Above all and before all I must expound on this thing you can’t see but everyone believes in: love. We know it and talk about it, whether we have it or lack it or desire it, or reject it; love. Everyone thinks they know what love is but few remember ever being taught by someone in a conversation or a class what it is. Lust masquerades as it and vanity pretends to earn our worthiness of it, but oh love.
Relationships of marriage or dating sometimes exist without it. All of us at one point were prompted by our hearts to attempt it or hope for it with someone. My speculation is that love is like a galaxy. There are certain exchanges or experiences that emulate love and we think we’ve obtained it. We experience it to some degree in this relationship or that and we settle inside even though we are left thirsty for something more. But there is this epicenter of love himself that quenches every longing.
No matter how wonderful your relationship has progressed with God or another human being, my speculation is that love is even better than our brains and emotions on this side can fathom. How many times has a quote or person done something of love and it pulls your mind and heart from somewhere else it drifted to back into that living reality that you are loved. I love love. I love its smell, the indestructibleness of it, the softness of its care, the maturity of its nature.
In its base form between humans, I would say love is wishing well for somebody and participating to make that happen, to whatever degree.
Love for others, however, is never self-demeaning but is entirely selfless. These two are different and I’m sure I will probably refer to this idea specifically another day in this writing collection. Moving on.
Let me clarify one uncompromisable attribute of love. Love is only ever unconditional. This is best revealed when trust is broken, expectations are not met, and failure ensues, both with others, God, or yourself. Often times it is hard to continue forward after one of the above events. The thing I love about love is that it gets dirty. Love has no regard for self-preservation. It will hold onto nothing in order to preserve the one thing important—the connection. This is love.
A mutual deal based on expectations is also not love. You will do X, Y, and Z so I will be for you or give you X, Y, and Z. This is all too common. You will wash the dishes, stay thin, pay the mortgage, put out, if I keep looking the other way, take care of the kid, keep the cash flow going, stay normal, etc, etc, etc. Let me explain something. Love relationships—family and friends—make these kind of shared responsibility arrangements, but they are a byproduct of a love exchange, not the agreement upon which they hinge. Those are two different things.
The unfortunate part about living our lives on this journey of knowing love more and more often involves us experiencing the broken trust, expectations not being met, and failure. Unfortunately, we must experience these things in order to cross beyond the line of fear one naturally walks in when we are young in love. You try not to go outside of others norms and you work hard to meet the expectations of the ones loving you. It is hard to find out where love is not. Sometimes when we don’t meet expectations or walk in failure, the other person is unable to show love towards us. In all actuality, they really do probably love you but they themselves haven’t experienced love’s unconditional nature and therefore are unable to continue to show it.
Let me discuss a little bit more about our divine failure process. This is the hard road that I would say most humans find themselves taking, it’s called Humility. You see, when we still believe we earn love, we find ourselves justified in receiving it. I made myself pretty enough, I practiced this set of religious rules faithfully enough, I clean enough, cook enough, bite my tongue enough. This will never due.
The thing about God is that we are not God. We are one in spirit with him, incarnate in Christ in the trinity even, but none of this was accomplished by our own working. I never reconciled myself to Christ. He reconciled himself to me. I could go on and on about this but my point is that part of the human process of love is learning to receive it from God without condition, not only from him and sometimes others, but also from yourself.
After learning God liked me a lot, he invited me to like others with him, family, the poor, strangers, etc. Then he invited me to like the people who broke my expectations that I didn’t know I still had. He invited me to love rapists, hookers, pimps, crack dealers, mentally ill, pedophiles, and murderers. Yes look them in the eye and love them knowing full well everything they did or are still doing and serve them, help them, praise them, and give to them. This helped teach me about the unconditionality of God. He even lovingly offended my righteous piousness in all my saintly service one day by saying, “I love them as much as I love you.”
Oh, I still have so gloriously much to learn about this awesome God who is himself this love with which I am in love.
Love Grows Beyond Failure
The next unconditionality lesson was much closer to home and so much harder to bear. I had expectations in my relationship with God that I didn’t realize I had. I knew he loved me. And my attempting-to-be-obedient self was loving myself, but not quit so unconditionally. I had never been as good at that one, often struggling with condemnation, self-hatred, shame, rejection, etc. But if someone asked me if I loved myself I would have most assuredly said yes, and I really did (there’s that galaxy thing again, with areas of love floating around this epicenter of goodness)!
I failed at my own expectations in my relationship with God. Both in obedience to Holy Spirit on a repeated basis to the point of ignoring him, and giving into temptation of the heart in a very real and destructive way, and again decidedly quitting to do the very thing he sent me to do somewhere. If I were God I would have fired me already. I spent plenty of time blaming God, others, myself and everyone else in a wonderful display of self-justification that only revealed how scared I truly was. I must not be guilty because in my mind that meant I was no longer worthy of love. From myself and from God. I think I quit loving myself first after these things happened in an attempt to beat him to the punch because I thought that’s what I deserved, that’s what should happen to me from him.
I’m happy to say that years later, he still loves me! And I love myself again! Whew, that was one rough and bumpy road that I could still shed tears about on command even today. It’s not to say there wasn’t real loss that happened. In relationships, opportunities, joy, peace, service, etc. It’s not that everything patched itself up again, things got burned, but there are some things I’ve gained that survive fire. Wisdom being one of them. Self-acceptance being another. Freedom from condemnation and self-examination. Freedom to breathe in my relationship with God. More of what his love is really like towards me. An even greater appreciation and celebration that everyone in the church calls failures. Like religious leader’s failures. They’re for sure going to hell, right? At least we can judge them, right? Those hypocrites right? Or does God still love them? And is he filled with goodness towards them and hope for their life and celebration of all the times they have believed him and said yes to things he was inviting them into.
And it’s not that I’m justifying anyone’s sin because it makes me feel better about my own poor choices. By no means. It’s that God had to relentlessly pound on my door of failure that had shut him out because he wasn’t content being so distant on the other side of it anymore. As a loving father he does not tolerate well the hell we place ourselves in.
I remember when he initiated the healing process for me. It had been some time in hearing his voice inside me the way I once had. He began with the words, “You are holy.” You see, we get so wrapped up in this physical realm. So blinded by it. His kingdom is unseen and transcends all your human experience. Love only ever originates from him. And it is only ever free. He will make sure we understand that. Deep inside our hearts in the places it whispers and we barely hear it ourselves.
You Can’t Escape It
We are nothing less than the value he has given us. We cannot undo this. That is one freedom he did not grant his free children. You do not possess within you the ability to undo God’s love for you. If you allow yourself to believe it, he would love to show you himself that way.
Love is who God is. It is who he is today and it is who he will be tomorrow. He will never stop being love. When judgment day comes do you think he will really take off his hat of love, set it down on the table next to him, and damn the world but a few who were scared enough not to break the rules? Christ’s death bore the punishment for all your sins. All of them, in all of punishment’s consuming entirety. Do not expect to lose love. Ever. For God cannot cease to exist. And you my friend have no ability to exist, in this realm, or the next apart from him.
“Did you know that I love you? Do you know that I care?
Did you know I love you? Did you know that I’ll always be there?”
—spontaneous song by Joel