November 2023

Living life to the full is being in love with God

The experience of falling in love and being in love is life changing for everyone who has ever known it. Our hearts are restless until we find it, writes Kevin Liston.

One of the summaries of Jesus’ life work in John’s Gospel states, “I came that you might have life and have it to the full”.

What does it mean to live life to the full? We think of adventurous people with lots of energy, or creative types full of fresh ideas, sporting  champions exceling in their chosen fields, entrepreneurs, community leaders who never seem to tire in what they do. We can all point to people we know or have met who exude an enjoyment of life. Others have a quiet confident demeanour that reflects a profound internal peace and integrity.  

Then again, there are the hopes, aspirations, dreams deep in our own hearts that quietly, or sometimes disturbingly, have us longing to be more ourselves. Do we secretly wish for a fulfilment that always seems just beyond our grasp?

These are people living full lives.

I am convinced that all of these have a common ground or source. It is a desire to be in love and a significant realisation of that longing. It shows in the reaching out of both children and adults for self-expression for extending the life within them. It is more obvious and overt in a couple in love

The experience of falling in love and being in love is life changing for everyone who has ever known it. Our hearts are restless until we find it.

People fall in love. It can happen quite unexpectedly or as the gradual maturing of a relationship. Almost everybody experiences it in one way or another. It is transforming and reorientates us in life. Our priorities change as we become focussed on the person we love. Often, we begin to see the world through their eyes.

Being in love is an exciting, thrilling state; it changes our horizons and focuses our attention while giving us a confidence and a sense of self we had not known before. Our lovers become part of our own lives. They are in our thinking and discerning as we consider options for our own living. Our relationship is constant and real whether we are together or apart – it is deep in our souls. Being in love is a dynamic state, developing and seeking expression in a variety of forms.

These consequences of being love – the transformation it brings about in us and in the way we act towards others and the universe – are creative. We move to a new level of awareness and consciousness and our other relationships become more open, expansive and life affirming.

I think of various areas in which love is found and lived. There is the love between two people and love in a family. There is love in our communities and love for our environment, which can be just as powerful as any intimate love.

Then there is the love of God and God’s love for us. It, too, can be as personal, strong and deep as the others. It is a love of all that is, an awareness of and being captivated by mystery, by the unknown but deeply felt attraction of a force that is at once intimately within us and beyond us. It is the secret at the heart of life and the universe that we are aware of without knowing just what it is.

It has many descriptions and names: Mystery, Mother, Father, Ultimate Concern, Awesome Fascinating Mystery, The Great Spirit, Allah, Enlightenment, Brahman, God.

Long ago, we Catholics of a certain age learned about our relationships with God in terms of ‘grace’. There were ‘sanctifying grace’, ‘operative grace’ and ‘cooperative grace’. The last two, operative and cooperative grace, were often bundled into one – ‘actual grace’. Together they were the stuff or material of being holy.

Grace explained the relationship between God and people. It was centred on being in a state of grace (sanctifying grace), receiving capcity and power for good from God (operative grace) and our response or prayers and good works (cooperative grace). I found it very confusing and far too theoretical and abstract. Life in God seemed to be focused on a ‘thing’ that passed between God and me.

With the help of insights from anthropology, psychology and sociology we can draw on the experience of being in love to bring the terminology of our relationship with God up to date. Being in love with God is what was meant by sanctifying grace.

When falling in love with God happens suddenly or unexpectedly, many people experience it as a moment of conversion, Paul on the road to Damascus for example. More often, it happens over a long time and imperceptibly until one day we realise that the way we live and the things we do amount to being in love with God.

It can sometimes feel like there is a charged field of love in the world. Here and there it reaches a palpable intensity (sacred places?) but is unobtrusive, often hidden but always inviting us to join. To experience it, we must accept the invitation because the experiencing is through our own loving. It is almost impossible to make sense of the experience of being in love for someone who has never known it.

The transformation that being in love with God brings about in us refers to what was called operative grace; it transforms our attitudes, our motivations, sense of identity and the way we see things, our perspective.

Being in love is also the source of acts of love, hope, faith, kindness, generosity, and so on, and as such is cooperative grace. We are cooperating with God when we reach out to another, spend time with a needy person, give a hand-up, go beyond self-interest to see the world through someone else’s eyes, and join in the ongoing creation of the world.

All people are people of God. Falling in love with God and the resultant being in love are possible for people everywhere and at all times. The story of the universe and the story of humanity are about evolution and the emergence from the primeval singularity to living life to the full, from a physical spark to love in all its beauty.

This is based on the theology of Bernard Lonergan: the words are mine.


Kevin Liston

With a lifelong engagement in spiritual interests and church issues, Kevin Liston is committed to working for a mutually enriching conversation between Christianity and the 21st Century world. He is also an active member of the St Vincent de Paul Society in South Australia.

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