“The only real love is unconditional love.” Does that phrase make you wince a little? I’ve heard that phrase and agreed with it… but it would be a lie that I somehow “have” unconditional love. At least in my ability to give it. …. And, as I think about it, in my ability to receive it. (*insert guilt emoji here)
Yesterday an idea began to bubble up. I have been grappling with this idea of love. What is it? What is it really? How do I know if I am giving it? What does it mean—that first great commandment—to love God with all my heart, might, mind and strength? How can I know if I am keeping that commandment or the 2nd one? (*insert worried emoji here)
This idea came to me. I posted it on Instagram and continued to process it.
Gratitude + Love = Power
Gratitude is the gateway to love. Unconditional love is ultimate, agency-giving power. We usually associate power with knock-your-socks-off force. But subtle, quiet, unconditional love–like water– seeps in, meeting resistance and reluctance with a sweet embrace, and then releases, allows, guides, waits, smiles. Conditional love pushes. Unconditional love is in no rush.
This quality of love I am calling “unconditional” was an energy I was feeling when I wrote this down. I had prayed to know what I needed to do next in my life. I was aware of a quiet, guiding voice telling me to do something that I was not sure I wanted to do. I was aware of my resistance and reluctance. As I considered NOT doing the thing, it didn’t feel right, I heard the idea that it was OK to choose to not do it, but if I ask for (pray for) guidance then don’t follow it, it weakens my ability to get more guidance.
I sat with my choice. I felt this gentle energy seeping in and around my resistance and slowly melt it a bit, but I still had to choose between something my intellect said “I don’t want to” and the direction I was given. This gentle, patient, smiling energy was powerful AND empowering. Ultimately, I chose to do the thing I didn’t want to do. (*insert nervously happy emoji here)
The next morning, pondering more about what love really is, a new thought that had never occurred to me before burst on like the proverbial lightbulb.
I had always thought of conditional love as a bad thing, but it’s not, is it? In fact, it is necessary to learn and experience conditional love for a LONG time before we can have any idea what UNconditional love is.
Conditional love is not “fake” love. It is very real.
What conditions make it easy for you to feel love (for another) or feel loved (by another)?
I think of a child opening a hoped-for present containing a toy they had wanted. The joy and excitement in that moment—that condition—are felt by the child and all those watching this celebratory moment. There is almost a giddiness for the watching parent. (This feeling can be addictive, thus the pattern of “spoiling” a child.)
Some might say, this is not love because it comes from the manufactured condition. But what if the feeling IS love? What if that act of giving something to please a child IS love? I propose that that feeling of flow, good-will, and connection is love and important in our journey toward some quality of love that is even more lasting and permanent.
You and I know that, depending on age and temperament of the child, that the good feelings from that toy will last about ten seconds until a sibling grabs the toy. This creates a new condition. What does love look like in THIS condition?
The feelings (energy) have shifted. Is it possible to love when the child cries out, “It’s mine!” and the other one retorts, “I just want to see it.” Or “It’s not fair! I want it!” What does love look and feel like here?
As a parent, my inner world has changed and refined over time in large part because I have encountered this type of challenging sibling condition MANY times in my 23 years since becoming a mom.
There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this situation. I appreciated a comment in Sunday School last week as we explored what love really means. (I was the teacher, so I got to ask for input.)
If Jesus Christ is our example of love, then we can’t define love as simply “being nice”. It has to be something more than “nice” because the way Jesus handled various conditions does not look “nice”. For example, I doubt the table-owners at the Temple saw him push over their tables and think that was a nice thing to do. (Was it a loving act? If so, how do I know when I need to “tip a table” to show love?)
I really appreciated Alex’s comment when she said, “Love has to be customized.” I had not thought of that word—customized.
How is customized love different from conditional love?
What would customized love look like in the example of the case of the siblings and the toy?
What other feelings (besides flow, good-will and connection) could be associated with this thing called love?
Can love and emotional tension co-exist?
What might an expanded definition of love be?
I need to sit with these questions. I would love to hear from anyone that has ideas about these questions/ideas. Comments below, personal text, email… all are good ways to explore with me.