I know we are supposed to love God above all things, but sometimes I think I have more love for my husband and children than for God. This worries me. What exactly does it mean to love God above all things?
There are different ways we can love someone more than another.
One is by the intensity of feelings we have for one over the other. In this way we may often experience a greater feeling of love for our family or friends than for God.
After all, these people are in our lives in a tangible way, and they show their love for us in obvious ways which move us to feel a strong love for them.
God, on the other hand, we do not see with our eyes or hear with our ears, and so it is only natural that we do not feel the same intensity of love for him that we do for some human beings.
Not even the saints experienced a strong feeling of love for God at all times. It is well known that St Teresa of Calcutta experienced a great spiritual dryness, a feeling of the absence of God, a dark night of the soul, for the last 50 years of her life.
True love for God is not experienced in feelings but in deeds, in loving God “in deed and in truth”, as St John writes (1 Jn 3:18).
Jesus himself invites us to love him in this way: “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15).
If the saints did not always feel a strong love for God, they did always show their love in generous deeds, in doing God’s will.
The other way of loving one person more than another is by what we call love of preference.
Here it is not a matter of the intensity of feelings but rather of preferring love for one person to love for another in our will.
Even though we might love a human being with more intensity of feeling than we experience in our love for God, we would prefer to lose the love of that person rather than lose the love of God, and with it eternal life with him.
Our Lord himself speaks of this love of preference: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37).
It is clear that Jesus is referring here to love of preference, not to feelings of love.
To be sure, he wants us to love our family members just as we love God – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself” (Lk 10:27; Deut 6:5).
But he clearly wants us to love him more than we love our neighbour, even our family members.
What he says immediately before this makes it clear. “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household” (Mt 10:35-36).
When someone begins to take his faith more seriously it can happen that even his father or mother or other family members turn against him.
If that happens the person must choose between loving God, being prepared to do whatever he asks, and loving one’s family members. It is then that Jesus says: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37).
It is a choice most people will not have to make, but should we need to make it, we should prefer love for God to love for our fellow man.
St John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, comments: “If we had rather offend the good God than deprive ourselves of a passing satisfaction, than renounce those guilty meetings, those shameful possessions, we do not love the good God with a love of preference, since we love our pleasures, our passions, better than the good God himself. Let us go down into our own souls; let us question our hearts, my children, and see if we do not love some creature more than the good God. We are permitted to love our relations, our possessions, our health, our reputation; but this love must be subordinate to the love we should have for God, so that we may be ready to make the sacrifice of it if he should require it…” (Exhortation 15, The Love of God).
The martyrs bore witness to this love of God above all things, sacrificing their love for their family members and friends, their possessions and even life itself, rather than offend God and lose his love for all eternity.
The more we show our love for God by being constant in our prayer and penance, by the reception of the sacraments and by doing his will in all things, the more we too will be prepared to sacrifice everything rather than lose the love of God.