September 2000

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." -- I Corinthians 13:4-8a

Other than being one of the most recognized passages of scripture, these words are the very definition of unconditional love, the truest and most powerful kind of love. It is the ideal for which we should strive for in all of our relationships. Love without condition expects nothing from the one to whom it is given, yet joyfully and graciously accepts love in return. This is the type of love that asks no price, yet has a cost. It demands nothing in order to be given. Yet, by giving love openly and without expectation of reciprocation, we risk vulnerability. The cost of that vulnerability, of giving of ourselves completely, is what we must be willing to sacrifice in order to be conveyors of the sacrament of love. The reward, however, of unity and communion with another in a state of mutual affection, trust, honesty, and safety, is well worth the cost.

"Love your neighbor as yourself." -- Luke 10:27

In order to give love freely and without condition, it is imperative that we also love ourselves. Without sufficient self-esteem, we lack the capacity to extend the full depths of love to another. Some of us are ingrained with the notion that loving oneself is selfish, greedy, arrogant and/or narcissistic. We feel guilty when we do things for ourselves, as though it were a sin to do so. Yes, if we continually do things with the motivation of self-gain without regard for others, that is selfish. That is wrong. But, if we treat our bodies as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and acknowledge that we are created in the image of God, reverencing that divinity within us, we love ourselves in a healthy manner. When we are able to know our strengths and talents as well as our failures and weaknesses, we live in a state of self-awareness. Only in that state are we able to celebrate our own uniqueness and express who we are in a positive light. Loving ourselves allows us to love another. Difficulties in self-acceptance and deficiencies in self-esteem lead to problems in our relationships and interfere with our ability to give and receive unconditional love. Unless we address and heal our own heart wounds, we will struggle to partake in the full glory of love.

"When the satisfaction, security, and development of another person become as significant to you as your own satisfaction, security, and development, love exists." --Dr. Harry Stack Sullivan, Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry

The goal of love is unity. Love strives to share and to communicate itself with those around it. In our most intimate bonds, as in the sacred covenant of marriage, we are blessed with the desire and ability to create a sacred union through our love. This blending of two I’s into one We does not occur spontaneously. Love requires work, a work that yields plentiful rewards. The initial attraction of love yields intense feelings of euphoric pleasure. This infatuatory period allows us to get to know one another better, during which time we either grow closer, nurturing our common bond, or our differences become more apparent, pushing us apart. Many people consider love is a feeling and when that feeling of infatuation and butterflies in the stomach disappears, so does their ability and desire to commit to that love. It is true that love brings with it wonderful feelings, yet love itself is not a feeling. Love is a sharing of our most personal possessions: our thoughts, emotions, feelings, desires, dreams… We give all of ourselves to our beloved, holding back nothing. We do not fence off private areas of our mind or withhold certain details of our being from our partner. Love desires to continually share the perpetually changing landscape of our being. Love is dynamic. It desires to constantly grow and be nurtured. In a committed, loving relationship, we accept, support, and nurture one another on a path that leads us to limitless growth and potential. When we withhold parts of ourselves from our lover, we put up blocks in the path of love. We interrupt the unity that we should be striving for and divide Us in You and I. Therefore, we must be constantly aware of the obstacles to obtaining this unity, for when we stand in the way of unity, we stand in the way of happiness.

"Love is…a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world to himself for another’s sake. It is a great, an exorbitant demand upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things. Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other." -- Rainer Maria Rilke

Loving without expectation of self-gain is not only the goal of marriage, but of all our relationships. If we can love each person as a unique and holy image of the Creator, and not for what they have done or not done, then we are truly able to love. Part of being able to love is being able to forgive. It has been said that one loves God only as much as one loves his worst enemy. Therefore, we must strive to love all for the sanctity of their life and the knowledge that each has been blessed with intrinsic gifts. We must celebrate life, and in doing so, have a fondness for all that lives.

"The commitment of love, at whatever level, has to be a permanent thing, a life-wager. If I say that I am your friend, I will always be your friend, not as long as or until anything. I will always be there for you. Effective love is not like the retractable point on a ballpoint pen. If I say I am your man, I will always be your man. I the words of another old song, ‘When I fall in love, it will be forever.’" -- John Powell, The Secret of Staying in Love.

The covenant of love is often negated in our culture. The divorce rate is at nearly 50%. We live in a disposable culture where things are created for our convenience and we use them for what we need and then discard them. Marriage has become a tragic victim of this attitude. The solution to this dilemma is two-fold. First, we must enter into a marriage covenant fully aware and fully committed. No one can ever be totally prepared for the challenges that married life brings, but our society must begin to educate couples and enlighten them about the profound nature of the sacrament of marriage. Couples must enter into the union having undergone some counseling as well as agreeing that when troubles arise they will again seek counsel, doing all in their power to reconcile and strengthen the marital bond. Secondly, divorce must not be an easily obtainable option for marriages that aren’t "perfect." Unless there is severe abuse or other damaging emotional or physical issues at play, couples must be willing to work at preserving the integrity of the promises made to one another. Love is work; marriage is work. Those expecting to retain the fleeting feelings of infatuation and coast through this relationship are going into it blindly. That is not what marriage nor love is. Marriage is a commitment; a promise; a covenant between two people to love one another always. Love does not end when the honeymoon period is over. Love does not exist only until a certain point. Love is forever and the only real love is unconditional love.

"A thought transfixed me: For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: the salvation of man is through love and in love." --Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Unconditional love is not only the ideal, but also the goal—the goal for all of us. Those who are single must seek out relationships with the knowledge of the definition of love as well as the effort required to sustain it. Married couples must understand that they are not bound together merely by a piece of paper, but by a holy, ordained covenant of love, and should do all in their power to preserve, protect, and sanctify their union. For all of us, we must strive to live without hatred, fear, guilt, or doubt. We must forgive others and ask for forgiveness. We must look upon all life as holy, loving each person for his or her unique and sacred contribution to the universe as well as loving ourselves in the same way. Love is not a feeling or an unobtainable goal. It is who we are.

"God is Love and all who live in Love, live in God." --I John 4:16b


© 2000 Jennifer N. Ayers, Starr-Rhapsody Creations. No part of this article may be printed or copied without written consent from the author.

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