Loving By Not Loving: On Intentional interest

The other day, I asked my dad to print my dissertation at his office. That evening, I found it neatly stacked on the counter and took it upstairs to edit without giving it a second thought.

“I started reading your dissertation but you must have moved it,” my dad later told me. “It was really interesting.”

I just about fell out of my chair. My dad, an accountant and avid reader of WWII fiction and spy novels, was reading my dissertation on theology and musical practice. Moreover, he found it interesting.

I was surprised. (After all, I am so entrenched in editing that even I don’t find my paper interesting anymore!) Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, though. In recollection, I see that my dad has always learned to appreciate things he does not naturally enjoy because he loves me. He detests social media, but checks Facebook to see what I’m up to. He likes Willie Nelson and Bluegrass, but sat through years and years of my piano recitals, letting me give him “lessons” when I was little. He even trained to run a 5k with me, though running is his least favourite sport. My dad did not love any of these things on their own, but knew that he could serve me by actively engaging in them—by reading my writing and listening to my music, even when they represent a world completely foreign to his own.

As I expressed in my recent article, “To the Friends who Tell Me, ‘No’,” I’ve been pondering friendship, family, and relationships lately. I have many wonderful friendships centred around common interests. For instance, it is easy to take interest in the pursuits and passions of my fellow musicians. We share an artistic world. We speak the same language.

Likewise, I discover a natural kinship with those who share my literary tastes. A stranger on an airplane reading Melville or a classmate who shares my love for science-fiction, to give two examples, have immediate friend potential. Common sense and experience remind us that it is easy to forge friendships with those who also love what we love. True caritas (charity or holy love), however, leads us to take interest in what we do not yet love to better serve others.

Common sense reminds us that it is easy to forge friendships with those who love what we love; caritas leads us to take interest in what we do not yet love to better serve others.

One of my best friends is pursuing a career in medicine and can talk anatomy, surgery, and medical anomalies for hours on end. I have a natural aversion to blood, bone, and anything that is outside when it should be inside. Learning to be interested in such subjects, though, has not only broadened my own sphere of knowledge and made me a more well-rounded person, but it provided a way to better serve and understand my friend. Gradually, I am learning her language and finding that I am genuinely interested and invested in her life even though it looks completely different than my own. We became friends because of common interests, but remain friends because we’ve invested in each other’s unique passions.

When this intentional interest is not reciprocated in important relationships, it can be deeply damaging. I have certainly failed in this aspect and am convicted of where I need to do better. Suffice it to say, too, that learning to care deeply about others—making their loves your own—can render us incredibly vulnerable, and it can be devastating to feel that this intentionality is not equalled in return. And yet, in healthy relationships, this will be mutually developed to become a powerful demonstration of caritas—of selfless, charitable, faithful love. Indeed, this sort of interest is a variation of the Golden Rule; if we are truly to “do unto others,” I believe we will not only treat the persons but the passions of others with greater care.

This loving intentionality has been modelled for me all of my life, whether I noticed or not, and my dad voluntarily reading my dissertation was a small but remarkable reminder of this. It seems such a simple act, but it made me feel incredibly valued for my particular gifts and goals, most especially because I realise that a dissertation on theology and art is not remotely similar to my dad’s usual after-work reading material. This is not to say that I do not appreciate my peers reading my work, but simply to acknowledge that it means even more when someone demonstrates their love by doing what they do not love.

. . . Maybe I should let my dad teach me about investments and help me set up a 401k, after all.

2 comments

  1. Very good thoughts. 👏🏻 I was shocked and touched when my own dad wanted to read my first novel in college.

    I’m always surprised and pleased by how my sister-in-law has taken an interest in soccer because of my brother and me.

    And very yes to starting your retirement fund now! The sooner, the better, because mathematics. I’m very partial to the Roth IRA option.

    Like

  2. This one made me cry. Though friendship has gone bad since the fall, it is being redeemed in stages through intentional interest until perfected in the new world Jesus is preparing. Thank you for sharing about your dad, who, in this world, is like a shining gem rubbing against dull stones to help them shine too.

    Liked by 2 people

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