God likes to speak to my heart when I'm in the car.

I was in our blue Honda Odyssey a few days ago, cheerfully headed to the grocery store with bright-eyed 19-month-old Gabriel heartily singing the melody of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in his car seat. It had been a lovely day so far. I sent up a silent, wholehearted prayer of thanksgiving for the day and for my life's many blessings.

But God interrupted me. Gently, kindly, firmly.

Why do you love Me?

had this one.

"Because you are wonderful! Because I trust Your plan for my life completely! Because I am convinced you are the way, the truth and the life--and that You will make the most of me!

"Is that all?"

Pause. Frown.

"Because I can't get through a single day without You! Because I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful babies and great friends and a roof over my head...because you have blessed my life in so many ways!"

So you love Me because of what I have done to guide you, provide for you, and give you peace in your life. But do you also love Me for My sake? 

And the troubling thought came over me like a cloud: do I love God and praise His name for all of the right reasons--or am I missing something?

St. Bernard of Clairvaux explains that the first, or lowest, degree of love for God is when man loves God for man's sake. I think, in all honesty, I have mostly fallen into this first degree-er group.

And I think, after our conversation in my Odyssey the other day, that God wants me--and all of us--to dive more deeply into Him. Thankfully, St. Bernard goes on to explain how and why we should go further than loving God because of the good things he brings to our lives.

"We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable. When one asks, Why should I love God? he may mean, What is lovely in God? or What shall I gain by loving God? In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists, namely, God himself.

And first, of His title to our love. Could any title be greater than this, that He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God's claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)."

My prayer in the car that day ended with an image, of all things. God placed an image in my mind of Christ on the cross. And as I've thought about that image over the last few days, and as I read St. Bernard's words this evening, I am wondering if it's only in contemplating Christ on the cross that we begin to understand why God is worthy of our love.

Learning to love God as He wants and deserves to be loved--that is a tall order indeed.

I am no theologian or great spiritual writer. And I am laughing as I write this because my first instinct is to feel pretentious for attempting to think about--let alone write about--a topic that is so abstract, so rich and full of depth that it seems beyond my reach. I'm just a young suburban wife and mother.

And yet.

As I write this I am reminded that we are all called to holiness, without exception, to the degree that God has created us for it. We busy mothers and wives cannot hide for long behind caring for our families and homes. We cannot fall into the thinking that the intimate relationships the saints had with our Lord are not meant for such as us. To do so is to live in spiritual mediocrity.

I am headed on a silent retreat this weekend, and I am hoping that the silence will give God some room to elaborate on on our "conversation" this week, teaching me how to love Him for His sake, and not just my own.

Copyright 2011 Erin Franco