After Halloween, Netflix started adding some Christmas movies back into its streaming availability, which meant that “Love, Actually” showed up in my queue. (I think I added it last year and then never got around to watching it before it disappeared in January–so it just automatically reappeared when Netflix made it available again! So fancy.)
I’ve seen the movie several times before, and should add a disclaimer right here at the beginning that there is plenty of adult language, nudity, and an outlook on human sexuality that is vastly at odds with Catholic teaching. This is not a movie you should sit down to screen with your kids. Or your mom. No, no, no.
HOWEVER, there are several very cute stories in it amidst the nudity and holiday sap, and one little line in particular that stood out to me this time.
One part of the movie focuses on a young boy named Sam, whose mother has just died, leaving Sam with his stepfather, played by Liam Neeson. Sam is grieving for his mom, but also finds himself falling head over heels for an American girl in his grade at school. He decides to try to get her attention at the winter talent show, and sets to work for months learning to play the drums. Ultimately, that doesn’t work out how he had hoped, and after the talent show the girl and her family will be flying back to America. His hopes are dashed, until Liam Neeson suggests following them to the airport so that Sam can tell the girl how he feels before she’s gone forever. And Sam agrees, while knowing that she will be leaving for another continent no matter what he does, and “Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.”
(Sam is, like, nine years old. That line is surprisingly endearing when said by a determined, lovestruck little kid.)
It occurred to me later (after a particularly trying day of parenting) that that idea–“getting the shit kicked out of us by love”–is basically the essence of vocation. Whatever our vocation in this life, we are supposed be voluntarily giving of ourselves to others out of love, and usually this comes with a significant amount of pain, because we’re naturally selfish and self-centered creatures, and it hurts to break our habits of self-indulgence. But that pain is good for us, because getting rid of the selfishness and sin is GOOD, and actually makes us more authentically ourselves, rather than less.
We get the shit kicked out of us by love–we give till it hurts, which, well, hurts. It’s a challenge that threatens to overwhelm us. It’s hard. Sometimes it feels like we’re defeated, and have to get up, bruised and bleeding, to try again tomorrow.
We get the shit kicked out of us by love–what is kicked out in this process is our shit, by which I mean our sin. It’s the bad part of us. Love kicks the shit out, and makes room for more virtue.
We get the shit kicked out of us by love–we do it for people or a cause that we love. This makes it easier to keep coming back… most of the time. We face these daily battles voluntarily (or at least partially voluntarily… sometimes out of obligation, because who else will do it? But that counts!) out of love for God and family and friends. In fact, Love is the one who gave us these specific tasks to face, out of love for us, and to help us grow in love for Him.
Love kicks the shit out of us, in the very best ways. It’s our path to heaven. But it can still hurt like hell along the way.
(Obviously, as you can see from my site’s new(ish) tagline, I was somewhat enamored of my little revelation.)
For some of us, our battle looks like dealing with endless toddler meltdowns and scraped knees and disappointed hopes of ice cream for breakfast (what?! no.). For others it may be trying to interpret the incoherent rambling of a mentally ill homeless person who needs help. Or the battle could be dealing with a classroom of busy students, or satisfying (or not) a bunch of crazy parishioners with contradictory wishes, or learning to be obedient and silent in the confines of a cloister. But we all have battles to face, with trials and heartaches, one way or another.
And going back to Sam’s original phrasing–not only do we get the shit kicked out of us by love, but hopefully we sometimes approach it enthusiastically: “Let’s go!”
This is what we’re here for. To be refined by fire. To become holy and to help others grow in holiness. To learn to depend on God’s will instead of our own will. To love, no matter the cost.
Onward, fellow Christian soldiers. No matter your battlefield, let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.
(But before I go, I also have to mention what I think is the most powerful shot in the whole movie of “Love, Actually,” which isn’t in Sam’s story at all. It’s when Emma Thompson figures out that Alan Rickman bought the necklace for someone else, and she runs to their bedroom to cry for a minute and wipe her eyes in secret. They show her standing in the bedroom and the focus isn’t really even on her, it’s on their bed in the middle of the room, beautifully made up with a white comforter and comfy pillows. Their marriage bed. The representation of their whole married life, and the family they’ve built together, and the sacrament at the foundation of it all. The force of the betrayal really hits you–this affair (even though it isn’t physical or even very advanced) threatens to damage all of that. Affairs don’t really happen “on the side”–they strike a blow right to the center of things. Oh, it’s heartbreaking.)
(Over and out.)