Real isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you. You become."
"The Velveteen Rabbit" is a children's classic. In the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, the bunny desires to be "real" to the little boy. The bunny desires to be real because this means that he is truly loved and cherished.
This story holds a powerful message for those who are seeking their future spouse. What does this mean, being a real person?
To be a real, you have to know who you are. You need to be loved for who you are. Not the person that you have the potential to be, or for who someone else might prefer you to be, but for yourself. Most importantly, you need to love as the person you are.
There is only one way to ensure that you are loved for yourself. You must know yourself. The best way to know yourself is to be confident and secure in the person that God created. God wants us to grow and be enhanced by the gifts He gives to us. He wants us to be confident and secure as the person we are. Too often we are ready to forfeit ourselves just to please another person. This is a betrayal to ourselves and to God. We cheapen the gift of our person by seeking human love at all expense.
Only God can provide the perfect and unconditional love we need. We cannot expect that from another human being. So becoming somebody else that we think will make this other person love us is not only a tragedy, it is a lie. What happens when you cannot keep up this persona? The person you forfeited yourself for starts to see your true self, and then feels cheated. God willing, perhaps this person will love you as you really are. But that is too high of a risk. The odds are against you.
So who is the real you? What makes you YOU? What are your likes and dislikes? What kind of person would enhance who you are? Finding out what is real makes you able to offer what is real and true about you. This is when we are most happy and free.
Perhaps there are things about you that are not so Godly. Just because we say "this is who I am," doesn't mean it is how we should stay. The starting point to remedy this possibility is to put ourselves up against Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Ultimately, who we are is HIS! It is He Who ransomed us from sin by the giving of His Life. It is HE who bought us with His blood, and we are HIS slave. Slave, in the sense that we owe Him everything because He has given us everything. It is a life long debt to be paid.
More than this, we are actually baptized into His life. We are configured to Him. We share the divine life through baptism, and we are His brother in every sense of the word.
That is what is real about us. We are Christians. That is who we are, first and foremost. No one should have an identity crisis who claims to be a Christian. Who we are is Jesus Christ. What is unique about us as a person must coincide with the life of Christ we are called to lead. We have an obligation to become saints. We can't just say, "I've gotta be me." As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said, "We've gotta be HIS." Knowing ourself, in the Christian approach, means figuring out all the sinful tendencies and habits we have.
The love we receive from Christ is a merciful love full of the power of His grace to free us from sin. Build your relationship with Christ. Seek your validation from Christ. Depending on other humans for our happiness is a painful experience, because no one is perfect. But the One who is perfect loves us in spite of our flaws, and desires to see us grow into the full person that He means us to be.
This is the only way we can really be loved, and to love another in return. This approach helps us understand that the people we date are on this same road, and they are working on themselves. The call of Christ in dating and choosing a spouse is in the acceptance of the other's faults and seeing that the real person we love is a fallible, frail human being with the life of Christ working through Him.
"Does it hurt?" asks the Velveteen Rabbit about becoming real. The truthful answer in the story is "sometimes," but the answer in this life is: always. It does hurt to become real. It is difficult to stick by our convictions. It goes against our willful desires to make those necessary changes in our character, our behavior, and the way we present ourselves outwardly. It's hard to stay the most real you in the face of the temptations of the world. The hardest part of all is caring for someone who cannot love you for the person that you are. But to deny all the facets that make you yourself is to deny Christ. He made you, talents, imperfections, and all. He desires to see us grow, but He does not desire to see us deny all the good things about ourselves which make us unique.
Being real doesn't happen to people "who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept." But once you are real it lasts "for always." It takes strength to become a true individual. It takes prayer, and perseverance. It takes seeking the truth with honesty and humbleness of heart. And like the Velveteen Rabbit, there are scars that are a result of the journey. The bunny is so loved by the boy that his fur wears off, he loses his shape, his whiskers were "loved off."
The Lord loves us so much and desires our growth in such a way that sometimes our trials and tribulations are painful. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, we need to say yes to these trials and accept them. The difficult times that we face make us stronger, force us to grow, and encourage us to get closer to God. As our reward we are the most real versions of ourselves that we can be in this world, if we take these crosses and bear them with joy for the Lord's sake.
In the story, the love that the little boy had for his bunny is so powerful that the rabbit is recreated into an actual real, living rabbit. This is the resurrection we are promised after this life. By trying to be our most authentic self now, we please God, and we can become a gift to others.
* Anthony Buono, married with seven children, lives in Virginia. He is the founder and president ofwww.avemariasingles.com andwww.roadtocana.com. He also has a blog, www.6stonejars.com, that gives advice to Catholics on dating, courtship and marriage.