When I started this series of Lenten reflections on unconditional love, I promised to conclude by posing an alternative to the societal ideal. I hope that my reflections over the past couple weeks have given you a sense that we’re just not wired to love without conditions of some sort. We love for a reason. We love because we made a commitment. In fact, I would say that the concept of unconditional love actually runs counter to what love is about.
I don’t remember where I first heard or read this, but someone said that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. You see, love is about making a commitment. It’s about being willing to connect, to take a stand, to have a reason and a desire to love. I believe that commitment can’t coexist with unconditionality.
For example, say I love a family member. I may initially love them because we have a blood or marriage connection. I learn to love them as I discover beauty in them. I am challenged to keep loving them when they act up or disagree with me or live far away and don’t speak to me for months. But the love, by its very nature, involves a connection of some sort.
So, is it possible to have an agenda-less connection? Is there a way to love that doesn’t have something behind it, driving it? I don’t think so. I can “love” the people in the Holy Land because I have visited the Holy Land and they are now less abstract as a grouping of people. I pray for them, individually and collectively, when there’s an uprising or violence—but even that includes an agenda: I want peace in the Middle East so people can thrive there and so others can travel there on pilgrimage.
I do believe that we could, possibly, have unconditional moments. I once handed a grocery store clerk a $5 bill to cover the balance for the person in front of me because she was short on funds. What were my motivations? It’s hard to know, deep down, but I do know that I got nothing in return—except her gratefulness and perhaps gold stars in heaven. Was that an act of unconditional love?
Here’s where I think I get the closest: smiling at people I don’t know as I pass them (or they drive by me) on my morning walks. I’m “in love” with the world because it’s a gorgeous morning, there’s beauty all around me, and my heart is filled with joy. I share that love spontaneously because it’s bubbling up and out of me. I “can’t help myself,” in that sense. The love comes spilling out. Maybe that is truly unconditional love: when God has filled us to overflowing and, in that moment, we can’t do anything else but join the flow and spread the love.
So, what do you think about “unconditional love” now? What presumptions do you want to let go of? What unconditional moments come to mind? When have you spontaneously joined the flow of love?