Conditional love is love that is ‘earned’ on the basis of conscious or unconscious conditions. In other words, if you do what I want or behave in a manner that is pleasing to me, I will love you. If not, then my love will be withheld. Sadly this is true for many of us; both those loving and those being loved. I’m not talking so much about romantic love here, although I suppose it works that way sometimes, too. I’m referring to our relationships with friends and colleagues. I’m thinking of work associates, neighbors, classmates, fellow parishioners, and friends.
I often find myself questioning whether or not to spend time with someone because of something that was said or done that “rubbed me the wrong way”. There have been times that I judged someone simply because of who their friends are. Worse yet, how about those people I avoid just because of their affiliations with certain political or religious groups? Not to mention the folks that I distance myself from simply because of age, race, ethnicity or income level. My justification – “I don’t hate them; I just don’t really like them.” or “I don’t have anything in common with these people.” or “I already have enough friends.”
In truth: My love is conditional. My conditions are simply not being met. And I own this. And it’s a shame.
So I’m T R Y I N G to love unconditionally. But it’s not easy. Not for me anyway. Unconditional love – such an easy thing to say and such a hard thing to do. Loving without expecting to be loved in return. Kindness given without any expectation of kindness returned. I struggle with this every day.
And yet, I have been given countless examples of unconditional love in my life. Strangers who welcomed me; teachers who guided me; friends and family who have loved me during some pretty un-lovable times.
I think about the year that we lived in England. We were truly foreigners. We tentatively entered our little St. Peter Church in Cirencester for the first time not knowing what to expect. No proof of worthiness or commitment to financial support was required (or ever requested for that matter). Even with our funny American accents, we were loved by our priest “as we were” and embraced by our faith community “just because”.
I have a wife that loves me unconditionally. And I have friends and family that love me unconditionally, too. They’re not looking for anything from me (not that I can offer much anyway). My grandkids love me unconditionally. They just accept me as I am (and they like me this way). Which makes me want to be a better person because of their love.
So I’m going to keep trying to love unconditionally. So don’t be startled if I smile at you for no apparent reason. Don’t be surprised if I am kinder and gentler. And don’t be weirded-out if I give you a hug. And of course sometimes I’ll revert to being a jerk and then if you still love me I’ll know that your love is unconditional.
Loving unconditionally doesn’t guarantee that love will be returned. But it’s all the sweeter if it is.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31