‘It’s Not About You’
Doctor Strange, Chastity & Trusting God
2016’s “Doctor Strange” is about an arrogant, world-renowned neurosurgeon who makes Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House look kind and genteel. After his hands are ruined in a car accident and modern medical science fails to heal him, the doctor goes to “The Ancient One” to learn a spirituality that may give him back the use of his hands. Of course, for anyone who knows the character, the good doctor gets more than he bargained for.
I saw the movie last month. One exchange stuck with me, said at the moment of The Ancient One’s death. Strange says his fear of failure made him the success he was, but The Ancient One disagrees.
“Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all,” she says. “It’s not about you.”
In the movie, which grossed $677 million, The Ancient One’s line leads Strange to create a permanent timeline where he would die each moment for eternity in order to save Earth. For me, it sparked reflection on chastity that has grown more difficult in recent weeks.
As a 31-year old virgin who is getting married in less than two months, I’ve worked for many years to be chaste. I’ve used theological, spiritual, doctrinal, scientific, and sociological arguments to keep myself mostly on the straight and narrow path, and to try to help others see the value of chastity.
However, the last couple of months have been hard. Suddenly, I see why so many people decide it’s fine to have sexual intercourse with their fiancée or fiancé — after all, they’re going to marry that person, and the only thing left to do is to exchange a few words! And living together — well, it sure saves money, and it helps the couple see each other more often. And, man, the logistics are a whole lot easier for work, working out, dates, meals, etc.
I’m fortunate that my fiancée and I see eye-to-eye on chastity, living together, etc. – and that we have a priest who holds us accountable. But, suddenly, all of my prior argumentation seemed rather empty.
The best answer to these questions was, frustratingly, the last one that occurred to me: If I am having trouble understanding God’s call to unmarried chastity, it’s because I either don’t know Him well enough, or don’t trust Him enough.
Or, as St. Paul put it in Sunday’s second reading, “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”
But The Ancient One’s line is what I heard first. At first, I dismissed its relevance to my situation — I don’t desire to be close to my fiancee because I want to sin. My desire is to show her — a woman whose two primary love languages are quality time and physical touch — care and love and affection. And since I am quite inept at showing those characteristics (as an analogy: If romance is a marathon, I’m the out-of-shape guy at the back with a bad heart), the ones that most powerfully came to mind are those of the physical realm.
But it bothered me. God is never wrong, yet here I was not able to see why a simple set of vows at a church would make such a difference – a simple set of vows that six months ago, a year ago, five years ago were the stark line between unmarried chastity and marital chastity.
So I turned it around. What did I most desire for my future spouse? The answer, of course, is to bring her closer to God. If I asked her to violate His Designs for marriage and sex, that would never be the right path to take.
And there I had it: it’s not about me. Indeed, marriage is by its nature a self-sacrificing thing that is designed to reduce and, hopefully, eliminate the focus on self. Indeed, if I truly want to be dead to sin, I cannot decide to flout Truth – I instead must reject untruths. As our priest said in his homily on Sunday, it is false love that violates God’s Truth.
This little reflection was much more succinct in my head, and had a lot less “I” and “me” in it. Nothing I’ve described above is new to Christian theology, or human nature, or the battle for unmarried chastity. But I hope it’s added just a little value to the daily challenges we all face, value that I’m chuckling at because just two months ago I was thinking I had fully overcome the challenges of unmarried chastity. I looked at Christ hanging on the cross above the altar, and thought that I should look to next-level spiritual challenges.
Boy, did He bring me down to earth.