Three years ago I was vacillating between engaged participant and shell-shocked bystander in the final acts of a long-term (for me) relationship. I had thought I would spend the rest of my life with this woman. I was wrong. Its implosion was spectacular, and devastating. In some ways, it was like watching the Hindenburg disaster – a horrifying mix of tragedy with flickers of beauty and hope that kept one glued to the scene, hoping against hope that a survivor or two would escape the wreckage, and having each hope dashed time and time again until there was nothing left but ashes.
Two years ago I was tentatively jumping off the cliff into deep relational waters with a different lovely young woman whom I enjoyed, respected, and thought there was potential. But fear and insecurity and uncertainty and listening to my heart – what I actually wanted, and not just what I thought I should want – led us to the end.
Last year I started communicating regularly with a passionate, creative, hilarious acquaintance, knowing that with the distance in place it was probably not a good idea… But we kept talking. Until fear or cowardice or good sense or simple honesty or a little bit of everything compelled me to end our communication.
The common thread in all three of these relationships (and, if I’m being completely honest, in most – maybe all? – of my other relationships) is the inability to do what Thomas Merton suggests:
“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them…” ~ Thomas Merton
This is my stumbling block.
This is the lesson that I have learned from others, even if they did not mean to teach it to me:
“You are loveable, and it is possible that someone could love you…
– as long as you are improving.
– as long as you don’t stay the same.
– as long as you stop making the same stupid mistakes over again.
– as long as you change, and become someone different, someone better.
– as long as you produce something grand for others.
– as long as you are living up to your full potential.
– as long as you are doing amazing things in the world.
– as long as you are not normal, or ordinary, or boring.
– as long as you hide your deepest weaknesses and insecurities, your shattered brokenness and your shameful darkness.
– as long as you are at all times the person you pretend to be.”
And this is the way I loved others all too often.
I internalized those lessons. I applied them to others in my life. I judged. I evaluated. I withheld. I wounded others. I told myself that I loved the potential that I saw in them – and while that potential was very great, it blinded me to the actual loving of the person that I was in relationship with. It blinded me to the needs and brokenness and beauty of the person in front of me. And the love that I had to give was only a pale shadow of the love that I wanted to give, of the love I wanted to receive.
These last few months, I have been asking myself what it means to love without condition.
What does it look like to love with no strings attached?
What does love look like when it is not only concerned with what the future holds or the great things the beloved can accomplish, but is content to simply delight in being in the presence of the beloved?
What does it feel like to know and understand the depths of grace – to feel in your bones that you are accepted just as you are, and you are deeply, fiercely, richly loved?
It is bigger. Fuller. Richer. Deeper. Brighter. Heavier. Tastier.
To accept that I am loved. Shockingly. Unexpectedly. Undeservedly. Beautifully. Entirely.
It is how I want to be loved, and how I want to learn to love others:
– brothers and sisters.
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” ~ Thomas Merton
via Father Bill