In a perfect world, we would all love each other with a fullness and grace that would make sacrifice and compassion as natural as breathing. In perfect world, anger would be defused with understanding, bitterness erased with tenderness, and the scars we inflict upon each other would fade into nothingness so that we would never again be reminded of those moments when we failed to love or be loved completely.
But we do not live in a perfect world, and we ourselves are not perfect. Love costs us greatly, grace is never cheap or free when you are the one extending it, and forgiveness never comes with forgetfulness.
We live in a world where people fail us, where we fail others, and usually it the ones we hold most dear that hurt us the most and who we fail most often. In those times love demonstrates its strength by turning to embrace the hurt and the hurting so that relationship can be preserved and healing, as imperfect as we now know it to be in this realm, can commence.
But what of those moments when healing is denied, when forgiveness is not offered and mercy is withheld? How then do we love?
Does compassion become weakness? Grace permission for abuse?
For so long we have been told that love is without bounds and limits. It is to be given freely and only its unwavering expression of approval and acceptance is it determined to be authentic. All else is but a fraud, a manipulation, and self-serving artifice designed to bind another to you through the shackles of control and demands of proof for their worthiness of such affection. So we give, and we give without thought to self or survival. We pour out so that another might know that they are worthy of our gift and sacrifice, and we pray that we will be found worthy in turn.
The stories told us that if we loved enough, if we held on tight enough, and worked hard enough we would indeed be found worthy and rewarded with the strength of love that we have bestowed upon another. But this is not truth. It never has been.
Love is the most easily rejected gift we have to offer another.
Perfect love was the first gift offered to humanity. Love not merely expressed in the feeble tools of words and deed, but love personified, walking with Adam and Eve there in the garden, guiding and teaching them with his tangible presence. Their experience of love was beyond any that you and I will know this side of the grave, and they still betrayed it for the hope of something better. Greed and pride deafened their ears, blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts to the truth – love wants to give all, but only to those willing to reject everything else for the chance to experience this great gift.
Millennia would pass before love once again walked the earth, and this time the gift of his presence was rewarded with a gruesome death upon the cross for demands of fidelity are the one thing the human heart cannot abide. Sacrificing control of our lives and destiny is not something easily accomplished by the human heart, and yet, that was what he required of us so we demanded his blood for daring to be so bold. Unable to appreciate the great gift before us, we rebel. We fight and scream at the cruelty of perceived oppression, and declare that this cannot be love for the love we wish leaves us unchanged and unburdened by expectations.
We have never embraced love without struggle or objection.
This is true not just of God’s love for us, but even the love of another human being. We will lash out at any who feel they have the right by merit of their love for us to dictate the terms of our lives. We will deny that what they offer is love, and call it evil so that we can justify our rejection of this gift.
And what of those times when we are the ones who love? When our great gift of self is rejected? What are we to do then? As in all things, we should look to the example of our Lord and Savior, we continue to love, but we enact limits. We set boundaries, not upon our love but upon the expressions of love that we offer. We do not permit ourselves to be used up and abused by those who would use our emotion as a means to demand all and give nothing in return. We recognize that what we have offered is of great value to ourselves and our Creator, and it is not a gift to be scorned.
Therein lies the conflict. For if we as human beings cannot give love without expectations of honor nor can we receive without submission, how then are we to love?
The answer is a revelation of why we need the love of God before any other love. For without his guidance, the continual experience of his love for us forever renewing our minds and conforming us to his image, we will lack the wisdom and knowledge of where boundaries should be set and how they should be enacted – first in our lives and then in the lives of others. We learn to love by being loved. We learn how to love by experiencing how he loves us, and we are taught to accept love when we receive the gift of his love to us. Without his love illuminating our hearts and minds we stumble and fall into abuse and selfishness, we are lured into believing that our happiness relies on something beyond what has been given, and we flinch from the burden of expectation.
As we experience the love of God we learn to discern love from lust, true sacrifice from manipulation, respect from flattery, and conviction from unfounded guilt. We will never get it right, not completely, but that is why we need the one we love to love our Father as well. For in our humanness, we will need the grace and mercy that can only be inspired in the hearts of one who knows the source of true love intimately. And sometimes, as you fight through the learning together, you get a piece of it right and in those moments you learn the beauty of what it is to truly love another and to be loved in return with all the glory and beauty that is a gift from the God of love alone and can never be conjured from the mere depths of our humanity.