning to love myself involves constantly growing and changing.
Love my loved ones: makes sense, right? Loved ones…loved…you would expect that I would have already been practicing this in a big way, considering they’re people that are very important to me (my family, my boyfriend, my friends). God, in His wisdom, used this time to remind me the importance of not taking advantage of the love of those closest to me.
About a month into the semester, my boyfriend said something that really helped me understand the function of “missing” other people. While it’s nice to get and send a bunch of “I miss you texts” every day, he reminded me that we (he and I, but also the universal “we”) must be careful that our missing of others doesn’t become an end in itself. Instead, and this is so beautiful, he asked me to remember that missing someone should be “the product of love that’s far away”. (Isn’t he just the best? I am so incredibly blessed.) Take a minute. Read that over again. Think about it: who do I miss? Do I like the feeling of having someone to miss, or is does this feeling come from a place of purity and good, wholesome love?
Thanks to God speaking (constantly) through my boyfriend, I have developed what I would call a much more mature understanding of the concepts of missing and of love. If love is all those things 1 Corinthians 13 talks about (patient, kind, bears wrongs patiently, doesn’t hold grudges, eternal, etc), then I have a lot of work to do to learn to love my loved ones as they deserve to be loved. To learn to love them as God loves me! But it’s a joyful work, and I rejoice that I have been tasked with such a regal job!
Love God: The basis of the love that I can give to others is the love I receive from God. The best habit I formed this semester was committing to going to a few daily Masses throughout the week and making sacrifices to attend Sunday Mass, despite the temptation (often a very strong temptation) to miss it in order to travel. God has rewarded the efforts I have made to be with Him, and He has blessed me a hundred fold for my faithfulness. Loving Him is my greatest joy!
Love strangers: Let’s face it, there are always a LOT of strangers involved in traveling. In this case, I only knew one person that I would be here with: Anna, who also attends CUA. Every single other person here with me was completely unknown to me on January 15th, the day before I left. From my host family to my directors. From the ticos in my university classes to the fellow Americans in my program. From the strangers I met at a hotel in Brasilito to the people I celebrate Mass with at la Iglesia de Los Ángeles. Learning to love freely and excitedly has opened my heart to loving God more fully. It is currently teaching me humility in an immense way when I reflect back on the semester. Spending this semester with total strangers required me to put my trust in God and to allow those unknowns to develop into friends and family. What a good reminder to be this open at home (USA! USA!), where it is easy to fall into familiar habits with the same people. To be this brave and friendly at home will be a new sort of challenge: I’ll have to choose it, because I’ll no longer be so alone in a new world. When I get home, keeping up this joy of meeting others and encountering Christ will be something I hope to focus on — to make my time here count beyond these 105 days in the tropics.
You will find me and seek me when you seek me with your whole heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)
Oh Lord, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. (Psalm 139:1-3)
A God who knows me, who has known me since the beginning of time, and who has my best interest in mind. Because God has known me longer than I have known myself, it is in Him that I find my own identity. As I have grown closer to God in this journey of love, I have come to better know my own heart, my own desires/goals/dreams, and my own ways.