Understanding the Litany of Humility: What’s Wrong with Desiring Love?
After acknowledging our neglect of the Old Testament’s smaller books, my Bible study decided to devote this semester to an exploration of Tobit.
As we advance through the narrative, I find myself constantly returning to Sarah’s prayer for death. She asks God to kill her for reasons I initially found odd. Her despair is not primarily based in mourning for her seven lost husbands, nor in fear of the literal demon that haunts her. Instead, she begs for death because she hates hearing reproaches (Tob 3:13). She can’t bear to know others think and speak poorly of her. In fact, the key factor that bars Sarah from suicide is that such a death would incur more gossip and further damage her father’s reputation (Tob 3:10).
Upon first reading this, it all seemed — for lack of a better word — shallow. But I’ve since accepted that I care an inordinate amount about the exact same things.
Over the past couple months, thanks to these Bible study discussions (and talks with many other wise women in my life), I’ve uncovered a truth that influences every aspect of my faith: most, if not all, of my sins are tied to an overwhelming fear of being unaccepted and unloved. I, too, can’t bear to be socially isolated.
In my past, this fear was present when I felt bitterly jealous of anyone who received more attention than me. It was present when I casually dismissed beliefs that clashed with friends’ opinions. It was present when I obsessed over my appearance. And it was present when I persisted in dating people who attempted to weaken my convictions.
More recently, this fear has manifested itself in half-hearted recitations of the Litany of Humility. Without fail, I hesitate before (and sometimes even contemplate skipping) that unsettling 3rd line: “From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus.” Verbally dismissing love in this manner instinctually sends me into a panic.
I’m disclosing all these personal details in case someone shares this same fear, or if someone is grappling with the same questions about love as me:
How do we reconcile the two seemingly contradictory teachings that we are made for love and communion with others, and that we should be satisfied with God’s love alone? Is there something wrong with a dependence on love and acceptance?
My Bible study leader offered the most straightforward answer to both questions: “God is love.” That is to say, we can’t talk about love from others and love from God as two separate concepts, as He is present in all of it.
The acceptance and “love” I’ve often feared losing entail a boatload of temptations. Love rooted in physical appearance is a temptation toward vanity. Love that assigns one’s worth according to comparisons is a temptation toward envy. And, perhaps worst of all, love that necessitates blind conformity to popular opinion is a temptation to reject God altogether.
If we accept that (1) God is love (1 Jn. 4:8) and (2) God never tempts us (Jm. 1:13), we can conclude that all the aforementioned expressions of “love” are not of God, and are therefore not actually love at all. Essentially, a fear of being unaccepted and unloved in these contexts translates more accurately into a fear of being unused. That’s a far easier fear to let go of.
By extension, the Litany of Humility is not a request to stop craving love altogether; it’s a request to stop craving the world’s imperfect, unstable, fear-driven version of love (1 Jn. 4:18).
Our desire to live in communion with others and our sole dependence on God then work together harmoniously. We can depend on God to provide all the love our human nature requires, both through our relationship with Him and through relationships guided by Him. A dependence on love is only wrong when we mentally separate God from it.
I recognize I’m not making any profound new points here. But I hope this outline of my thoughts will serve as a reminder that God understands our need for love far better than we understand it ourselves. He alone can fulfill that need when we conform to His will, just as He fulfills Sarah’s need by Tobit’s conclusion. Sarah loses “love” and acceptance from her community, only to find a stronger love in God and her new husband.
Granted, God probably won’t send you a fiancé with demon-killing fish guts. But, when we follow His direction, He can provide and fuel meaningful friendships that free us from fear, rather than exacerbating it.