Well, we're finally settled into our new home. We've got a treehouse in the backyard, a couple of gardens started, and we just recently had to turn on our central air--I'd say we're "home" :) Hope you are all enjoying your summer.
My post today is titled Unconditional love: Part 1...I may not have an immediate follow-up post to this one, but it's a subject about which I've been thinking a great deal and I feel as though I could write an entire book on the subject. Actually, there IS a great book on the subject. Anyone know the title? That's right--THE BIBLE!!! Unconditional love is the one and only thing God expects from us. It's what Jesus was sent here for. But it's simultaneously the simplest task we'll ever be given and the hardest thing we'll ever have to do.
Let's think for a second about what unconditional love really is. Ultimately, it's forgiveness. It's loving someone so much that no matter what or how many terrible things they do, we still love them. The more we offer them true unconditional love, the more they become less likely to do or say those terrible things. And it's so rare. Most of us think that we're offering it on a regular basis--to our children, to our neighbors, to our friends, to God--when in fact we're really practicing love with conditions. "I love you, but...", "That's true, but...", "He's a nice guy, but...", "Thanks for giving me what I need, God. Now it's time to ignore you for months on end..." And many of us do love unconditionally some of the time. But often we're offering conditions and even more frequently, we're not used to receiving love unconditionally, leaving it a very difficult task for us to share with others.
And that's why this is such a tough subject. Are we just supposed to let those we love treat us or others badly? Are we supposed to let those we love do wrong? No, of course not. But even in our assumption that someone is doing something wrong, we impose a certain type of judgement upon them that is just not ours to give. This is probably why Jesus spoke in parables and rhetoric. When you tell someone a relevant story or ask them a question that they themselves are to answer, they are forced to look deep inside their hearts and see what is right and true. It's my belief that the best way to love someone unconditionally is to love them and model for them the way we believe is right and true. We can talk until we're blue in the face on this subject, but it doesn't mean a darn thing if we don't practice what we preach. As the saying goes, "Actions speak louder than words."
With our children, we are given opportunities to practice this every day. If they do something naughty, we're supposed to punish them, right? What if instead, we level with them and show them true understanding, "You were feeling angry, so you pushed your sister...I'm sorry you were feeling so hurt...is there a way we can fix this and make your sister feel better?...(and after they repent) Pushing hurts and even though you're angry, you can't push...how about next time you come find me and we'll figure it out together." With our neighbors and co-workers/subordinates, we don't receive as many opportunities to practice this, so it does get a little trickier. People really just want to feel understood; this often gets mistaken for acceptance or approval, so sometimes they're looking for a pat on the back, but what they really need is an open heart to hear their hurts. "It can be really hard to make it places on time when you're having struggles at home and not getting enough sleep. We really need 100% from all our employees...is there a way you could call me before you end up being late and we can figure out a time when you can make this up when you're less distracted?" With God, this should be easy. He ALWAYS loves us unconditionally; the least we could do is return the favor. "God, I'm feeling so frustrated that things aren't going my way right now, but I trust that just as you have in the past, you have some plan for me and will help me find my purpose..."
The single most difficult person to love unconditionally, however, has to be ourselves. It can be hard to know how to love ourselves unconditionally because we often don't receive it from others. Or perhaps it's because we know ourselves to be sinners within our hearts. Whatever the case, the task to love without conditions becomes impossible when it comes to "I." "I was not supposed to do that. There's something wrong with me..." "She said I am a jerk. There's something wrong with me..." But what gets really dangerous about this is not just our self-diminishing thoughts, but our need to self-justify. "Maybe I shouldn't have done that, but I'm a good person, so maybe that wasn't really all that bad..." "She thinks I'm a jerk, but I have friends who like me the way that I am, so maybe being a jerk isn't a bad thing..." These thoughts, of course, are not those of unconditional love, but thoughts of tolerance, acceptance, and approval (which are judgements, which we do not need).
When we stop loving ourselves unconditionally or when someone important in our lives stops loving us unconditionally, we run astray. We start to sin because it momentarily makes us feel a little better. It makes us feel justified or like we are able to get vengeance on those who hurt us. It makes us seek acceptance and approval elsewhere because those are the things we mistake for unconditional love. And very often, when we're very hurt, we find unconditional love in non-traditional places, in the wrong places, and even sometimes in rather unsavory places. When you are not used to receiving unconditional love in sources from which you should be, why wouldn't you be thrilled when you experience that feeling elsewhere? Your mom doesn't play with you enough when you're little, so you play with the neighbor kids who are happy to play with you and teach you bad things (probably because they're also not receiving the kind of love they need). Your spouse doesn't give him/herself to you in mind, body, and spirit any longer, so you turn to a co-worker who's happy to fulfill you in whatever way you need (they, too, are probably feeling unloved). Your parents are unhappy in their marriage so you find love in the arms of your best friend (who probably also feels hurt and not unconditionally loved).
The worst thing about all of those examples is that these are people who need unconditional love more than anyone else and yet become the most harshly judged by their loved ones or by society. Perhaps if we offer our unconditional love to those who need it the most during the times when it's the hardest to give, the people we have a tendency to judge the most harshly will realize their hurts, see their errors, and start returning the favor. The truth is, if we truly love unconditionally it is impossible to sin. If we always look into our hearts for the truth and act with unconditional love, there is no possible outcome that would end with sin. Of course, it will be a long time before our world experiences this--possibly never??--but we will never get there if we don't try.
Remember, I'm not talking about tolerance. I'm not talking about acceptance or approval. I'm talking about honesty, understanding, and unconditional love. I'm talking about recognizing that our own sins are still sins, whether they're "bigger" or "smaller" than our neighbors, sisters, friends, or enemies. If you are looking into your own heart and acting out what others are telling us by their acceptance, approval, and tolerance, you are acting with hurt, spite, anger, fear, and hate. If you are looking into your own heart and recognizing what it is that
God is trying to tell you and acting that out, you are acting with
unconditional love. What Jesus was desperately trying to teach us is that if we cannot treat others and if we cannot treat ourselves with true unconditional love, we will never be able to know God's unconditional love and will not be able to be accepted into his kingdom. This is not a sense of elitism or judgement, but a sense of truth and of love. It is possible to come to understand God's love even when our heart is completely hardened by hate, but it's going to take someone--often the very someone who was creating that hate--offering their love and asking for forgiveness for their judgements before the "offended" can begin to soften theirs.
I'd like to see people back off of their pride a little. I know that I can't even begin to count the number of times when I became fed up with someone and gave up on them (even though they were hurting me). We see these people as being unteachable and so often unlovable. The heart-breaking truth, though, is that when someone sees him/herself as being unlovable, they will often give up on themselves and instead of seeking unconditional love they leave to go seek the humanly next best thing/s--tolerance, acceptance, and approval. Take a moment to think about your own life and the people you've given up on. Those unteachable, unlovable people that were frustrating you and beginning to harden your heart. Think of how many souls you may have saved by not giving up on them, by giving them understanding, compassion, empathy, and unconditional love when it was just so excruciatingly difficult!
Jesus died doing just that. Loving the impossibly hard to love. So many people missed that message back in his day and even more people horribly misconstrue that message today. People think that by giving others "help," we are doing our job in loving one another, but truly that job isn't done unless that help is offered with utter and complete unconditional love. Often when we "help" people, we end up taking the easy way out. It's much easier to throw money at someone in need than to provide them with the skills they need to regain their lives or with emotional support and spiritual guidance.
Can you all do something for me? Take a day, or week, or however long you need to recognize this, and stop and think before you react to another person. Are you treating them with absolute love? Or are you being short with them? Are you being spiteful? Are you tolerating them? If it's not absolute love that you are affording them, stop and think about how you can approach the situation with unconditional love. Now try it. How did they respond? Are they angry? Then it probably wasn't absolute love. Are they relieved and looking understood? Do they seem as though the problem was truly solved (not to say that they "got their way"). Then you probably did something right. Now keep doing it!
Is this hard? Terribly!!! Impossible? Not at all. Will you ever be perfect at it? Or even an expert for that matter? Of course not. But you will quickly notice more peace and harmony in your homes. And when you see that working, it's much easier to spread that to your workplaces, your neighborhoods, schools, churches, hospitals, jails, etc.
All God wants from us is to treat each others, ourselves, and Him with utter and complete unconditional love. Can we not give him that?
May you all give and receive unconditional love today!