Staying On Center


Staying On Center

After I wrote last month’s article, I started thinking about a television show I was on last year. The show was Johnette Benkovic’s The Abundant Life, and the topic was Catholic single life.

During the program, Johnette and I were talking about the need for single Catholics to “shift their center.” As I said last month, we singles have a tendency to make “finding a spouse” the center of our lives. And that’s no way to live. It’s frustrating, and it causes us to miss out on great experiences that God has for us, just because we have determined that those particular experiences don’t afford us sufficient opportunity to meet eligible members of the opposite sex.

Today, I want to focus on the next step: why “shifting our center” helps us in the next phase of the journey, when we’re actually dating.

To singles whose lives are completely centered around meeting and marrying, “finding someone” is the holy grail. It’s Mecca. It’s the fulfillment of their dreams, the goal toward which they have put so much of their energy. It’s what’s going to bring them happiness. And so once they have found that someone, or think they may have found that someone, where do you suppose all of their energy is going to go?

It’s going to go towards that someone.

Problem is, that kind of attitude isn’t really conducive to a healthy relationship. And it’s bound to disappoint.

I don’t know about you, but when I started high school, I was definitely in a “centered around meeting someone” phase. Not necessarily to marry, what with being 15 and all. But to have a boyfriend, which was at that time the epitome of high school status symbols. I thought, “If I only had a boyfriend, I’d be happy.”

And then I acquired a boyfriend. And then I started thinking, “If I only had a different boyfriend, I’d be happy.”

Oddly, having a boyfriend didn’t suddenly make my life complete. On the contrary, it complicated matters significantly. He wasn’t Prince Charming on a white horse. He was a typical teenaged boy with a typical set of teenaged boy issues. And I hadn’t signed on for that.

We’re all theoretically a little more mature than we were in high school, but sometimes that “desire to be paired up” gene overwhelms our hard-won maturity. We’re dissatisfied with our lives, and we start looking for someone wonderful to come in and rescue us.

But what does that look like in real life?

First of all, it’s a lot of pressure to put on someone who really just wants to get to know you over burgers and an occasional movie. Seriously, when you start dating someone, do you really want that person to look at you and say “My life is miserable and I’m looking to you to save me”? It doesn’t matter if you say it out loud – if you’re looking for someone to fill the God role in the center of your life, the desperation will ooze through your pores.

Not surprisingly, relationships like this don’t tend to go well. If one person believes that his or her entire future rests on the success of this relationship, the stakes will be very high. Problems will be overblown. The “clingy” factor will skyrocket through the roof. If the other party is halfway mature, the relationship will most likely end. If both are victims of the “misplaced center”, they’re more likely to find themselves in a very dysfunctional and unattractive spiral of break-ups, reunions, and lots and lots of drama. They’re suffering – and so is everyone around them.

Most important, attitudes like this are really a form of idolatry. St. Augustine said “our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in Thee.” There’s a God-shaped hole in the center of each of our hearts, and our inclination is to try to fill it with other, non-God things. Or people. And people who are not God are definitely not going to fit well in that space.

A friend of mine once told me that marriage is a constant cycle of expecting the spouse to fill the role of God, being disillusioned that the spouse is not God, putting God in the place of God and spouse in the place of spouse, and then gradually drifting back toward expecting the spouse to fill the God role.

What’s the moral of the story? If you’re in a relationship, check your attitude frequently. Are you placing this person at the very center of your life, in the spot that’s supposed to be reserved for God? That’s not going to work so well. You need to ramp up your prayer life. Spend time with God. Ask Him to take the place at the center of your heart. And then pay attention to the other aspects of the life He has given you. Use your gifts. Take on interesting projects. Be a good friend to your friends and a good family member to your family.
If you’re not in a relationship and you’d like to be, the same holds true. Put God, not your search, at the center of your life. Look to Him — and the life He’s given you — for your happiness. Don’t bank on some perfect, far-off person to make your life complete. Make it complete.

Shift your center.



  1. Patrick-606389 September 9, 2010 Reply

    Ok now I think you’re just being cynical: I have been waiting for years and practicing to say the words just right — even contorting my face in the nirror for the right expression — for that one poignant phrase: “You . . . ” I think you need to watch: Jerry Maguire again. Kidding.

    Though I do believe there’s the right time in our lives when God will bring someone who can “complete” us. Afterall, Adam was not complete until Eve, Am I complete in Christ without a mate absolutely — but my masculine side (half) longs for a better half.

  2. Janet-413567 October 3, 2009 Reply

    Thank you for your advice i real needed .God blessing you.

  3. Shaun-474946 September 25, 2009 Reply

    Just a great article!!One thing I wanted to comment on is that in the end we will always be in a constant state of having to shift our "center" throughout our married life[and single life] despite the fact that all of our lives are clearly better when we are in Christ for for He is love but our love will never be perfect,we will have failures ….but glory to God,His mercy is always with us in our weakness…His face always behind a veil,waiting for us,His sweet voice at the ready to speak to His children our patient and perfect Father an lover of souls.

  4. Raquel-460827 September 24, 2009 Reply

    Great Advice!! Thank You so much! Love this article 🙂

  5. Heather-486658 September 22, 2009 Reply

    Funny that keeping God at the center is so easy to forget! But it simplifies things a great deal. I used to argue with my ex that God was #1 then our family etc. He did not agree and the path led to an annulment…..

  6. Paul-477171 September 22, 2009 Reply

    Great piece of advice; if I may quote the old time cliche''do your best and leave everything in God's hands according to his will''….
    From ''Our Daily Bread'', February 15, 2003..
    For Better Or Worse?
    Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. . . . Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church. —Ephesians 5:22,25
    Within a chip shot of our house is a golf course. When I stand in my backyard, I see ponds waiting hungrily for my next errant shot. At times I can imagine sandtraps and trees joking about my bad days.
    I mention the sport with mixed feelings. I like to golf occasionally, but living so close to the course reminds me of my failures in playing the game, which has its disadvantages.
    A similar problem can occur in marriage. Sometimes a husband and wife can lose sight of the hopes and dreams they once shared. Then the very presence of the other becomes a source of irritation, a reminder of past failures and disappointments.
    When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he asked husbands and wives to turn their thoughts to their relationship with the Son of God (5:22-33). In Him we find undying love and forgiveness for our failures. In Him we find Someone who loves to forget the worst and bring out the best. He reminds us not of what we've lost but of what we have yet to find.
    Forgive us, Father, for focusing on our flaws and failures rather than on the love of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to rediscover our spouse in the light of our Lord's great love for us. — Mart De Haan
    As a couple, recall the hopes and dreams you had when you were first married. Name some that have come true. Share with each other your hopes for the future.
    Marriages may be made in heaven, but they have to be worked out on earth.

  7. Peninah-472303 September 19, 2009 Reply

    soo true I cant beleive it.This has been my problem in the last 2 relationships I have heard.I thank God for this article as I heal through my wounds of the last relationship which is currently being torn apart my my inlaws.Pray for me brothers and sisters.Thanx

  8. Jacqueline-198 September 11, 2009 Reply

    Great article! Glad to have found it before I make the same mistakes I'm guilty of making in the past! :wave:

  9. Paul-160366 August 15, 2009 Reply

    This well written article blindly argues for those who say the seven faith questions must all be answered in the affirmative (the same of which is so hotly debated on this website).

  10. Martha-328318 July 30, 2009 Reply

    This is such a great article. Sad to say–I think we all fall into the category at one point or another. Plan to share this article with some of my matches. Thank you!!!!

  11. LornaJean-439635 July 29, 2009 Reply

    What a wonderful article! thank you for your wisdom.

  12. Eileen-398545 July 23, 2009 Reply

    Dear Mary
    This is soo true, just what I needed to hear. I think letting the search take God's place is possibly particularly a problem for women. I have just been thinking about where God is and the search is latley so it is amazing I just clicked on the article, didn't notice it before. I have been craving some good literature on the subject, so thank you. I think for me I have to make a concious effort each day, I need to choose to trust and focus on Him rather than the search and I do think it can become a form of idolatry. If anyone has any other recommended texts I'd love to hear about them. Thank you again Mary Beth!

  13. Lana-457571 July 18, 2009 Reply

    I saw you on Abundant Life and remember your comments having a profound effect on me. We need to be reminded of this often especially when we enter into relationships. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Kellyann-409697 July 15, 2009 Reply

    Dear Mary,
    This article touched me so deeply. I consistently struggle with always trying to find someone or worrying I won't ever find someone. People can tell you "it will happen, give it to God" but sometimes it takes an outside person to say/write something until it finally hits you. These words of advice struck home for me and made me truly realize how I need to start changing my perspective and way of thinking. Thank you so much for sharing this. Many Blessings to you, Kelly

  15. Chiara-418581 July 11, 2009 Reply

    Ciao Mary, I'am writing from Italy. your words are so full of truth, God bless you! this is what I called the paradox of cristian life…He has created us like sign of His Love but His love cames first becouse He is jealus of us.That's why I do fight every day with wordl mentality, praying , going every day to Mass, offering my circumstances to put Him in my heart before of all. I do believe He has got a project on me, he is Goodness and he will bring me where he wants me.
    Viska, one of the medjogorie visioners said that we have to wait the right person for us patiently..that's why I am leaving to get medjougorie the fourth time.

  16. Deborah-330879 July 9, 2009 Reply

    Thank you Mary Beth. How very true, good to keep this in mind.

  17. Kathleen-5781 July 6, 2009 Reply

    Yes, Thank you Mary Beth. A wonderful article that speaks the truth. God should alwayls be our first Love. I heard Bishop Sheen say that a person is not in Love with another, if they First don't have the Love of God in their hearts.

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